A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Coursera – FoMT Week 1 / Video 2 extra: Octaves

There were a few concepts introduced in the 2nd video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory that I wanted to expand on a little, for the sake of beginners who hear these words and don’t know what they mean. Some came from the video, and others from my own rambling about the video. As this is a bass-centric site, some of this information might be bass-specific. 


1-2 octaveThe word octave has a few meanings in music. The ones I’m familiar with are the following:

  1. A scale with 8 notes is called an octave
  2. The 8th note of a scale, which should be a repeat of the root note, is called the octave

Its basically a reoccurrence of a note either higher or lower on the fretboard, or on whatever a fretboard is called on a piano. So if you play an open E on your bass and then play the E on the 12th fret of the E-string, you’ve played an E and its octave. ANY E on the entire bass would be considered some kind of higher or lower octave.

Surprisingly, the word “octave” isn’t in the index in the Idiot’s Guide. Its mentioned throughout the text though. There’s a definition nested in the scale degrees section on page 20 that says “Two identical notes with the same name, played eight degrees apart, form an octave,” and “The word octave comes from the Latin word octo, for “eight” – because an octave is eight notes above the beginning note.”

In the chart on page 24, it shows how many 1/2 steps need to be spanned to arrive at a particular interval. An octave requires 12. So this means that, for bassists, if you count 12 frets up from any given note, you arrive at the same note either an octave higher or lower, depending on if you’re going up or down the neck, respectively.

Bass Guitar for Dummies offers the following notes:

  1. One complete scale is an octave.
  2. A scale is a series of notes (usually 7 different notes) starting with a tonal center (root) and ending with its octave, the 8th note, also the root. (The example given says that if we play a scale from C to the octave above or below it we’ve reached the next C, or octave.)
  3. Musicians also refer to the entire group of notes including the root and its octave as an octave, just to confuse beginners.
  4. A bassist will often play a groove in the lower octave and then add a riff in the higher octave to give a bassline variety and to keep listeners interested.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Coursera – Fundamentals of Music Theory Week 1 | Ugly Bass Face

  2. Pingback: Coursera – FoMT Week 1 / Video 3 | Ugly Bass Face

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