VERY basic question about guitar and bass

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ijontyijonty Frets: 27
Do the notes of a bass line always have to match the chords?

What I mean is: If the bass line is B, C, B, G, for example, are you then restricted to some form of B, C, B, and G for the chords? 

I’m new to song writing, and often get the bass line given to me for me to write guitar to it. So far, it never works unless I stick slavishly to the same notes. Or am I being too narrow-minded?


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  • prowlaprowla Frets: 863
    Of course not!
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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 373
    edited March 3
    No.

    Depending on the song it might not even need to blend with the chords. Dissonance can be a great tool.

    The example you gave could have all manner of possibilities. You could play G C Em G for example. Or B C G G. Or B C G Em... Or... 

    You could easily have a song where the bass plays the same note over and over and the chords change around it
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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 2585
    Simply put, the bass line dances around the chords.
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27
    Yes, my instincts say that surely there’s loads of freedom. But as I know ZERO theory, I’m just picking chords randomly.

    Perhaps that’s fine, as it’s only the sound that matters, but presumably there’s a way of knowing what’s more likely to work.

    For example, why specifically suggest G C Em G @flying_pie? Is there a reason for those?

    Apologies if this is very basic, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?


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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 373
    ijonty said:
    For example, why specifically suggest G C Em G @flying_pie? Is there a reason for those?
    Yes. The bass notes you choose are all part of those individual chords. It's the same for all those I suggested. See below - your bass notes are in bold

    G major is G B D
    C major is E G
    E minor is E G 
    G major is B D 


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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27
    ijonty said:
    For example, why specifically suggest G C Em G @flying_pie? Is there a reason for those?
    Yes. The bass notes you choose are all part of those individual chords. It's the same for all those I suggested. See below - your bass notes are in bold

    G major is G B D
    C major is E G
    E minor is E G 
    G major is B D 


    Yes, that makes sense, because each bass note appears in that chord, even though it’s not the root note? But I get a sense from people’s responses that there’s much more freedom than that too? 


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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 373
    Yes. There's lots of freedom. I simply gave those examples as ideas for how different chords can work over the same bass notes. You could just strum a G chord while the bass plays the 4 notes you chose. The C note would give a sus4 feel which resolves to the root note.

    Often a bass line will make use of the notes in the chords and the scale the song is in. But sometimes notes outwith the scale work well.
    It totally depends on what you want to write.
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2807
    edited March 4
    ijonty said:
    If the bass line is B, C, B, G, for example, 
    ... then you can deduce what scale(s) those bass line notes will work with and build chords using the notes from within that scale.

    Just to be different from flying_pie, consider this.

    B is the root of B Major
    C is the major 7th of C# Major
    B is the minor 3rd of G# Minor
    G is the major 5th of C Minor

    I'm not sure that you would want to sing a melody over this chord progression but it is valid. Not all theoretically valid permutations sound pleasing to the human ear.

    Whenever something sounds contrived, it is probably wise to change it. Simplify if you can. For instance, you could hold an A Minor or A Minor 7 chord over the BCBG bass line and it would work.


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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 17439
    edited March 4
    In rock bands the bass often provides the root note because of how we perceive chords.

    Bassists and guitarists need to both know what the other is doing.

    For instance if the guitarist plays an Emajor (EG#B) chord but the bassist sticks to the note D you won't hear the chord as an Emajor 7, you’ll hear it as a D chord with a major 2nd, b5, 6.
    If the bassist lands on the D temporarily and makes the E their ‘home note’ then you’ll hear the chord as an E major chord.
    It is all about playing sympathetically.
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 729
    edited March 4
    It's the same process as harmonizing a melody. The notes are pointers or clues to which chord options are available to you when you are making your artistic choices. Now if those baselines are the actual root notes, then they have already given you the chords.

    Generally speaking, simple baselines hang around the root, 5th and octave of the chord being played, but you can also add other notes if they sound good. You should know about chord tones and non-chord tones too .. i.e. stable and unstable. That's how you create tension.

    PS it would probably help if they let you know what Key they were playing in 
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  • BigLicks67BigLicks67 Frets: 425
    As above ^ here's a good example of root, 5th octave with some chromatic notes (or passing notes) thrown in.
    A good bass player can use all 12 notes of the scale if he has good ears and plays judiciously.

    Also, it's strikes me you may be better giving a chord sequence/idea to your bass player and let him work something out from there.


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 1683
    octatonic said:
    In rock bands the bass often provides the root note because of how we perceive chords.

