A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown


For a while now, I’ve been reading posts on Talkbass and sections from books that talk about things like harmony and “harmonizing the major scale“, which seems to be a very important thing for bass players to do. One problem that I’ve come across though is that none of them explains what harmony is, or what harmonizing the major scale means. The internet also mostly provided information about how to add harmony using chords and other stuff that really didn’t explain the basic concept. As a beginner to this material, that wasn’t very helpful to me.

I finally found something that explains it – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory. I must be one of those. I went through a bunch of my other bass books and music theory books (including the Dummies one and Edly’s book), but nothing else really just laid out what harmony and harmonizing is – which is probably elementary stuff for people who already know it, but is an important basic concept for people like me.  So…


Harmony is basically playing multiple notes at the same time. Ideally, these notes are related and sound good together (I think this is called consonance). One a single instrument, it revolves mostly around playing chords. When multiple instruments are thrown into the mix, then the supporting instruments harmonize what the lead or melodic ones are playing with lines that follow the same chords as the lead instrument. I think this is the main reason why bass players are often asked to play the root or the root and 5th when supporting a song.

Harmonies mostly follow the same chords as the main melody. If they contrast with the chords in the main melody, or if they’re distinct melodies in their own right, they’re called counterpoint. I think its kind of like having two intertwined melodic lines.

Also – you can have any number of instruments and voices harmonizing together. They’re supposed to generally fill out the sound and make a piece sound bigger. The Idiot’s book contrasts a song with a folk singer and guitar, or a violin and piano with songs adding keyboards, bass, drums, background vocals and more as an example.

Here are 3 important definitions from the Idiot’s guide:

  • Two notes sounded together make a harmonic interval
  • Three or more notes sounded together make a chord
  • Two or more melodies sounded together make counterpoint

It then goes on to say that “Intervals and chords are used to construct harmony; counterpoint exists as separate melodic lines.” It also says “Harmony is like playing chords behind a melody, only using other instruments or voices.” This is all in Chapter 15, for those of you who have the book.

Ok. That’s it for now. I’ll write about harmonizing the major scale later, when I have a clearer understanding of it. In the meantime, here’s a video that does a great job of explaining what harmony is:

What is harmony?

This might also be helpful for those of you who understand a bit more about music that I do:


One response

  1. Pingback: Coursera – DYM Lesson 1 videos (3) | Ugly Bass Face

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