• A Special Message For Your Bass Player

    in Experienced players,Motivational Minutes,Piano,Playing By Ear,Theory

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    There’s a special message for your bass player in this lesson.

    I’m aware that a vast majority of keyboardists especially in the church circle play the bass notes on the keys (aka – “key bass”) and they achieve this electronically using the split function on their keyboard.

    However, I’ll still pass this message on to you, notwithstanding if you’re currently working with a bass player or not, and I’ve got confidence that you will deliver it to any bass player around you or the ones you’ll meet and eventually work with.

    “Who Is A Bass Player?”

    There are so many ways to classify music instruments, which can be according their families, range, etc.

    In the classification of musical instruments according to their respective families, there are string instruments, wind instruments, percussion instruments, etc., while under the classification of instruments according to range, we have bass instruments, tenor instruments, alto instruments, soprano instruments, etc.

    Bass instruments are basically instruments that produce low-pitched notes. Examples of bass instruments include the double bass, electric bass, tuba, and so on.

    Although musicians who play any of the bass instruments can be called a bassist, the term bass player, is used to describe a trained musician who plays the acoustic or electric bass.

    The Role Of The Bass Player

    Be it for an orchestra or a band, the role of a bass player is to supply the lowest sounding chord tone.

    The everyday music we listen to can be broken down into these three elements:

    • Melody
    • Harmony
    • Rhythm

    In a typical jazz band, the horn player focuses on the melody, the pianist takes care of the harmony, while the drummer keeps the music going by creating a steady rhythmic flow.

    Inasmuch as all the elements are in place, something is missing in the music and that’s the bass note. The importance of the bass note cannot be over-emphasized and that’s why the bass player occupies a vital position in the band.

    The role of the bass player in a band or orchestra is to outline the root progression, thereby giving the harmony a sense of direction. If a band intends to play a 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C major:

    …it is the role of the bass player to outline the bass notes:

    D:

    G:

    C:

    …while the pianist focuses on the harmony, the drum on the rhythm and the horn player on the melody. Using his low pitched instrument, the bass player can play the lowest notes (aka – “bass notes”) in any given chord.

    The Preliminaries

    The term bass note and root note are used interchangeably and there’s a reason for that. However, there’s a misconception that the bass note and the root note are the same and we’ll be addressing that in this lesson.

    But before we do so, let’s invest sometime in the definition of the following terms:

    Root note

    Bass note

    The Term Root Note – Defined

    Every chord you can think of, is a product of the scale relationship between notes. This explains why chord tones can be represented with ordinal numbers like first, third, fifth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, and so on.

    The C major triad:

    …consists of C, E, and G, which are commonly referred to as its first, third, and fifth tones because they are the first, third, and fifth tones of the C natural major scale:

    The first tone of a chord is also known as the root and this is because it is the tone upon which the chord is founded. This explains why the letter name of a chord is determined by the root note. Although there are three notes (C, E, and G) in the triad below:

    …its name is derived from the first note (aka – “the root note”) which is C:

    …hence the name (C major triad.)

    “In A Nutshell…”

    The chord tone from which the letter name of a chord is derived is the root note and is usually the lowest sounding note in root position chords.

    The Term Bass Note – Defined

    When a chord is played, the lowest sounding note is known as the bass note. The term bass is also used to describe the lowest sounding voice part in a choir.

    In a choir, there are four main voice parts:

    Soprano

    Alto

    Tenor

    Bass

    …and the bass voice is the lowest voice part.

    The same thing is obtainable in keyboard harmony, where the lowest sounding note is called the bass note. This makes it easy for the bass note of a chord to be determined easily.

    In the chord below:

    …the lowest sounding note (which is F#):

    …is the bass note.

    Now that your mind is refreshed on the root note and bass note, let’s proceed to the relationship between a root note and a bass note.

    The Relationship Between A Root Note And A Bass Note

    Every serious bass player must know the relationship between a root note and the bass note. For example, when the C major seventh chord is given:

    …its root note is C:

    However, that doesn’t mean that C is the bass note. The bass note is actually the lowest sounding note in a chord and the root note is just one out of the bass note options.

    “So What Are The Bass Note Options In The C Major Seventh Chord…”

    In the C major seventh chord:

    …any of the chord tones:

    C

    E

    G

    B

    …can be used as the bass note for the chord.

    “Check Out The Options…”

    Option #1. The C major seventh chord:

    …can be played over C:

    …as the bass note to produce:

    Option #2. The C major seventh chord:

    …can be played over E:

    …as the bass note to produce:

    Option #3. The C major seventh chord:

    …can be played over G:

    …as the bass note to produce:

    Option #4. The C major seventh chord:

    …can be played over B:

    …as the bass note to produce:

    The relationship between the root note and bass note is that the root note is just one of the bass note options for the bass player.

    The Limitations A Vast Majority Of Bass Players Are Facing

    So many bass players are so interested in playing the root notes and not the bass notes. Remember that the basic role of a bass player is to play the lowest note in a chord (aka – “bass notes”) which can be the root note or any other chord tone.

    I really don’t want to say that we have more “root players” than “bass players” but believe it or not, that’s the bitter truth. Most bass players are stuck with root notes that they do not explore other bass note options.

    As a bass player, it is not compulsory for you to play C (the root note):

    …as the bass note for the C major seventh chord:

    …when you can explore other bass note options like E:

    …G:

    …and B:

    Final Words

    Inasmuch as this message is for bass players, suffice it to say that any serious pianist can also learn from this post.

    Thank you for your time and I’ll see you in the next lesson.

    All the best!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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