A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Scale degrees / the bass is tuned in 4ths

Last night, as I lay in bed, something that I’d read clicked and made sense to me. I read somewhere that “the bass is tuned in 4ths“. I never paid attention to it, but as I was falling asleep, I realized that E-A-D-G are all 4ths… and I added a 5th and 6th string to the equation and it still worked!

Let me explain. In those scale pattern posts, I said at some point that as you practice the patterns, count out the notes if you don’t know the note names. Apparently, counting out the number of the note has other uses.

When you play a major or minor scale you can count each note that’s played, starting with the root note (tonic). So, if you play a whole major or minor scale, you’d count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. That 8 is, of course, the root note played again, one octave higher (or lower, if you’re playing top-to-bottom).

Apparently, each of those notes is a scale degree. That’s straight out of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Bass Guitar. The root is called “the 1“, and the rest all just follow in sequence. This becomes important later on, in music theory. When you learn things like chords, you learn that things like triads are played by playing combinations of the root, the 3rd and the 5th.

Anyway, I was thinking about the idea that the bass is tuned in 4ths, and then it occurred to me:

E-F-G-A – A is the 4th of E.
A-B-C-D – D is the 4th of A
D-E-F-G – G is the 4th of D

When people get 5 and 6 string basses, they tend to get a low B string and a high C string. Check this out:

G-A-B-C – C is the 4th of G. (And its a Hi-C, how cool is that?) 😉
B-C-D-E – Its backwards but, B is 4 notes away from E… so its still a 4th away.

I don’t know if this is useful for anything just yet, but looking at that, it finally made sense to me why standard tuning uses those particular letters for the open strings.


4 responses

  1. Pingback: Christmas Invasion « Ugly Bass Face

  2. Pingback: The 5th of an 8th – and 4ths! | Ugly Bass Face

  3. Pingback: Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths | Ugly Bass Face

  4. Pingback: Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 4 | Ugly Bass Face

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