    Sting said that, as the bassist, he controlled the band musically. The guitarist may be playing a chord shape, but the bass player determined which chord it was.

    The other way of answering the OP’s question is that walking bass lines have passing notes which aren’t in the chord.
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27
    Freebird said:

    PS it would probably help if they let you know what Key they were playing in 

    Also, it's strikes me you may be better giving a chord sequence/idea to your bass player and let him work something out from there.

    Roland said:

    Sting said that, as the bassist, he controlled the band musically. The guitarist may be playing a chord shape, but the bass player determined which chord it was.

    The other way of answering the OP’s question is that walking bass lines have passing notes which aren’t in the chord.
    ijonty said:
    If the bass line is B, C, B, G, for example, 
    ... then you can deduce what scale(s) those bass line notes will work with and build chords using the notes from within that scale.



    Ok, so this is all really helpful, thanks. Just highlighted a few people's comments above that I wanted to follow up:

    Basically, our songwriting process is: drummer has the most experience and a wealth of partly done songs we work on. He lays down a drum track, a simple bass line, and a vocal. Then I or the other guitarist take it, put guitar on the track, then we rehearse it with the other guitarist and bassist.

    So that of course means that the songs are currently driven by the bass (perhaps the way Sting was describing). The vocal melody our drummer records is tied to the bass line, because at that stage, there isn't any guitar at all. So in answer to @BigLicks67, that's why I'm currently doing it that way round. The alternative I guess would be to take the drummer's demo, just work from the drum track, and start again with guitar first, then suggest a different bass line and vocal after that.

     The answer to both @Funkfingers and @Freebird is the same - I've not got a clue about either keys nor scales. I don't think the drummer is writing this stuff with either of those concepts in mind. None of us has any theory. I'm presuming that doesn't necessarily matter, but perhaps understanding keys and scales would help...


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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 729
    edited March 4
    It seems that you have to make your guitar part fit in with both the melody and the bass.

    I would stick the audio into a DAW and loop the various sections, then try some different chords until you come up with something that sounds good. Have you got access to the individual tracks, or has it been recorded as a single track?

    Generally speaking, it's easier to start a song with guitar and melody or piano and melody, but you can also use the drums and bass as a starting point. Using the bass and melody as the starting point is probably the worst option, but I would accept the challenge! You just have to make the chords fit the bass AND the melody 

    You may even want to do some technical analysis, either by ear to pick out some of the notes that have been used, or run the piece through software such as Melodyne to see visually what is going on.

    PS you could also just harmonize the melody and redo the bass part, or do both options and compare them.
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2807
    The Sting quotation originated in his autobiography. He was a guitarist, *relegated* to bass duties to get himself into a band.

    The young Gordon had sufficient grasp of harmony and counterpoint to realise that, by deviating from the mundane "root, fifth, octave" sort of bass parts, he could twist the harmony of the ensemble in which he was playing. This was especially handy when he worked in improvisational Jazz Rock Fusion music settings.


    ijonty said:
    Basically, our ... drummer ... lays down a drum track, a simple bass line and a vocal. 
    Okay. If you identify the notes in the bass part AND in the vocal melody, by a process of elimination, you should be able to hear which notes sound in tune with both the bass and the melody.

    Once you have some notes that sound in tune with what the drummer started, you can build guitar chords using those notes.

    ijonty said:
    None of us has any theory. 
    At this point, I would love to be able to hand you a no effort solution to acquiring this knowledge. Unfortunately, I know of none. 

    ijonty said:
    I'm presuming that doesn't necessarily matter but, perhaps, understanding keys and scales would help.
    In my opinion, it is useful to know the rules. Once you have some rudimentary understanding of these rules, you can set about bending them waaaaaaay out of shape.

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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 373
    @ijonty what style of music does your band play? 
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27
    edited March 4
    Freebird said:
    Have you got access to the individual tracks, or has it been recorded as a single track?

    You may even want to do some technical analysis, either by ear to pick out some of the notes that have been used, or run the piece through software such as Melodyne to see visually what is going on.

    PS you could also just harmonize the melody and redo the bass part, or do both options and compare them.
    I have the individual tracks, so I can isolate stuff if I like.  And thanks for the tip about Melodyne - will investigate.
    ijonty said:
    None of us has any theory. 
    At this point, I would love to be able to hand you a no effort solution to acquiring this knowledge. Unfortunately, I know of none. 

    Totally happy to put the work in @Funkfingers. I've started to read into it, but making slow progress.  Presumably there are endless opinions on Fretboard about the best resources, so won't ask that question in this post. Will search the forum and see what others have said though.

    flying_pie said:
    @ijonty what style of music does your band play? 

