Melodic Bass Lines
We’ve all heard about “chordal scales.” Chordal scales are useful; they contain the chord tones—we really need those!—and a set of neighbor and passing tones that will sound reasonably and reliably good. Chordal scales are emphasized in a lot of teaching methods. Are they the basis of what we need to know as bass players? Do we make our lines out of chordal scales?
Consider this line:
Sound familiar? It’s so familiar to us that we could call it the “Bass Major Scale!”
But is it a “scale?”
I would prefer to think of a scale and its contents as the primary source for harmonic construction, chords, and progressions; it’s the “mother lode” for harmony. The scale is a terrific source of melody, but melody is more than that, as we will explore, and our bass lines need to be melodic in order to provide direction and drive. One of our most important functions is to lead the music into the next chord, or to provide color and interest in the chord we’re on at the moment. If our thinking in the construction of lines is limited to the notes in the scale, we never would have played the line above.
Can we make a harmonic system from the “bass major scale?” Maybe—but, good luck with that! It’ll be weird.
So, if it’s not a scale, then—what is it?
Anchors, Pivots and Lead-Ins
There’s another way of thinking about the construction of bass lines—it’s a “system” that a lot of players use instinctively, but I’ve tried to give it a name and develop a coherent theoretical approach that accounts for the existence of the “bass major scale.”
According to my way of thinking, this is not a “scale” at all, but instead, it’s an “Anchor” (root in a low register) followed by a “Lead-In” (directional melodic material, containing harmonic and/or non-harmonic tones) to a “Pivot” (the primary “oppositional tone” to the anchor, most usually the fifth of the chord or scale), followed by a lead-in back to the anchor.
I’ve written a book on this subject and we’ll begin serializing it here in the next column. For those who want to get a jump on this, or find these ideas too compelling to wait for the column, the book is here
We’ll cover a variety of subjects, including dynamics, rhythmic overlays, ornamentation of chord tones, rhythm, dynamics, and eventually technique in columns to come.