Yep, as a bass player we’re typically holding down the low end and mostly playing single notes. There can be more to this though.
Comping behind another instrument’s solo, filling out a breakdown section and don’t forget when jamming with other low end players. Plus – having a handle on chords gives you an increased awareness of harmony and their application helps with rhythm and time. Let’s take a look at chords this month then and add some contrasting ideas to your typical bass lines.
Figure A follows a II-V idea in A (Bm7 to E7). This could be a medium straight funk styled line heard in jazz, funk, soul, blues and more.
Got a handle on Figure A? Let’s look at some chord voicings for Bm7 and E7 to play instead of the bass line then. Minor 7th chords consist of the 1-b3-5-b7 whilst Dominant 7th is spelt 1-3-5-b7. Similar to guitar it’s not always possible to get all these notes into a manageable shape on bass, let alone have them stacked in order. Figure B gives us a starting point though to see/hear some possible voicings on bass.
Bars 1 and 2 are straight Bm and E Major triads played in root position (1-b3-5 and 1-3-5 respectively). Bars 3 and 4 omit the 5th from the 4 note chord with Bm7 being B-A-D and E7 E-G#-D. These work as the tonic gives us the root of the chord, the 3th tells us if the chord is Major or minor and then we have the 7th…to tell us it’s a 7th chord! Due to the stacking of the chords bars 3 and 4 contain some cool movement with the D remaining constant on top for both chords (making it the 3th of Bm7 and then the 7th of E7) and the A (the 7th of Bm7) moving down a semitone to G# in the E7 chord (becoming the 3rd).
So, how about we then ditch the root and stick with the upper most notes of each voicing. This gives us Figure C – easy voicings to get your hands around that still convey the important information of the 3rd and the 7th. Let’s make the rhythms a bit more hip and incorporate these chords with our existing bass line from Figure A.
Figure D uses our earlier bass line and incorporates our new two note chord voicings on beat 2 of each bar. This then adds some extra information to our existing line. Think how many variations you could then come up with! We’ve just used two chords as a starting point, try building triads and then adding sevenths yourself and see what you come up with. There are of course other extensions too and some hip and usable Major and minor voicings that just use the root and 3rd.
A final note - Of course lower voicings on bass can sound really thick. This is a ‘sound’ and it might be what you’re going for which is cool. Its definitely worth experimenting with voicings all over the neck to give you options though (comping up high when a piano player is playing left hand or comping lower if needed to fill out empty sections with a singer or drums etc). More next issue!
Flex your soul chops with last month's bass lesson here.