With a [fill in the blank] On the Bottom

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by ProbablyTooLoud, Jun 20, 2022.


  1. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    I've read a lot about how one great thing about the bass is that, in context, one note can change the chord the other members of the ensemble are playing.

    Question on that subject: to change the chord, does the bass note played have to be the lowest note, pitch-wise, being played at that moment?
     
  2. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Great question, but thinking that only the bassist has this "power" is a fallacy. Context must be considered.
    Imagine that the cellist plays her low C.
    If the bassist plays an open G or an E a sixth above that - you still have two notes of a C-major triad, with the C "in the bottom."
    If the bassist's next note is an A above the cello's note, then a different chord, most likely Am or C6, is implied.
    But if the bass stays on the G:
    1) if the cello plays a B, regardless of octave, then you have a chord change.
    2) if the cello jumps up an octave, you still have part of a C chord, with the fifth in the bass.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  3. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    Okay, great, thanks for the reply. Lemme see if I understand: the lowest note at the moment becomes the root of the chord of the moment, in most cases, no matter which instrument it's played on. Is that right? I'm sure there are exceptions, because I assume every single lowest note of the moment doesn't automatically change every chord every single time.

    It came up in this context: me and my bandmate were working on the progression of a chorus. I wanted him to cut an F#m7 chord and hang on the Em that preceded it. But then I realized if I just hung on the E (I played E2) and he played his F#m7 chord, it would sound pretty cool, cause what comes next is G7-C7-Am.

    We were wondering if my note did truly change the name of his chord, or was just a non-root chord tone. I think what you're saying is that in that context, his F#m7 on guitar (since his lowest F# is a step above my E2) does change to some flavor of E.

    Do I have that right?
     
  4. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

    May 25, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    The chord symbol F#m7 is shorthand for these notes: F# A C# E. If you use a chord tone in the bass other than the root (F#) it is called an inversion. The 3rd (A) in the bass is 1st inversion. The 5th (C#) is 2nd inversion. The 7th (E) is 3rd inversion. “Bass” here means the lowest note, not the instrument, as mentioned above by AG.

    The chord symbol becomes F#m7/E
     
  5. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    So it's still considered an inversion if I play the 7th at a lower pitch than the root of the guitar chord being played?
     
  6. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    And could also be A6/E. This illustrates that the bass is usually not the instrument to determine what a particular chord is named, although the note played by the bass can greatly affect the perceived sound. Crafty chord naming depends very much on context.
     
  7. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    You can call it an inversion if you want, and hardcore music theorists might do so, but it's not particularly useful to think of extensions beyond 2nd inversion (like sevenths, ninths, etc.) in that way; furthermore, the name of a chord doesn't necessarily clue us in to any inversion. Keep in mind that the naming of chords is basically an attempt to describe what is being played, for the benefit of those who can't or don't want to read multiple staves simultaneously... the music is there first, before any of us try to apply logic and reason to it.

    I congratulate you on finding interest in the endless paths of music theory!
     
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  8. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

    May 25, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    For it to be an inversion, the 7th has to be lower than the root.
     
  9. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    I think I need a better understanding of something embarrassingly basic, like what a root actually is.
     
  10. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    Thanks, thanks, and yes - I totally get that. That's how this conversation started. After we'd found something we liked, we wanted to figure out how a real life jazz cat might name it. I love studying theory. I mean, the time is gonna pass anyway, I might as well learn something cool.
     
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  11. Wasnex

    Wasnex

    Dec 25, 2011
    It depends.

    Western music typically uses something called tertian harmony. This means the chords are built in 3rds.

    If the bass jumps to a new chord tone and it is still the lowest note sounded, then you think of it as the same chord in a different inversion

    Amin7
    -Root position [ACEG]
    -1st inversion (3rd in bass) [CEGA]
    -2nd inversion (5th in bass) [EGAC]
    -3rd inversion (7th in bass) [GACE]​

    In some instances, you may also think of it as a new chord
    Amin7/C is the same notes as C6 [CEGA]...but note, C6 is not a tertian chord in root position.

