• Exposed: What Advanced Players Do With The Bass Voice In A Chord

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    In today’s lesson, I’ll be showing you what advanced players do with the bass voice in a chord.

    Believe it or not, becoming an advanced musician becomes a reality only when you think like an advanced musician. Advanced musicians see things differently, they think out-of-the-box, and sure know how to make difficult things easy and easy things difficult.

    If you really want to know what the top players are doing with the bass voice, invest the next 15 minutes in reading this blog.

    Attention: Although this lesson is written with intermediate players in mind, beginners can also benefit as well.

    “What Is The Bass Voice In A Chord?”

    There are four main voice parts in a choir:

    Soprano is the first voice

    Alto is the second voice

    Tenor is the third voice

    Bass is the fourth voice

    The notes of a chord (like the C major seventh chord):

    …can be considered as these voice parts.

    B:

    …is the soprano voice.

    G:

    …is the alto voice.

    E:

    …is the tenor voice.

    C:

    …is the bass voice.

    The term bass literally means “low” and is used to describe the lowest notes in a chord. Due to the fact that the root note of a chord is usually the lowest voice in that chord, the term bass note and root note are usually used interchangeably.

    In the C major seventh chord:

    …C:

    …is the root note and the bass note as well.

    For the rest of this lesson, we’ll use the term bass note/voice and root note interchangeably. For example, the term “bass note” in the E minor seventh chord:

    …refers to the root note (E):

    Now that we’re done with the defined the bass voice, let’s go into what the top players are doing with it.

    What Advanced Players Do With The Bass Voice

    At the advanced level of piano playing, one of the least things a pianist bothers about is the bass note.

    Having graduated from triads, to seventh chords, then to extended chords, the advanced pianist is concerned with these two things:

    • Chord skeleton
    • Chord extensions

    …among others.

    Let’s expound on them shortly before we proceed!

    Chord Skeleton

    The number of tones in a chord can vary from three (in triads), to four (in seventh chords), to seven or more (in extended chords.)

    Although all chord tones are important, there are chord tones that are important, the third and seventh tones of a chord are of the greatest possible importance and this is because they define the quality of a chord.

    For example, the obvious difference between the C major seventh chord:

    …and the C minor seventh chord:

    …is their third and seventh tones.

    Please note that both chords have the same root and fifth tones (which are C and G):

    Chord Extension

    Advanced players are also concerned with chord extensions like ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths. Did I mention altered extensions like the flat ninth, sharp ninth, flat fifth, and sharp fifth?

    These extensions when added to a seventh chord, produces an extended chord.

    For example, in the key of C major:

    …where D:

    …is an extension (the ninth), addition of the ninth (which is D):

    …to the C major seventh chord:

    …produces a C major ninth chord:

    …which is for all intents and purposes an extended chord.

    “Take Note…”

    Advanced players are more interested in the skeleton and extensions of a chord, this doesn’t in anyway mean that they are not interested in other chord tones.

    What The Top Players Do With The Bass Note

    The Q&A below summarizes it all:

    Question: What do the top players do with the bass note?

    Answer: They omit it.

    Due to the fact that top players are preoccupied with the skeleton and extensions of chords, they omit the bass note, leaving the chord rootless. The outcome of this omission produces rootless chord voicings.

    The advanced player knows fully well that there’s an instrument that’s dedicated to play bass notes, consequently, he focuses on other important chord tones like the skeleton and the extensions.

    The bass note that is omitted is usually played by the bass player – whose role in a band is to play the bass note.

    The use of rootless chord voicings are applicable even in solo piano situations where there’s no bass player to supply bass notes.

    Let’s round up by discussing on these rootless chord voicings.

    A Short Note On Rootless Chord Voicings

    The rootless voicing technique is one of the chord voicing techniques that is commonly used by advanced players to voice seventh and extended chords.

    It features the exclusion of the root note in any given chord. For example, in the C major ninth chord:

    …excluding the root note (which is C):

    …leaves us with an E minor seventh chord:

    …which is considered as the rootless voicing of the C major ninth chord:

    Final Words

    Now you’ve seen what the top players are doing with the bass voice in a chord, it’s highly recommended that you do the same. Not just because that’s what the top players are doing, but because you want to give your bass player a sense of belonging – and that’s a good thing!

    I’ll see you in the next lesson!

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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