Bass Scales and Chords…
This lesson is all about unlocking bass scales and chords that will help to make your sound unique.
Yes, you can take as many music lessons as you want, you can enroll in any bass guitar course that you want, but this still doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a great musician. In fact, no one can ever guarantee that you’ll become one. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you and how you implement the knowledge you get into your own original music. And no one will ever care whether you’re a self-taught musician or whether you went to a prestigious university.
But with this said, there are still some fun and engaging ways for you to figure out how to sound unique. While we mostly base our music theory knowledge around the standard major and minor scales, major and minor chords, and occasional ventures into 7th chords or a few modes, there are some things that bass players, and musicians in general, might overlook. Although “unconventional,” in the sense that they’re not part of the standard Western music styles that we’re used to, there are some great scales and chords out there that can find their use in modern music.
If you agree with this, we’ve come up with a list of what we thought are the best bass scales and chords that will make you sound unique. These aren’t some “controversial” or “forbidden” elements, but rather scales that are regarded as unusual but can find their use in some practical settings in modern music. If you’re looking for the best ways to spice things up, we’ll share these chords and scales and explain how you can implement them in practical settings. We’ll also present each scale using degrees from a modified major scale.
Aside from the pentatonic scale, the blues scale is one of the most often ones in modern music. Although we usually associate it with blues, hard rock, maybe even metal music, it can find implementation in mainstream pop music and other genres as well. While the scale is based on the standard minor pentatonic, the addition of the augmented fourth interval, or diminished fifth (depending on how you look at it), really changes the whole vibe.
However, what if you fused this scale with the Dorian mode? It sounds weird, but it’s no rocket science. Just take the pentatonic scale, add a diminished fifth, minor second, and a major sixth. You can then use it for any minor chord progression where a major 6th interval would sound good. It’s a good “jazzy” substitute for the Dorian mode. Presented numerically, it goes:
- 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – b5 (or #4) – 5 – 6 – b7
While we’re at Dorian mode, there’s one pretty interesting modification to it. It’s pretty mindblowing how just one note can make a world of difference. In this case, we have a standard Dorian scale, only with its augmented 4th degree. The one-and-a-half step gap between the minor 3rd and the augmented 4th makes it sound mystical, especially when you combine it with the minor second interval in there. However, the major 6th interval makes it kind of weird yet special. It goes something like this:
- 1 – 2 – b3 – #4 – 5 – 6 – b7
Now, if you’re a fan of blues-rock, but you want to add real jazzy feel in your songs, then there’s one scale that can help you out. We’ve mentioned the Dorian-blues hybrid above. However, you can also expand this scale with an additional major 3rd interval. This way, you also cover more sonic territories, and it fits well with dominant 7th chords as well. Aside from the I-IV-V progressions, you can implement it with many minor progressions, or any song where a Dorian mode works well. It goes like this:
- 1 – 2 – b3 – 3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – 6 – b7
Look, there’s hardly any part of any piece of any music genre where you can properly implement the Locrian mode. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun whit it when writing your bass lines or doing some brief improv runs in specific parts of songs. Yes, it’s difficult to implement, but it’s still isn’t impossible. By writing bass lines or melodies in Locrian mode, you’ll create somewhat of an unresolved and kind of “tense” effect. This is due to its minor 2nd and minor 3rd intervals, in combination with the diminished 5th and the minor 6th. You can either implement it if the entire piece or a section is written in the Locrian mode, or you can use its main 7th chord to create an unusual unresolved tension over a minor chord progression.
- 1 – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – b6 – b7
Yes, the melodic minor scale is no secret. If you’re at least somewhat into music theory, there’s a high chance you’re already familiar with it. However, this scale is so often overlooked, yet it can completely change any of your songs. The problem here is that we have a minor scale with major 6th and major 7th intervals. Or, an easier way to look at it would be a natural major scale with a minor 3rd interval. It’s pretty cheerful-sounding for a minor scale, and it can be implemented instead of the natural minor, in case you want to make things jazzier.
