Bass Guitar Chords

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Know Essential Bass Guitar Chords

Bass guitar chords are associated with a particular key and scale. Trying to just pick chords randomly is putting the cart before the horse--it won't work. There are 12 notes in a scale (including sharps and flats), but once you pick a key, you have only seven different notes to choose from because that is how many notes each scale has.

Let's say you want to write a song in the key of C major. Its scale is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Your chords must use these notes or your composition will sound off, to say the least. The C is the root note, and you can form one of the most pleasing chords in music by playing C with its third and fifth notes, E and G, simultaneously. That's all a chord is--three or more different notes played at the same time.

The Role of the Bass

The bass plays mostly root notes for a good, solid-sounding line that anchors a band's playing. Passing notes are common, however, and the better the guitarist, the more creativity enters the playing. An excellent guitarist would be capable of using the perfect fifth interval, the fifth note in the scale, as a complement to the root note. By alternating between the two, the player maintains the solid bass line, but also adds color to it.

In any chord, the note in the bass position dominates the other two or more notes because of its frequency, or loudness. So, in the CEG chord, the C carries more harmonic weight because of the frequency of its vibration. Likewise, bass guitar chords have a fuller, deeper sound than those played by higher-pitched instruments. For these reasons, the bass player in a band must have a good grasp of bass guitar scales and a deep understanding of chords and scales.

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