BassWork

Eric Plunk on Theory: Lesson #1


The common four-string electric bass is tuned E A D G, low to high. These intervals are all called "perfect fourths," which is equal to five frets difference between notes. Five frets equals five semi-tones (half-tones, half-steps), as well as 2 whole- tones and a half-tone. Below is a list of all the intervals in a chromatic scale:
     Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave

(note: 'm' = 'minor'    )
(      'M' = 'Major'    )
(      'P' = 'Perfect'  )
(      '+' = 'Augmented')
Each interval is one half-tone away from the next. The Octave is twice the frequency of the Tonic (aka Root.) The pattern repeats at the Octave; music theory is cyclical. Any note can be the Tonic, and any note may be called something different. This depends on the context of the music, but different names still produce the same note. An example on the E-string: The first few notes in order are
    E   F   F#(Gb)   G   G#(Ab)   A...
In music notation '#' equals 'sharp,' and 'b' equals 'flat.' 'F-sharp' and 'G-flat' are two names for the same note. F-sharp is more common than G-flat.
G | G#/Ab  A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G....
  |
D | D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D....
  |
A | A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A....
  |
E | F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E....
(A six-string bass may be tuned B E A D G C.)

This repeats, and you can start anywhere as long as you maintain this order of labeling notes from low frequencies to high frequencies.

Scales: Someone had the idea of picking seven of the twelve notes that they thought sounded nice. These are patterns that can be moved around, and can start anywhere since they repeat. (Someone said the only scale that matters is the chromatic scale. I agree with this.)

Chords: Take larger intervals and play them together. A to C# is a 'Major third' interval, and C# to E is a 'minor third' interval. This makes a Major triad chord (A C# E.) If you play a C-natural instead of C#, you would have a minor triad chord (A C E.) Major third = 4 frets, & minor third = 3 frets.

Keep in mind that patterns are movable and always repeat.

MODES
Ionian Scale: also called a major scale, is one of two most common scales in western classical music. This is the 'foundation' for almost all definitions in music.

Referencing the "Tonic.....Octave" list you see above, the notes of the C-Ionian scale fall into place this way:

     C D E F G A B C

You have the seven notes that someone chose because they sound 'nice.' The eighth note is where the first begins repeating. Given seven notes chosen out of twelve, there will be some space or gaps between the chosen notes. There are no gaps between E & F, nor between B & C. There is a gap of one space (fret) between the other notes. If you line up the C-scale and the 'names,' it would look like this:

Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
C          D       E   F       G       A       B   C
Notice that the notes line up under the 'Major' intervals. The interval of C to F is called a Perfect Fourth, even though the difference is five frets. Western counting starts with the 'one' on the C; therefor D=2, E=3, F=4, etc. These gaps explain the discrepancy between the frets and the 'names.'

This pattern, or scale, is movable. Let's compare F-Ionian and G-Ionian (the 4th and 5th of C-major, respectively.)

F-Ionian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
F          G       A   Bb      C       D       E   F

G-Ionian 
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
G          A       B   C       D       E       F#  G
Notice that one note in each scale was 'modified' to fit the pattern.

Now look at the A-Aeolian scale.  It has the same notes as the
C-Ionian scale, but it starts on A.

A-Aeolian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
A          B   C       D       E   F       G       A

Notice that M3 became m3, M6 became m6, and M7 became m7.
Same notes, different starting point, different scale pattern.

C-Aeolian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
C          D   Eb      F       G   Ab      Bb      C

Notice the modifications to make the C-scale fit the Aeolian pattern.
The Aeolian pattern is as common as the Ionian pattern in Western
Classical music, and is also used as a reference.

Lydian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X          X       X       X   X       X       X   X

Ionian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X          X       X   X       X       X       X   X

Mixolydian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X          X       X   X       X       X   X       X

Dorian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X          X   X       X       X       X   X       X

Aeolian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X          X   X       X       X   X       X       X

Phrygian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X      X       X       X       X   X       X       X

Locrian
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X      X       X       X   X       X       X       X

Whole Tone Scale
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X          X       X       X       X       X       X

Chromatic Scale
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X      X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X

Diminshed Scale
Tonic  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  +4  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  Octave
X      o   o   X   o   o   X   o   o   X   o   o   X

(o = optional in the above scale.)
The Octave is twice the frequency of the Tonic (aka Root.) Any note can be the Tonic, and any note may be called something different. This depends on the context of the music, but different names still produce the same note.

Frequency: This is what we are playing. Find two E's on the E-string, one at the nut & one at the twelfth fret. Notice that the higher pitched E has one-half the string length as the one at the nut (measure it if you want.) Compare frets 4 & 16. (measure 0 at the bridge/saddle.)

Different names: The same E is either the Fifth of A, the Third of C, or the Root of E, etc. Same note, different contexts, different 'labels.'

THE USEFULNESS OF SCALES
The idea is that if you know all the notes, and their relation to the others, then you know all you need to. The western scales are said to be unimaginative, and lead to unimaginative music. Basslines need imagination to add their wonderful spice to songs.

USING CHORDS
Take larger intervals and play them together. A to C# is a 'Major third' interval, and C# to E is a 'minor third' interval. The 'third' goes back to the names given the intervals in the scalar patterns.

AN EXERCISE FOR YOU
Take any note, and define it as the root of a scale. Take two different scalar patterns (Locrian, Mixolydian, etc.) and find where the other notes line up. Find these notes on one string only, then across all four.

Once you have all this info clear, we can delve into chords and why chordal substitutions work.

(If a western piece of classical music is said to be in Bb Major, it is Bb-Ionian. Likewise, G minor is G-Aeolian. This is why these two scales are so common that they are used as references for everything else.)


End of Lesson #1. [Eric Plunk on Theory: Lesson#2] [BassWork Index]