UNLESS YOU’RE A SOLO BASSIST, YOU probably spend most of your time playing single-note lines. Sure, there’s the occasional delicious double-stop, but the more dense chordal content is generally left to your piano- and guitar-playing bandmates. Being strong, simple, and supportive is pretty much the gig. That said, I’ve stumbled on a pair of chord shapes that are easy to grab, are harmonically supportive, and have a rich and ethereal quality that works well in certain contexts, especially trios. Figure 1 shows the major, add9 shape, which works well over most major chords. From low to high, the intervals are 1, 5, 9, 10(3). Figure 2 shows the shape’s minor alternative. Its intervals, in order, are 1, 5, 9, b10(b3). I think the chord works particularly well arpeggiated. Figure 3 shows a plucking-hand fingering that uses each finger, classical-guitar style to cycle through each note individually. One final note: try this shape around and above the 12th fret. Any lower and it’ll hurt and sound muddy and indistinct.
Technique Tip : Anchors Away
Teaching beginners always forces me to confront my so-called comfort zone. It happens to all of us: Once we feel like we’re beyond beginner status, we tend to take the fundamental stuff for granted. I was teaching the student about fingerstyle pluckinghand technique. I reinforced the alternating-finger concept, pointing out the importance of a solid thumb-anchor. I had the student pluck a few notes with his thumb free-floating, and then with the thumb anchored on the pickup (Fig. 1). The immediate difference in strength and control is obvious.