MUSIC THEORYó Composing Bass Lines, Part 1

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†††† To make things a little more interesting, we have to 1) follow the rhythm of the progression and 2) add some scale tones to create some movement. Since the song is in 4/4, we basically have 4 beats to work with and youíll want to align the bass notes with the down strum of the rhythm guitar or the beat of the kick drum.

††††† Firstly, on the G chord, we can play the lowest G on the down beat and then another G an octave higher on the 3rd beat of each of the two measures. If youíre playing this on an actual bass guitar as opposed to a keyboard, the octave can always be found on the 2nd string higher and 2 frets higher than the root. Itís exactly the opposite if youíre going from high to low octave-wise. This continues to outline the chord structure but makes things a little more interesting.

 

†††† For the D chord, we want to include the 3rd of the chord to define it as major, so on the 3rd beat, weíre going to play F#, which is located one string higher and one fret lower than D. It should be easy to locate the lower octave of the F# by using the example above. This also gives us an opportunity to add the 5th of DóG on the 4th beat by moving up one fret from the F# and since G is also in the key of C, it smoothes out the transition to the next chord change.

 

†††† Now the C chord. After playing the C note on the down beat, weíre going to take things in a little different direction by playing the 6th (A) on the 3rd beat.† If youíve taken the time to memorize your fretboard, I shouldnít have to tell you where A is but for those of you that havenít had the opportunity, itís on the next lowest string, two frets higher. Then on the 4th beat, we can go back to the original C or play one an octave higher which will lead us to the D turnaround.

 

†††† The turnaround chord is a dominant 7th so after playing the chord tone on the down beat, youíll want to play the flatted 7th of the D scaleóC in order to echo the tension in the chord. Itís best to move to the seventh as soon as possible but make sure you follow the rhythm. If you donít, itíll stick out like a sore thumb. If you play it on the 2nd beat, you have two more beats to connect the D7 chord to the G, which starts the progression again. You play B then A which leads back to G, while staying in the key or you could play E and then F# on the 3rd and 4th beats.

 

†††† Getting back to the top, G, keep in mind that you have 2 measures to work with so you can work in more of the ideas presented above, but donít get too busy. Most of the lyrical and melodic content is going to be focused around the beginning of each measure so leave the accent notes such as the 2nd and 6ths for the empty spaces. Being a musician is more about knowing when and where not to play rather then trying to play as many notes as possible. This is especially true when playing with a pianist or keyboardist. Some of them feel that since theyíve got 88 keys, they have to use all of them. (Just kidding!)

††† In general, donít play a 4th or seventh if theyíre not a chord tone and try to work in the 3rd especially if the chord is minor. You can also add some interest by playing some fills in the places where there arenít any lyrics or melody. A fill is a short, melodic phrase that connects two chord changes.†

 

††† In the next article, weíll get into walking bass lines which outline the chord structure while providing some melodic content. They can be riff-ish as in a lot of blues and jazz tunes or they can be a counter melody.

††††† Letís say youíve got this catchy little chord progression that youíve come up with and you want to write a bass line to go with it. Since bass lines are both percussive and chord Ėbased, we have to accommodate both aspects. Letís start with something simple and build up to the final product.

 

†††† The least complicated bass lines are ones that simply take the root of the chord and play it on the down (first) beat† of each measure. The reason to do it like this is that the kick drum always plays on the down beat and the bass and kick have to be in sync.† In some cases, youíll have two chords in a measure so itís necessary to play the root of the second chord in the measure on the first beat of the chord change. For example, our progression is in 4/4 time and consists of† 2 measures of G followed by a measure of D and C, respectively, followed by a turnaround measure of† D7.† You would simply play G on the down beat of the first 2 measures, D then C on the down beat of the following 2 measures and then D for the last measure. It works but thereís no movement.