In the minds of musicians the world over it hasn’t quite been determined which sound rankles them more: a three-note bass chord wreaking havoc in the rhythm section or the menacing whir of a dental drill.
Notwithstanding this anomaly, adventurous bass players awaken daily with one thought and one thought only: the stunning beauty of bass chords has not yet reached its zenith of appreciation in this world. Then, with the deepest sense of purpose, they crack their knuckles and fire up the 4×10!!
Seriously, though, whereas a clumsy bass chord can definitely knock back the mood in your band, it can also be said that a well-played bass chord can turn heads in an instant and create a remarkable air of sophistication. And the reason for that has to do with the great tonal advantage that the bass has over the more trebly instruments that reside somewhere north of middle C.
It’s that thick and articulate bassy sound that provides an unmistakably powerful yet silky warm feeling for listeners.
While it’s true that the more fleet-fingered bassists will sometimes look with envy at guitar players and all of their soloing hijinks, the deeper truth is that it is very difficult to top the wow factor of gut-punching bass and that includes the various beautiful species of easily accessible bass chords.
Of course when it comes to bass chords, “easy” is a relative term. But for the video lesson this month I have assembled an accessible overview of bass chords for any student.
The purpose of the video lesson is to provide an explanation of some possible 2, 3, and 4-note chord voicings and to also give some examples of their use.
At the end of the proceedings, I throw down some flashy bass notes with upper-voice harmonics and add in my own recommendations for the plucking technique.
If an experienced intermediate player were to dig in for a few months of rigorously playing through these voicings, say thirty minutes per day, making sure to hold each one cleanly, the end result would be enough chording facility to make a noticeable dent in the necessary skill set for performance.
When it comes to 2-note chords (sometimes called diads) there is nothing quite as pleasing as tenths.
That’s normally when you strike a bass note on the E-string and also add the third an octave higher on the G-string.
Tenths are a very common double-stop, as jazz players call them. The sound is so big and open they should be called “Montana Chords”, and they are a hit every time you use them. It’s a great sound to have in your bag.
The 3-note chord examples are 1-3-7 major and minor chords on three adjacent strings that you can easily use to loop a simple chord vamp or a 2-5-1 progression.
Built off of the 7th degree of the major scale is the m7b5 chord.
When you start playing minor 2-5-1 progressions you will use this as a two-chord. The minor 2-5-1 sound can be a great revelation for you blues and rock players out there. To use m7b5-V7b9 in a minor blues to set up the four-chord makes for a super slick resolution.
The next development in the lesson is a 4-note chord that I call (with some humor) the Infamous Bass Barre Chord on my website. It’s the one that you form as an impressionable young bassist when you are imitating your older brother’s guitar playing, but in this case, it’s a chord that can sound more like a foghorn on your jazz bass!
A smart idea that I explore for using this rarely played 4-note bass chord is to use it to develop a finger-picking facility that can be a very helpful skill to have for all sorts of rhythmic bass chord work. It’s not the easiest skill to work on but there will be plenty of harmonic interest created and it will add a rock-solid feel to your fingerboard grip – and that’s a promise.
A special end to this power-packed overview of bass chording is my take on using bass notes with added harmonics struck for the upper voices.
From most perspectives, they have limited use, but when you gain some facility with them they can be extremely enjoyable to play even if it is only in the wee hours in your practice space.
Although I do give my recommendations for which technique to use for some of these examples I try not to be too rigid in these cases because if there is anything that bass playing has taught us here in the early part of the third millennium it is that eager and talented bassists have come up with a remarkable array of very subtle techniques to strike a bass string. And it is an amazing and humbling experience to see these developments!
I truly hope that you can take your time with these materials and that you can enjoy the long process of elevating yourself as a bass player and as a musical artist.
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