WHY DOES ALMOST EVERY BASS METHOD BOOK ONLY SHOW SCALES and arpeggios beginning on the root, and then moving upward? Bass players often start at the top of a chord or scale and play down, or up and down, or down and up. Last month, we looked at arpeggios starting on the root and moving up, arpeggios starting on the 9th and moving down, and arpeggios moving both up and down. Playing the bass can be a roller-coaster ride!
Great bassists have mastered this simple truth: Arpeggios can move in any direction: up, down, up and down, down and up. We can also start a walking bass line or a solo on almost any note of a scale. Even when a chord is written Cm7, it is accepted practice that we could also use the notes D, F, or A (the 9th, 11th, or 13th) in our line. This month, we’ll explore the ups and downs of arpeggios. You can use this lesson as a jumping-off point to turn your playing upside down, or right side up, depending on how you hear things.
Let’s look closely at two choruses of blues in F: one chorus of a walking bass line, and one chorus of solo.
1st Chorus (Walking)
Bar 1 F triad in root position.
Bar 2 Begins on a Bb to D, then a triplet drop from the 9th (C) down to the 3rd (D).
Bar 4 The triplet drop on beat two is similar to the figure in bar 2.
Bar 5–6 Starting on 9th (C) on beat three, the arpeggio outlines the Bb7 chord. Note that on beat four of bar 6, the b7 (Ab) leads into the 3rd of the F7 (the note A) in bar 7.
Bar 9 The 9th (A) on the Gm7 chord is a “handle-with-care” note. Some teachers might even say this is wrong, because common bass wisdom suggests playing the root (G) on the downbeat. But starting on the 9th (A) sounds melodic, and since the line continues down the Gm7 arpeggio, the logic of the bass line outweighs the lack of a root. Okay, there might be a onebeat musical train wreck if your bandmates are counting on hearing a root at that particular moment. Or, your choice to start on the 9th and play down the arpeggio might just be the most beautiful thing they’ve ever heard.
Bar 10 What goes down must come up. The line on the C7 chord walks up from the 5th, and never lands on the root (C)! This is another case what sounds good winning out over what might seem correct on paper.
Bar 11 The C# is a leading tone into the root D. The F# is both the 3rd of the D7 chord and a leading tone, one half-step away from the G in bar 12.
Bar 12 This triplet drop uses the 9th, b7th, and 5th of the Gm7 chord, and the b7th, 5th, and 3rd of the C7. The low E leads nicely into the F in bar 13.
2nd Chorus (Solo)
Bar 13 The solo chorus begins on the root (F), and jumps up to the 9th (G), followed by the descending F7 arpeggio.
Bar 14 The arpeggio from the 9th on the Bb7 chord sounds like a continuation of the F7 arpeggio in bar 13. Using the same arpeggio over different chords in a progression adds cohesion and gives the listener a logical line to follow.
Bar 15–16 The ascending Cm7 arpeggio in bar 15 is followed by the descending arpeggio on the F7sus in bar 16. The note D is the 13th of the F7 chord (an octave above the 6th note of the F Mix-olydian scale). The 13th is a colorful note that’s seldom used by bass players, maybe because it is the last note that appears in a seven-note arpeggio (like F7sus, which would have the notes F, A, C, Eb, G, Bb, D). Since most bassists are in the habit of always practicing from the root upward, we seldom think of starting a line on the 13th and playing the descending arpeggio.
Bar 17 Again, the arpeggio on the Bb7 starts on the 9th (C) and descends.
Bar 18–19 This beboppish line offers contrast to all the arpeggios heard elsewhere in the solo.
Bar 20 Surprise! The note B, the 9th of the Am7 chord, grabs the listener. The Am7 to Abm7 chords are outlined by starting on the 9th and playing the descending arpeggios (9, b7, 5, b3).
Bar 21 This is a great solo pattern to work on if you are just beginning to cure your case of root-itis. Start on the 9th (also called the 2nd) of a chord, and play 9th–root–9th–root (this pattern is sometimes described numerically as 2–1–2–1). You’ll be amazed how easily you can outline a whole series of chords using this one simple pattern.
Bar 22 The arpeggio from the 9th of the C7 chord mimics the rhythm in bar 20. Repeating rhythms, plus using common chord tones as starting points gives continuity to a solo line.
Bar 24 The serpentine-sounding C# on beat one is a leading tone into the 5th of the Gm7 (the note D). The G minor triad descends from the D, and the line concludes with an enclosure (the notes E, F, and G) around the target note F.
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