    When you are using jazz notation, the chord symbols reference the lowest note. You could write Amin7/C but I don't think I have ever seen it. I have seen lot's of C6s.

    Another thing to consider is Amin7 and C6 can sometimes be subbed freely back and fourth, and it will sound great. But sometimes the subs do not work well. Harmonically Amin7 and C6 may have a different function...in other words these chords may infer different key centers. In some instances when the composer writes C6 it means Amin7/C (in other words it means Amin7 in first inversion). In other instances the composer means C6 is the functional chord in root position. Point here is the jazz chord symbol may imply either a root position chord or imply an inversion/voicing.

    See the first part of this video:


    Harmonic analysis of jazz chord notation tends to get pretty tricky. Not all chords are functional and the music tends to cycle through different key centers. Also the written chords may be substitutes for other chords, which tends to conceal the functional foundation of the music.

    Here is an article that discusses chord substitution VS chord superimposition: Chord Substitution vs Chord Superimposition - JamieHolroydGuitar.com - Jamie Holroyd Guitar


    Also, it's not unusual to come across chords that can be analyzed in different ways. In other words, it can be ambiguous which key center a chord belongs to. This can give the soloist a certain amount of freedom to choose one modal flavor or another.

    Also sometimes enharmonic equivalents are used for ease of reading. So you might come across one chord that appears to be in another key, but it's really not. I believe this is generally done so the player does not have to think in double sharps or double flats.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  12. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    Thanks for taking the time to think about this and reply so thoroughly.
    I have some homework to do, but my immediate takeaway is a better understanding of what /[X] means, and the detail about inversions stated by mtto and expanded by you.
    Thanks to everyone who chimed in on this.
    All very helpful.
     
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  13. If the lowest note is a chord tone but not the root, it is an inversion. If the lowest note is a third below, it is a new tertian built chord.

    It gets interesting if neither is the case. You can use a tritone away from the root as a tritone substitution with the same function. But there are even more possibilities that change the notes that fit for improvisation, sometimes with rather unusual scales like modes of harmonic major.
    I use the following notation to show chord and scale at the same time:
    F#7/D hMaj I
    Which means an F#7 chord on a D bass note (below) and the scale tones are the notes of (the first mode of) D harmonic Major.
    (Note that the A# of the F#7 chord is the Bb of the (first mode of the) D harmonic major scale.)
    The altered scale is mMin VII, just mentioned to show how I count the modes.

    The problem using these kind of lowest notes is, that since the notes for improvisation need to be changed, other player are not prepared for that, even if they know these scales. To be able to use this spontaneously all played need to be trained to do that and to apply the correct notes.

    And the other problem is that you won‘t get a good harmonic progression if you do this on the fly. It can work with compositions or written reharmonizations (but this is harder) when everyone knows the chord and scale to play, but even that is hard and so it can get very difficult to find players who willing to learn and practice.

    The easy way is to use only scale tones for the lowest note. It might change function and weight of the notes, but the notes (usually) are the same.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Just for the sake of completeness, I concur with everything said thus far but I feel I have to point out that the previous posts are describing the large if not vast majority of music, there are many, many exceptions. Things like 4-part vocal harmony, barbershop quartets for instance, sax soli, 5- and 6- part harmony. There's no "rule" that says that the root of the chord needs to be the lowest pitched note or one of the 3 or 4 chord tones, but that is the case in most popular music.
     
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  15. Yes. The shape/direction of the bass melody can change the reception of the bass note function.
    If the (upper) chord changes with the bass note, the bass note is often understand as the root whereas if the upper chord keeps the same the harmony and function typically keeps the same. So an isolated view of a chord doesn‘t always work. Similar to the different functions and scale notes a certain chord structure can have depending on the context.
     
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  16. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    Thanks very much for all this knowledge.
     
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  17. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    So, let me ask you this: are you interested in hearing this stuff for yourself? You can make up your own mind with some simple tools.

