I’ve been a fan of Adam Neely since this blog started in 2011. Some of my first posts are about his early videos – particularly his videos about proper right and left hand technique. I just discovered Ben Levin a few months ago and have been watching his theory vids (as his alter-ego, Fake Dr. Levin) a bit. Well, apparently, they’re friends and went to Berklee together – and I just discovered some collaborative videos from the two of them in which they demonstrate creative songwriting exercises for guitar and bass.
I liked the counterpoint one, in particular, because I’m a fan of counterpoint (listen to the bass on Opeth’s 2nd album!). They also got into an exercise from Mick Goodrich‘s “The Advancing Guitarist“. I read some of that after discovering it through Tom Kenrick‘s blog a while ago. They demonstrated an exercise from the 1st chapter, which was about playing on a single string. All 3 videos have interesting creative applications, so grab a snack and enjoy!
So, last night, instead of working through the Hal Leonard book, I experimented with chord tones. What I wanted to do was find all of the chord tones over a 2-octave range and see what kinds of sounds they bring forth. I ended up really liking minor chord tones over 2 octaves. There are some really nice, melancholic sounds available when you have a low root and travel up to a higher octave’s 3rd and 5th.
I limited myself to 4 strings and tried not to change position too much, so I didn’t have a way to easily incorporate a higher 7th chord tone, but the first octave’s 7 plus the second octave’s chord tones provided a lot of fun sounds to experiment with. 7ths didn’t get used very much though. I know they’re used more in jazzy lines, and my guess is that at this stage, my ear is drawn to more rock or pop lines & tones. I also found that, in general, when traveling upward, I was able to stick mostly to chord tones, but when traveling back down, I’d add in a passing tone from the scale.
Here are moveable fretboard patterns for major and minor chords over 2 octaves:
I checked out Talkbass today – its been a while since I’ve been there. A new member named Magnvm asked a question about where to start when learning bass. He provided a chart for guitars that he’s seen as a talking point. A lot of advice was given, but the first response, by MalcolmAmos, really struck a chord with me. He spoke about theory and what a bassist might need to know based on the type of music they’re playing. Then, he got into the Circle of 5ths (or 4ths, if you look at it backwards).
I was going through ex. 42 (D-Lite) in the HLBM yesterday and got curious. I wanted to know what key it was in, and if there was an easier way to play it, although I’m still making myself do it from 1st or 2nd position, which is what we’re currently using in the book. I was fairly certain that its in D-major because the exercises in this lesson focus on the D-string. But, I wanted to know where the notes fall in the D-major scale.
So, I ended up counting the notes to get a tally of how often each appeared in the exercise, in case that became important. After analysis, I don’t think the frequency is what’s important. I think that each note’s position, and thus, role, in the song or exercise is.
There are only 5 notes in the exercise. This revelation should make it easier for me to play, conceptually, because it narrows down the number of notes I have to remember. I didn’t think about taking note of the actual number of different notes in a given exercise before. The notes are A, B, C#, D and E.
1. D major
I ended up writing out the D-major scale and highlighting the notes. They’re all in the actual scale – no chromatic notes. I believe that this means they’re diatonic. Here they are:
So, we can see that by scale degrees, we’re only using the 1, 2, 5, 6 & 7. Three of those are chord tones – the 1 (D), 5 (A) and 7 (C#). Two of them are passing tones 2 (E) and 6 (B). This was interesting to me because it let me look at something else – where were we using chord tones and when weren’t we? How did we transition from one chord tone to the next? This let me begin to understand their functions.
Also, with this exercise, I noticed that there are a lot of “waves” where what we play climbs up and then back down, with regard to notes/tones.
Here’s the exercise with the scale degrees painted on. This is in D-major:
Here’s a good series of 4 exercises that show the effects of building basslines with different subsets of note selections. Its jazz-oriented, but there’s no reason that the same principles can’t be applied to any style. Each of the 4 exercises includes a video example.
1. Without the root
The first exercise takes a blues progression and uses only the chord tones of the given scale to make a bassline – so we can only use the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. I don’t believe that it uses the octave. I’ve done this, myself, in the past when experimenting with rhythms – just pick a root and try to come up with repeatable patterns that sound good using only chord tones.
Overall, the video that accompanies this one was the least enjoyable to my ears though. I wonder if that would have been different if there were a lead instrument being played over it, so that the chord tones would actually have something to accompany.
The 6th video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is a 4:15 second piece called “Primary chords and their application“. Dr. Worth begins the video by recapping that we’ve found 7 triads that we can derive from the major scale. I believe that what he’s referring to are triads with root notes started on each note of the scale. So, in C-major (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) we’d have a triad with a root of C, one with a root on D, the next on E, etc.
He says that we’re going to focus on the 3 major ones, which are C, F and G. I believe that those are major because we’re working in the key of C, and in that key, [C is the 1], [F is the 4] and [G is the 5] – which is also called a I-IV-V chord progression. In a major tonality, the 1, 4, and 5 are major.
Worth explains that these chords are important in common practice classical music, jazz, pop, rock and folk music. Their use is sometimes referred to as the “Three Chord Trick”. Yes, that does sound like a derogatory name for a musician. He then walks us through each of the three triads that we’re going to look at.
- The C-major chord, which starts on the tonic, or 1, and is called the Tonic triad
- The F-major chord, which starts on the 4th degree and is called the Sub-dominant triad
- The G-major chord, which starts on the 5th degree and is called the Dominant triad
Now, these are just names. The names tell us their function in the scale they’re derived from, but I personally just think of them as the I, IV and V. This also helps me figure out which finger and fret to use to find them, based on where the tonic, or 1 is. Of course, that’s because I still use this info with one of two major scale patterns that I know.
What he says next is important to bassists and applies to most Western music: When we’re harmonizing a melody its normal to have a melodic note be a member of a chord that’s backing it. We can expect to hear a strong melody note existing in its chord.
The 5th video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is called “Introduction to chords“. Its about 9 1/2 mins long. Dr. Worth begins the session by explaining that with scales so far, we’ve been working sequentially, in a linear fashion, sounding one note at a time. However, its very common in music to sound multiple notes at the same time. This sounding of several notes together is called playing a chord.
My understanding of chords is that they’re the odd-numbered notes in a scale. So, if a scale has 8 notes, the chord tones are the 1, 3, 5 and 7. People also include the 8 because its the octave, making it the same as the 1. The even-numbered notes are notes in the scale, but aren’t chord tones. Also, these odd and even numbers are called scale degrees. So, the first note is the 1, the second note is the 2, and so on. I believe they also call this the Nashville Number System.
Dr. Moir jumps in to say that before we continue, we must recap the difference between the C major scale and the A Aeolian mode, or Natural Minor scale. So, C major is played using the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. That’s fairly straightforward. A Aeolian is built by playing the notes of the C major scale starting at the 6th scale degree, or the note A. So, its A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.
The Dr.’s then proceed to play both scales on the piano while showing the note names by letter as well as tone & semi-tone formulas onscreen. The formulas show us whether to move one fret or two frets on a bass before we land on the next note in the scale/mode. For pianists, using only the white keys, the formulas reveal whether to move forward by 1 or 2 keys at a time to get to the next note.