Standard Jazz Bass

Just Chords

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Current version: 16th of August 1997

Table of Contents

Theory Practical topics
Intro, Outtro, Refrain and Coda         

(coming soon ...)

Basic Scale Theory

The Modes Short Story

Basic Chords
Scale Harmonisation
Three-Note-Chord Specials
Beyond: Four-Note-Chords
Inverted Chords Extended
Basics for Progressions
The last page (at the moment ...)
Helpers, tools and trivia
Introduction to TAB
Interval table and Chord Clock
Musician jokes

Just Chords ..

There are lots of articles and postings about chords on bass. So why writing a new one I thought at first ...

So I had a quick glance at all this material and I found that most of it written for people who are already very familiar with music theory and bass playing and all this stuff. What about the beginners? Well, they may find very good textbooks for theory but then they have to look for other books to translate it for bass playing. So I will reduce theory to the necessary parts and put this all together (I hope )

So this is something for the very beginners who want to know what chords are, learn a little bit about music theory and get enough understanding to continue with advanced material. That's all there is here.

I also had to decide how to mix theory and practical things. I made the decision to concentrate on theory first, and then apply some chordal things for our lovely bass. So please give yourself some time to work with pen and paper instead of bass and amp. In the long run it be very helpful to understand the theory. You can compare the situation with languages where it is better to do some theory first before talking to people in a foreign language. Exchanging information and knowledge is easier if the basic language is the same.

Chords? On bass?

Are chords useful for bass playing? Depends on your musical taste.

There are two possible ways of using chords. One is to create bass lines using the notes from chords instead of scales. This has become a major issue today. The other way I will talk about later is really playing chords on bass like other players on keyboards or guitar.

From my point of view using chords on bass gets the bass player into a very different position in the band context. One basic view of the bass in a band context is being the bridge between rhythm and harmony, which means: between percussive instruments (drummers etc.) and non-percussive instruments like guitars, keyboards or brass. If the percussive lines are not that important or if the percussive lines are very strong (which means you have a very good and independent drummer) the bass could become a more harmony oriented instrument. Alternative rock and independent rock are good examples. But even on the more conventional scope of rock a chord oriented bass is great. Listen to Metallica and you will hear bass chords which support the whole song structure, leaving the role of being a 1-5-1-5-boom-boom-dude. With chordal playing the emancipation of bass players begins.

Then we have the discussion about chordal vs. modal bass lines. You can create a bass line using the notes from a certain scale. The other way is to use the notes from a chord which belongs to current key. For my own part I like this chordal approach because I had always problems remembering modes, but chords are very easy to understand and to create as soon as you understood the basics. And the basics for chords are not complicated and much easier to remember because you can use your ears.

The other question is: do we really need all this theory? Is it really necessary to spend all those hours with writing and reading, with exercises and learning? From my point of view the answer is simple, again. If your understanding of playing bass is to get some advice from your guitar hero or keyboard wizzard playing root notes all day you dont have to read on. If you want to play interesting bass lines like Jaco, Geddy or if you want to be a bass musician and songwriter: you have to. And you will like it.

What we need to know

So we will start with a very compressed view of chord theory, just to know what we are talking about. For this we have to know what intervals are, we have to get a basic understanding of scales and we should always keep in mind that we are bass players.

Chords in general are not a very complicated thing if you play guitar or keyboards. If you want to use a bass it gets far more difficult, not for theory but for practical applications. Let us keep this for later when we start playing chords on bass. As this is only a basic introduction to music theory you could want to dive into details in some areas. For this have a look at all the other postings available at BassWork.

I will also provide some other links to interesting sites. However, you will not find all things in the net. You have to spend some bucks for good book. I think there are a lot of books worth the money. This one is free but it can only serve as an intro, or appetizer.

Ok, ready? So we will start with some theory, dont touch your instruments, take a pen and some pieces of paper and here we go ... Some basics about scales