Chapter 10:
Bass lines

Tie chord changes together with a smooth bass line.

A built-in bass guitar

The guitar is one of the few instruments that that can cover both the bass and treble registers.

When accompanied by a bass or piano player, we actually need to be careful not to interfere with them in the lower frequencies, which can cause the “low end” (of the frequency spectrum) to sound muddy or blurred. In those cases we can leave out the notes on low strings and play “inside” and “treble” voicings.

But in the absence of a bass player, we can provide the bass line ourselves.

Root note on down beats

To begin playing bass lines on guitar, start by playing chord root notes on the down beat of chord changes, before or even instead of the rest of the chord.

Hear the bass notes as comprising their own line, which leads and complements the chords.

Add fifths, octaves, and approach tones

Make the bass line more interesting by adding in the fifth and the octave in rhythmic approaches to the root.

Smooth out the bass line by adding approach notes before the root and fifth—either a chromatic tone, scale tone, or chord tone immediately above or below the target note.

For more information about creating good bass lines, Building Walking Bass Lines, by Ed Friedland (1995), is a great resource.