     I guess indie alternative, though that's more based on the covers we started off playing when we first got together, rather than our own 'style', which after only four original tracks, is yet to emerge! 


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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 373
    @ijonty I'm guessing you're heading towards jangly chords with maybe some grunge. Definitely easier to write with guitar and vocals first then bringing in drums and bass to compliment. Starting with drums and bass would be much more intuitive with a funk band. You have my sympathy. 

    Another question - have you thought of writing your own songs to take to the band? There might be a good reason why your drummers tracks are not fully finished. It might be worth trying something and seeing how it goes when you get your bassist to do his job instead of playing the drummer's suggestion. 


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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 729
    edited March 5
    ijonty said:
    I have the individual tracks, so I can isolate stuff if I like.  And thanks for the tip about Melodyne - will investigate
    OK it looks like you are good to go. There are many different ways of doing it, so have a go at the melody & bass as requested, but also try harmonizing the bass and melody individually. It's good practice and you might come up with some new song ideas. Try a few variations of each along the way.
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27

    Another question - have you thought of writing your own songs to take to the band? There might be a good reason why your drummers tracks are not fully finished. It might be worth trying something and seeing how it goes when you get your bassist to do his job instead of playing the drummer's suggestion. 


    I think the main reason the songs are unfinished is purely because he doesn't play guitar, rather than flaws in the writing. I'd certainly want to write my own (have some works-in-progress actually), but because this is new to me, it's been quite good to not be working from a blank page.

    It initially felt like it was a more gradual introduction to writing by adding my bits to something else, rather than starting from scratch. However, as has become clear with this thread, the fact that these songs already have bass and vocal melody could well be making it harder, not easier!


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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2807
    ijonty said:
    There might be a good reason why your drummers tracks are not fully finished. It might be worth trying something and seeing how it goes when you get your bassist to do his job instead of playing the drummer's suggestion. 
    I think the main reason the songs are unfinished is purely because [the drummer] doesn't play guitar, rather than flaws in the writing. 

    the fact that these songs already have bass and vocal melody could well be making it harder, not easier!
    Indeed.

    I am reminded of the Peter Gabriel approach to song development. Typically, a beatbox to establish the tempo and general rhythmic "feel", a keyboard to suggest the main chords and a wordless vocal to suggest the melody. All very vague. This would be played to the session musicians. The *first call* session musicians would be trusted to do their own thing. Gabriel, as composer, reserved the right to edit out any contributions that did not fit the direction that the recording was taking. When the session musicians made major contribution, they received a co-writing credit and (eventually) a cut of the music publishing proceeds.
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27

    I am reminded of the Peter Gabriel approach to song development. Typically, a beatbox to establish the tempo and general rhythmic "feel", a keyboard to suggest the main chords and a wordless vocal to suggest the melody. All very vague...
    So one way for me to look at it is that when I get the piece from the drummer, I actually treat the bassline as the suggested main chords. Build the guitar around those chords – which will therefore work with his suggested vocal – and the bassline can be created separately. The bass notes the drummer supplies are only extremely sparse anyway, often just one note per bar (if that's the right terminology).


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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 373
    @ijonty if the bass is very sparse then you could just use it as a rough guide for the chords then build your guitar part one you've established them. You could also ignore the bass note it if a "different" or "quirky" chord works better with the melody. Your bassist should be able to fill things in, especially if he's been playing his own baselines thus far.

    This video might also help. It's Steve Vai talking about how he wrote For The Love Of God by starting with a melody in his head rather than notes/chords on an instrument. 




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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 27
    Thanks @flying_pie I'll give it a watch. The bassist isn't writing his own stuff anyway as he isn't that experienced in composing, so I'd work with him to create the bass line anyway.


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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 729
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  • TheBigDipperTheBigDipper Frets: 775
    @ijonty  I've got another suggestion. If the drummer has an idea of a tempo (drum part) and a vocal melody, ask him to forget about the bass part and just share that. If the melody is decent, then the chords will be obvious and whoever plays bass will have something to aim at when they develop their bass part to fit. 

    Chord driven songwriting is just an approach to developing an idea. So is beat driven songwriting. Lead melody driven writing is another, and it can be fun making it work. 
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  • KeefyKeefy Frets: 70
    Scott Devine (Scott's Bass lessons) did a great video on this but a quick search failed to locate it.

    Briefly, he says the most important elements in a bassline are, in descending order:

    1. Rhythm
    2. Chord notes
    3. Chromatic approach notes
    4. Scale notes
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