This week I’d love to spend some time diving into some more practical music theory tips that you can use in your worship ministry (or in any modern musical venue for that matter). Very often I will run into bass players that know where the root notes of chords are but have no idea what to do beyond playing the root note. Today we’ll try and look at some simple tips bass players can use to get off of the root:
Listen – learn – play.
The absolute best way for bass players to find their way out of the familiar root note is to listen to recordings and pick out the bass part. Crank the bass on your EQ and pick out everything the bass player is doing. Attempt to play along with the song (you might have to pause quite a few times!) and learn what notes the bass player is using. Start with a slower song with a less intricate bass line to avoid a lot of frustration.
Fifths and Fourths
These two intervals are very key to making bass playing a little more interesting while keeping it simple. Because the root chord is built up of a root, a third, and a fifth – the fifth of the chord can be used to add interest. Alternate between the root and the fifth in rhythm with the rest of the song. It doesn’t have to be fancy right away. If you’ve never tried to get off of the root note before, play the root note for three beats (if you’re in a 4/4 song) and then use the fourth beat to switch to the fifth of the chord. Then, on the first beat of the next measure, come back to the root note. By playing the fifth on the last beat of the measure you create a great transition note into the next measure.
Knowing where the fourth of the chord is can be very helpful in adding a note that transitions to the fifth. It could be a quick transition that helps create a rhythmic, punching bass line. Or it could be a transition from one chord to the next. If the music goes from a I chord to a V chord, use the fourth to transition between the two.
In the same way, use thirds to transition to a knew chord. The third note of a I chord helps transition perfectly to the first note of a IV chord. Use the third note of the IV chord to transition to the root note of the V chord (take note that you will be going down instead of up in this case.) The third note of the V chord has to transtion back to the first note of the I chord. Use the third of every chord to find your way either up or down to the next chord in the song.
If you absolutely have a hard time getting away from the root of the chord – use rhythm to help create more interest. For a driving song, play repeated eighth notes instead of whole notes. Repeat the root as a separate note on the fourth beat of the measure (in 4/4) and then repeat it again on the first beat of the next measure. This helps create movement in the music.
These are some very basic tips that will help beginning bass players move away from the root note of each chord and create much more interest in the music. Anyone have any more?