Bass Lines (En)

Hi and welcome

Here, I propose to help the many Electric and Acoustic Bass beginners who are discovering chord changes, and are worrying about it. In addition, established bassists, just discovering jazz, will easily be able to use what is written below: what to do to be a most effective player, and to be easy to play with: what you should think about.?



A chord is an assembly of notes played at the same time. At least, three notes (or pitches), and a maximum of as many as you want (theoretically). In jazz music, most of the chords include from four to six notes (pitches): The ROOT/THIRD (Major or Minor), the FIFTH/SEVENTH (Major or Dominant), the NINTH/THIRTEENTH. Chords are built from THIRD to THIRD using the scales from which they are extracted.
The harmony we use in jazz is quite the same as in classical European (Western) music. The chords are built using two types of scales: The MAJOR mode, or the MINOR mode. (In solos, some other types of scales can be used)


Here, we’ll use a C Major, and C Minor Scale.

C D E F G A (Bb) B C
Root Second Third Fourth Fifth Sixt (Dominant Seventh) Major Seventh Octava
C D Eb F G Ab (Bb) B C
1 2 3min 4 5 6b (7) 7M 8

* In french musicaly « ton » means Step.

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The main cause of mistakes is the confusion between the dominant seventh & the major seventh, that’s why the seventh appears in red (even if it’s not in the scale) & the Major seventh ( the sensible) appears in black.
Two things you should know by heart:

  1. The major seventh is half a step from the root .
  2. The seventh is one step from the root.

EX: The first chord we can build on a C scale is a CMaj or C minor (it depends on the mode we use).
CMaj = C E G (Root /third /fifth)
CMaj7 ou C7M = C E G B (Root/third / fifth/ Major seventh)
C 7 = C E G Bb ( Root/third /fifth/ seventh)
Cmin = C Eb G
Cmin7M = C Eb G B
C-7 = C Eb G Bb
The second chord is a D-7 = D F A C (Major mode) & D-7 5b = D F Ab C (minor mode)
The third is E-7 = E G B D (Major mode) & Eb7M 5+ = Eb G B D(minor mode)
The fourth F7M = F A C E (Major mode) & F-7 = F Ab C Eb etc etc,,,..
Your turn to finish the scale and in Every Key!!

You should use your instrument. It will be obvious to you that some fingering will be very helpful to find the seventh , the fifth , Flat five etc…without the need to think about the name of the note first! (it will come later). In a bass-line the notes function ,so the sound you produce is primary! ! the name of the note is ..secondary!


In classical music, the composer writes everything , each note .
Melodies, chords, rhythm, tempo & Bass.
So Bass players /cello player, just have to read what’s writen (following the conductor)
In jazz & similar music ( Songs, Folk, Musette, Bossa, Samba, Rock , Blues ..etc..) Most of the time the harmony is writen as chord changes.


F7 Bb7 F7 F7

The bass player must « invent » his playing while respecting the chord changes ( the harmony ).

Here we ‘ll use the upper example, swing in four .

The final goal is to play 4 notes in each bar . It’s not an easy gig, for that you will have to respect a few principles.

  1. Express the key (C F G etc..)
  2. Express the mode ( Major / Minor)
  3. Swing ( the most difficult !)

The key.
The following example is the simplest one.

First, get use to the Changes by playing one note in each bar(whole note) it will be the Root..

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The Mode.

In our example we only use major chords with dominant seventh. We will now play 2 notes a bar (Half notes) we express the key and the mode at the same time.
Finale 2000 2It’s now very easy to play 4 notes a bar (quarter notes) , doubling each note. In order to avoid monotony we’ll add the fifth in the last two bars , & already this bass line begins to sound great! Finale 2000 3Here we add the fifth on the fourth beat of the bar, this is perfect for the next chord. (and later very effective for modulations) In order to avoid disagreeable lining ( same fifth & root ) we use an octave.(aisle from 2nd to 3 rd bar) 

Finale 2000 4We’ll now express the whole harmony using an arpeggio. This use all the chords notes, including the Seventh.Playing Arpegios is excellent for Harmony and instrument knowledge, but the effect is terribly poor, So we strongly recommend avoiding consecutive arpeggios. Finale 2000 5In the following example, we add the octave and in the third and fourth bar, what we call  » Passing note « , Here the sixth and the fourth..You will notice that for the first time we dontuse the root on the first beat of a bar(bar 4) but a fifth ..This concept is very important for modal music. When the harmony lasts more than one bar it’s not necessary to play the root again, at the beginning of each bar, This would be to poor, too heavy. Just play a note belonging to the chord,on the first beat. (Here the fifth , but we could have use the third)Finale 2000 6We’ ll now develop the  » passing note  » principle. It is the most important concept , because it’s the one that gives the freedom of creation (the most important) , and later on, will give a musician the power of soloing & improvising ! First you must understand two fundamental things.

Strong harmony beats/ Strong rhythmic beats.

