Songs & Basslines - Music theory for bassists #01 (the major scale)

My philosophy in learning and teaching bass guitar was always to teach overall musicianship from the perspective of a bassplayer rather than focussing only on bass. For a good bass player it is essential to be well versed in all aspects of music. This will help you to develop and play ideas in all styles of music. My new series "Songs & Basslines" is designed to give you a thorough understanding of musical theory as it relates to playing the bass.

So let's start!

Here's a little "Etude in C major" played with the standard fingering from page 9:

This famous bassline is derived from the A major scale:


Kings Of Leon - Cold Desert & Arizona (Pedal Tone Basslines, part 3)

Here are two very nice real world examples of "pedal tone basslines" by Kings Of Leon:

But first we have to discuss another concept: the so-called "inverted pedal point":
This is when a note is sustained in the top part of the music (rather than the bass note).

A good example for this are the verses to “Cold Desert” by Kings Of Leon:


Bass Creative - Pedal Tone Basslines (Part 2)

Continuing last weeks column about "Pedal Tone Basslines".

Here's another progression with non-diatonic chords. This time in the key of E major. Try to find your own basslines too.

Here’s another example with the main chords ( I - IV - V) in D major:

Here are some examples of some well-known songs utilizing bass pedal points:

The key is G minor and the bass plays a tonic pedal (G) against the diatonic chords of the i. , iii. & iv. Degree of the G minor scale. The Db chord is just a passing chord.

The chorus and the verses of Van Halens "Running with the Devil" are utilizing different pedal tones.

There are plenty of songs with pedal tone basslines:


Bass Creative - Pedal Tone Basslines (Part 1)

A pedal tone is a repeated or ringing note underneath changing harmonies. This note doesn’t change while the chords or melody above it do. A pedal tone (or pedal point) adds harmonic tension to a chord progression.

If the pedal tone is the root note of the “I” chord, it is called a tonic pedal point (e.g. in the key of C, the C note). Tonic pedal point progressions are created by making the root note of the “I” chord the bass note of each chord in a progression by using various chord substitutions including inversions, embellishments, and chord quality changes.

The resulting chord symbols are so called “slash” chords. The chord before the slash is what the guitarist or keyboarder would play. The letter after the slash is the note the bassist plays.
More on slash chords on this blog, here!

Here’s a simple 1-4-5-Progression in C major with a tonic pedal point:

Here’s an analysis of how each triad reacts to the C bass pedal:

To play a more interesting bass pedal you can spice up the basslines with octaves or fit in some chord tones in the second half of the bar:

Here some more ideas for the same progression in slower tempo:

The previous examples only used diatonic chords of the corresponding key. But the bass pedal point also works with non-diatonic chords: