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Finding Your Own Voice with Jimi Durso – The Bassline Hierarchy

Now that we’ve covered rhythm a bit (though there will be much more on that subject) we’re going to explore a means of conceptualizing the note elements you can use in creating or improvising a bassline. Here is a list of possible material for constructing basslines, presented from harmonically simplest to most complex:

  1. Root notes
  2. Octaves
  3. Fifths
  4. Triads
  5. Seventh chords
  6. Pentatonic scales
  7. Modes
  8. Chromatics

I’m not going to explain these elements here for two main reasons: 1. You may already be familiar with them and just haven’t thought of them as relating in this way and 2. There are probably plenty of books and sites that explain them already.

Also let me make it clear that though these elements are written in this order, it is not necessary to think of any point as needing to be inclusive of the earlier material. For instance, you could add chromatics into a triadic line, or could add in sevenths without adding thirds (as many blues lines do). But using this hierarchical approach can make it easier to get familiar with these sounds.

And get familiar with them you should. I’d suggest this: take any chord progression (could be one from an existing song or one that you make up) and run through this list playing lines using that concept (or combination of concepts). If you start with just root notes (and you’ll notice that when using simpler harmonic ideas rhythm becomes more important, which is why I started this series

with rhythmic concepts) and work through the entire series, you should get a clear idea of how to work with these elements and what kinds of moods you can create with them (and which ones fit the character of the song, if you happen to be creating a bassline for a tune). And since it’s highly improbable that someone else will make the same choices you do, you’ll be finding your own voice.

An important point (that I didn’t get early on): though for practice purposes it can be good to create basslines where you use the elements you’re focusing on for each chord, this isn’t a rule of bassline creation. Try also mixing things up. Maybe play octaves on the first chord, a seventh chord arpeggios on the second and a full modal lick on the third (or any variation you come up with). This can really stimulate your creativity.

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