In a four- beat bar , the Strong harmony beats are the 1st and the 3rd beats On those beats we will try to play the important notes belonging to the chord (whatever it is). On the other hand,those 1th& 3rd beats are rhythmically weak (especialy in swing Music) so those notes don’t have to be too »heavy ».Still in a 4 beats bar Strong rhythmic beats  the 2nd et le 4th beatthose beats are harmonically weak.passing notes« How to choose the « passing notes »? Because a beat is harmonically weak it’s not a reason to play bullshit .A good bass-line(Middle Jazz /ModernJazz )is a following of notes using a joint motion going up or going down.Your bass line must not be more important than the main melody or than what the soloist is playing .The more complicated the lines are that you will play…(arpeggios,too much distance between notes , complicated rhythm.)the more you will be disturbing the music.Also ,what’s possible at a slow tempo becomes impossible to play on a fast tempo .Think simply & effectively, keep your « complicated » ideas for your own solos .In the first time, we ‘ll use notes belonging to the scale from which the chord was built.Going up or (and) downA very important principle is TENSION/REST A « wrong » note can be great if it is before or after a « good one ».Upper or Under Chromaticism is the perfect illustration Now, we’ll develop the preceding information. For that we will change to another example..

CMaj7 CMaj7 Fmin7 Bb7
Lets use the following principle: I .II.III . V going up , & I . VII . VI.V going down.
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Willingly I added a repeat bar so that we have to go back to the beginning, and thus the last note of the 4th bar is very importantLikewise, in the game of Pool, it’s not enough to make a good shot, you have to be in good position to make the next one, to be able to continue your playing easily. Bass line creation requires the same kind of thinking..

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Here, it’s already a little more complex. The « passing notes » are underlined with a little « p. » Here is a perfect example of chromaticismIn Bar 3 the natural A is « wrong » ( F minor) , but on the 4th beat & half a step from the two notes itis between, better yet it’s using a joint motion by going upwards ..the effect is great.It’s the same in bar 4 (I remind you that the repeat bar sends us back to bar 1 )On the fourth beat , choose the upper chromatic ascendant B Natural or under chromatic Db..I add a little rhythmic effect( bar 1 & 4) which makes it Bounce. Note that this effect is always before those « famous » 2nd and 4th Strong rhythmic beats.



Until now in our illustration , we have only used one chord per bar.Very often there are more: mostly two.In these cases there are not too many options .We need two notes per chord .

Finale 2000 9ROOT /THIRD is quite often the right solution, because it’s the only one which expresses, in 2 notes, the key and the mode.However ,in the case where the changes include a lot of chords of this type (II V) we’ll avoid monotony by using the Flat five as a  » passing note » (bar 4) and this even if the chord doesn’t have a flat five !
Finale 2000 10Above we use the seventh going down to the root (bar 1 & 2).very nice effect.A little innovation , on A7 (bar 2) we play the third..first, immediately followed by the root.Same (bars 4) we play the fifth first & the root after. Using of the 5b on G7 (bar 3)

Now here are two bass lines on a blues in F, that summarizes what has been said before.Keep training yourself to play it both in a row, and don’t forget to put a little accent on the second & fourth beats.Always use a metronome, or a rhythm machine. And train yourself to « stamp » and feel the 2nd & 4th beat.Then make the effort to transpose the lines in other keys .. (Bb/ Eb/ G /c etc….)

Finale 2000 11Trust your ears and your good sense.Don’t try to explain everything. Think about having pleasure first.
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3/4  Jazz waltz.

Let’s talk about a very usual rythm in jazz: The 3/4 or the jazz waltz. There is a lot of famous tunes written in 3/4 like « Someday my prince will come, Blusette, All blues, Very early.. etc  » There are also a lot of other songs usually written in 4/4  re visited by some composer/ arranger, and transformed in 3/4. The rules are the same as a 4/4 song, first let’s play the root. Finale 2001b 14Then on the third beat we can ad a quater note, for exemple the fifth or the third. Finale 2001b 15In bar number 3 I’v used a chromaticism (I talk about that a little bit earlier) in order to go back to F7, avoiding repeats of third and fifth that could be to monotonous. Now exactly as on a 4/4 we can « Walk » and play and the beats.Finale 2001b 16This last exemple is very easy and simple to use, but I don’t think( it’s a personal taste ) that it’s the most efficient on a waltz . 3/4 is a fragile rhythm and must bounce. Playing all the beat can be sometime too stiff. Finale 2001b 17Two « larges » dotted quater notes  divid really well the bar in two  and bring a very nice bouncing effect; a « good swing ». However ( and stil my personal taste )  the best in a 3/4 is a mix of everything we’v just talked about, adding a few rhythmic effects as following.Finale 2001b 18


To finish this page : Listen to bass players that swing..!!

Paul Chambers
 © Paul Chambers / Yusef Lateef (Bass region)

1. Bass Region     

Ron Carter © Horace Silver (Slow Down)

2. Slow Down (Horace Silver)     

it’s now up to you to play .  and if you find it helpful . thanks in advance .