Chord Tone/Arpeggio Lesson 1…
One of the most common ways that we initially learn to play the bass is to “head on down” to our local music store in search of an instructor. This instructor will be someone that we will typically put our complete blind musical faith into, a man (or woman) who will ultimately shape the way in which we view the musical world, whether we are aware of it or not.
If you are anything like me or the large majority of students that I have inherited from previous instructors, the standard starting point is the age old “scales and modes” method. This seems like a great starting point, I mean, we all have to get that musical knowledge somehow, right? So you go for a few lessons and learn the major scale, in the meanwhile your guitar playing counterpart is already starting to strum open chords, stringing them together in ways that are now starting to resemble songs. So you guys decide to get together to start jamming and you notice several things right off of the bat. Your buddy tells you the chords are G-C-D and starts to strum, you immediately start to follow him, playing G on the G chord,C on the C chord,and D on the D chord. After figuring out the basic idea and groove, you start hearing new ideas in your head and you feel the need to expand, the only problem is that every time you try and play the G major scale (that you have been working on for weeks now) half of the notes sound strange, some even sound flat out wrong. Why is this? The song is in the key of G major after all and and you’re playing the G major scale, this should sound great, right? Well, there are a plethora of reasons for why this is probably not working but in this lesson we are going to start by focusing on one, the Arpeggio, more specifically the triad.
When most instrumentalists start their journey, the focus is usually on basic technique as well as learning songs. If you weren’t a bass player, the large majority of the time that you spent behind your instrument you’d probably be strumming chords on guitar or pounding out chords on the piano. This approach sounds much more like music as opposed to banging on root notes or running up and down scales. In fact, the bass in its traditional role is linear, which is already a bit “backwards” when compared to its chordal (harmonic) counterparts. This is why in my opinion that arpeggios/chord tones make the most sense as a starting point when it comes to the bass.
By definition, an arpeggio is the notes of a chord played linearly, or one note at a time. If when we learn most other instruments we pretty much start with chords, it makes sense that we should learn the “chordal” counterpart on the bass as well. If done correctly, this should get us on the same page as guitar playing and piano playing peers relatively quickly.
At the most fundamental level of arpeggio study is the TRIAD, a 3 note chord based on the 1st, 3rd and the 5th degree of a scale. Without tampering with it at all (adding sharps and flats) we get a Major Triad, if we flat the 3rd we get a Minor Triad, if we flat the 3rd and the 5th we get a Diminished Triad, and if we raise the 5th we get an Augmented Triad. This gives us a whopping grand total of only 4 triads : major, minor, diminished and augmented, no more no less. This very small finite number of 4 is something that I absolutely love, with music being an art there are endless possibilities, so when anything comes along that is easily quantifiable I make it a point to absorb it as best I can. At the risk of being overly repetitive say them to yourself again, Major Triad, Minor Triad, Diminished Triad and Augmented Triad. Remember that the goal is to completely absorb this information, this may come quickly to some people an not so much to others, no matter what the case may be please take the time needed to internalize all 4 triads. After all, no matter how good you get or what genre of music that you play, you will be using the triads for the rest of your musical life.
We will start with a major triad, a major triad pairs up with its corresponding major chord. In other words, if a guitar/piano player tells you that they are playing a C Major Chord then a C Major Triad would be the perfect choice, if they tell you that they are playing a B flat Major Chord then a B flat Major Triad would work great. Remember, my goal is to give you the information, the artistry of how the information is played is up to you. And yes, just in case you were wondering there are more advanced applications but you have to start somewhere, right? Just keep practicing and we’ll get there soon enough.
C Major Triad
-Comprised of the notes C,E,G
-Comprised of the intervals 1,3,5
-Corresponds with the C Major Chord
-Written as “C” on chord chart