    As the old saying goes: "Give a person a fish and they'll eat for a day. Teach them how to fish and they'll work for the rest of their lives paying off their boat!" ;)
     
  18. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    Yes. I am. What simple tools are you talking about?

    Listening to jazz music or studying music theory/jazz theory? I guess the one implies the other but the answer is yes.

    I'm on a self-taught path which I could tell you about, but I'm not sure exactly what you're asking.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
  19. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Okay, last question first. I wasn't going to recommend a book, but since you mentioned it, anyone interested in music theory should start with Mark Levine's book:

    https://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Theory-Book-Mark-Levine/dp/1883217040

    Back to the first question: I was going to recommend that you get yourself a keyboard or piano and try playing the inversions through a simple progression. You can do it on a guitar too but it's more difficult. You can also use music software like Sebelius or Finale or Band in a Box but that has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it can play things you can't but the disadvantage is that it disconnects you for the production of the sound which makes you more of a bystander than a producer. Do you want more specifics or is that enough for the moment? If you want more specs, it'll help to know if you can read music or not.
     
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  20. ProbablyTooLoud

    ProbablyTooLoud

    Aug 1, 2020
    Atlanta
    I have a piano and I think that would help with understanding both the big picture and details about questions like this.

    I learned to read music when I was young. Two years of piano lessons at age 6-7, then four years in elementary school band on alto sax, ending in 7th grade. The result of all that is I can read pretty well, and sight-read - as in play a new score cold - at the very beginning level. I've messed with guitars in a nonserious way since age 13. I started fiddling with bass in about 2015, started practicing a little - like 20 mins a day - in 2018, then, in March 2020, decided to jump in and seriously study and practice.

    My ten-year plan is to be proficient at playing walking bass in the jazz idiom, my favorite being hard bop, I guess you'd call it, and be able to show up at a jam and hold my own, or be part of an ensemble that makes what I hope would be authentic jazz music.

    I have the Mark Levine book and it's a bible. I've worked my way slowly through the first three chapters. In my practice, I've focused on his chord-scale theory using the major and melodic minor modes. I learned them and practice all modes in all keys every day, going around the cycle of fourths as I picked up in a vid from Jim Stinnet. I also do that with "Scales You Should Know" from Rufus Reid's book. That's my weekday practice - about an hour an evening, give or take. On the weekends, when I have more time, I add material from the Ray Brown book, focusing on the two-scale interval exercises, and his chord exercises. I'm working to achieve technical proficiency in all that material I've mentioned. So I practice every day for 1-2 hours, depending on energy level, then on the weekends, probably 4 hours each day. I've been doing that consistently since March 2020. I play the Reid scales with a metronome. I play modes against a drone, because my instrument is a fretless EB.

    I also play with two different groups. One is sorta psychedelic rock and the other is a mix. In the second band, the one the question in this thread originated in, we try our hand at some random standards. We play Moanin, There Will Never Be Another You, Rhythm Changes, In a Sentimental Mood, Everything Happens to Me, and Mr. PC. We are definitely at level of "grocery store jazz," and sort of embrace that because we really just like to play, the songs challenge us, and are fun.

    I learn a lot asking questions here, which invariably reveal holes in my knowledge that are really the result of me being teacherless. For instance, though I can play the modes of the major scale and know how to apply them on the fly at rehearsal, I still didn't know a detail contained in this, provided by Wasnex:

    Amin7
    -Root position [ACEG]
    -1st inversion (3rd in bass) [CEGA]
    -2nd inversion (5th in bass) [EGAC]
    -3rd inversion (7th in bass) [GACE]

    I thought an inversion just meant you started on a chord tone other than the root, not that an inversion meant that new chord tone is now "in bass." I thought first inversion just started on the 3rd, and it really didn't matter which chord tone came next.

    Anyways!

    A lot of words from me, maybe TMI, but that's where I'm at. I'm a jazz lover and hope to be able to play for real one day. I'm two years in on my ten year plan, and I think it's going okay.

    What else should I be doing?
     
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