- 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7
We’re all familiar with the good old pentatonic scale that’s pretty much a foundation of modern rock (and even pop) music. But we usually tend to look at it in a very limiting way and not think of its modes. Just like with any scale, there’s also a great minor pentatonic mode that’s referred to as the Egyptian pentatonic. What’s really interesting is that this scale can be used instead of any minor scale and instead of any dominant scale. It’s neither minor nor major, but kind of “universal” for many different settings. Here’s how it goes:
- 1 – 2 – 4 – 5 – b7
While we’re at it, the so-called Hiraj?shi is another great example of a “universal” scale. In its essence, it’s also a pentatonic scale, since it has five degrees. However, we have minor 2nd and diminished 5th intervals in there. And it’s neither minor nor major. Just Hiraj?shi. The lack of a 3rd interval makes it kind of “universal” for different settings and contexts. It is a traditional Japanese scale and has some serious Eastern music vibes.
- 1 – b2 – 4 – b5 – b7
There’s just something sinister about diminished chords and diminished scales. This is due to the fact that they feel really tense and unresolved, way more than even the Locrian mode and its main 7th chord. But the diminished scale has two variants, both of which alternate between the whole and half steps. The one starts with the half step and the other with a whole step. Here’s how they go:
- 1 – b2 – b3 – b4 – b5 – 5 – 6 – b7
- 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – #5 – 6 – 7
They’re also referred to as octatonic scales since they have 8 instead of regular 7 intervals. They’re usually not that easy to implement but are useful for any place where you have a diminished chord in the progression, or anywhere where you’d need to add some tension.
Double harmonic minor (or “Hungarian minor”)
Lastly, we’d include the so-called double harmonic minor, which is also referred to as the “Hungarian minor scale.” And this particular one is known as one of the most depressing-sounding scales of all time. There’s an augmented 2nd interval between its 3rd and 4th degrees, as well as between its 6th and 7th degrees. There’s also a three-note chromatic run in there, making it sound super-dark. Here’s how it looks like:
- 1 – 2 – b3 – #4 – 5 – b6 – 7
Minor 7 b5
Derived from the Locrian mode, the minor 7th chord with a flat 5th interval is a pretty interesting one. As tricky and unusual as the scale in question, it’s not that easy to implement it. However, it can be quite a colorful addition to your bass-playing vocabulary when used properly. For instance, it comes really in handy if you’re playing a standard II-V-I chord progression in a minor key. In this case, you’ll use it as the first chord in the progression.
Another great way is to use it as a substitute for a minor chord. However, you’ll have to play it with the root note one-and-a-half step lower than the original minor chord. So if you need something to spark up that C minor chord, just play an A minor 7th with a flat 5th. This way, it’s kind of like playing a C minor with an added 6th.
5th chord with #11
Chords with a #11 are pretty unusual, and kind of spooky in some way. But they’re still a pretty useful tool if you need some tension in there without playing a diminished chord or a diminished arpeggio. They’re not that common, but can be pretty interesting if you need to add a passing chord and completely change the vibe of your music. They might be tricky on a bass guitar though, but they’re far from an impossible task to figure out.
“The Call of Ktulu” chords
Do you know Metallica’s instrumental “The Call of Ktulu”? Well, two of those intro chords that the guitar is playing are pretty tense. Essentially, they are A minor add9 and an A minor add9/D#. That D# here is an augmented 11th (or an augmented 4th) interval, which adds a pretty scary-sounding vibe to it.
Minor 7th with added 9th
But if you need something more mellow and relaxing, we’d recommend a good old minor 7th chord with an added 9th interval. Sure, it’ll be easier to pull off if you’re playing a 5-string or a 6-string bass, although it’s also possible to play it on a regular 4-string.
Keep practicing (the payoff is worth it)
Since the bass guitar works on the same principles as a regular 6-string guitar, all of these chords and bass scales will work well in those settings as well. In order to implement them properly and use their full potential, you’ll need to be acquainted with some basic of the basic music theory concepts. When you get that covered, these elements will come in as a perfect tool for your musical expression.