Saturday, October 31, 2009

The descending bass line

As we mentioned yesterday, the use of alternate bass notes in rock songs is mostly limited to a few specific formulas. One of these formulas involves the bass line moving up or down the scale, step by step. The bass line is a secondary melody, after all, and you can give it a graceful and intentional shape.

Many chord progressions start on the tonic chord and then let the bass move down the scale. These examples will all sound familiar to your ear:

C G/B Am G
C Em/B F/A G
C G/B Am Em/G F C/E Dm G
C E7/B Am C7/G F A7/E Dm G

When the bass line descends by half-steps, it might sound a little spooky, ominous, or mournful:

C G/B C7/B♭ F/A Fm/A♭ G

You can also start on the tonic and move up the scale:

C Dm7 C/E F

And if we reverse that last sequence of chords, we have a familiar elaboration of the [four] - [one] cadence. You hear this in the Beatles' "Let It Be," for example.

F C/E Dm7 C

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