A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Broken Chords

Ok. I’m going to revise something that I said in my last post, and you can all learn this with me. What we’re doing on bass made a lot more sense to me after seeing this.

In my previous post, Scales, Chords & Arpeggios, I said the following:

Chord: For most instruments, a chord is a group of 3 or more notes that are played together. They blend together to create a more complex sound. Chords can be played on bass, but because bass tends to control a low register of sound, this isn’t done as much as other instruments like guitar or piano. Many people describe the sound of chords played on the lower frets of the bass as muddy.

  • Two notes played together on bass is not called a chord. Its called a double-stop.
  • Chords are made up of specific notes (described below) and can be played in any order.

Arpeggio: Arpeggios are basically chords in which the notes are played one at a time and in order. This order can be first-to-last or can be reversed. Arpeggios are often just called chords by other musicians because they have the same notes.

I was correct about the above, but I was not completely correct about what it is that bassists play in place of chords for the majority of their work. What we play are called broken chords. I don’t understand why this was left out of the books that I’ve gone through so far on learning bass, but I think its a BIG oversight that stopped me from making sense of a lot of what I’ve been practicing.

I asked a few questions at TalkBass about chords while writing that last blog post. They can be viewed here:

I didn’t get answers to my questions until today, and was a bit confused until a member named tstone replied in my thread. He confirmed what I wrote about arpeggios, and introduced the concept of broken chords to me. Research on the web finally led to a site that explains it really well, with audio clips to boot. 😉

Before you read the rest of this post, go there, read what Matthew Abdallah has written, and listen to the sample audio. It’ll make all of the differences between broken chords, broken power chords and arpeggios crystal clear. I feel like I owe him money for time well-spent.

Broken Chords

Now that you’ve (hopefully) looked over the page on Easy Ear Training Online about broken chords, here’s the definition I first saw on Wikipedia:

broken chord: A chord in which the notes are not all played at once, but in some more or less consistent sequence. They may follow singly one after the other, or two notes may be immediately followed by another two, for example. See also arpeggio in this list, which as an accompaniment pattern may be seen as a kind of broken chord; see Alberti bass.

That’s exactly what we’re doing as bass players, most of the time. When outlining chords, and not specifically playing arpeggios, we’re playing broken chords using the chord tones that the other instruments are playing. As an aside, look at the link on Alberti bass. Its interesting. I think they’re saying that he employed something like a 1-5-3-5 pattern (for triads) for a lot of his work.

Naturally, wifey called while I was writing this (its 5:30 pm though). I’m going to go grab her from the train and head off to see our new niece. I hope this has been enlightening to someone other than me. And as an aside, since Alex Webster put up that link to my review of his book, I’ve been getting hundreds of hits a day. I might break 1,000 in a day by the time I get home (we’re at 740 for today). I just wanted to say… wow. I’m used to like 20-30 hits a day. This is impressive. Its interesting to see that almost no one comments on anything though. And I’m surprised by just how much traffic theory stuff is getting and by how much more Stig Pedersen gets. 😉


8 responses

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