Monday, July 25, 2016

Triad-Based Chord Progressions for the Bass VI

When playing chord progressions, I like to think of them in clusters. I learned to play bass using something like the Nashville number system, so I tend to think of chords in clusters of I, IV, V, vi, etc.


When you’re just playing the root note of chords, it’s pretty easy to keep track of where those intervals fall on the fretboard. Once you start throwing inversions in, it’s hard to think your way through it. At that point, you’re better off having the relationships between your triads memorized so you can easily jump from one to the next. Here are a few patterns that I find cluster together well. In order to show the relationships between these chords, I’m going to show them all in the key of D.


Note: In this post, like my last few, all the numbers in diagrams represent scale intervals.


I (C)

   _ _ _ _ _ _
(5) _ _ 5 1 3 _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(7) _ _ _ _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _
IV (F)

   _ _ _ _ _ _
(5) _ _ _ 5 _ _
   _ _ _ _ 1 _
(7) _ _ 3 _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _
V7 (G7)

   _ _ _ _ _ _
(5) _ _ 1 _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ 7 _
(7) _ _ _ 5 _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _
vi (Am)

   _ _ _ _ _ _
(5) _ _ _ 3 5 _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(7) _ _ 1 _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _


You’ll notice that all four of these chords are based around keeping your index finger on the fifth fret. This creates a kind of moveable box that gives you access to four of the most common chords in any given progression. Keep your index finger at the fifth fret, and by moving around your middle and index fingers, you’re able to get to the IV, the V7, and the vi.


So, the V7 chord might be a bit of a surprise. We haven’t discussed non-1-3-5 triads before. Let’s take a closer look at this chord. It’s voiced 1-5-7b. A 7 chord is quite common in rock music, especially in the V7 variety. If you want, you can raise that 7b a whole step up to the 8th fret and get a traditional power chord, although that might be a bit harder to fret.
Here’s another set of chord shapes that go together, this time with a bit more movement up and down the neck. We’ll move to the key of D for these.

I (D)
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(3) _ _ _ _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(5) _ _ _ _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(7) _ _ 7 7 7 _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _

IV (G)
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(3) _ _ _ _ 3 _
   _ _ _ 4 _ _
(5) _ _ 5 _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(7) _ _ _ _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _
V (A)
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(3) _ _ _ _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(5) _ _ _ _ 5 _
   _ _ _ 6 _ _
(7) _ _ 7 _ _ _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ _ _ _ _
Vi (Bm)
   _ _ _ _ _ 2
(3) _ _ _ _ 3 _
   _ _ _ 4 _ _
      (5) _ _ _ _ _ _   -or-
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(7) _ _ _ 7 7 _
   _ _ _ _ _ _
(9) _ _ 9 _ _ _


This progression is more useful when barring the I chord with your ring finger. Go from the I to the V quickly by lifting up your ring finger and fretting the “E” shape triad with your ring finger staying on that 7th fret.


Drop the same shape you’re using for your V chord down 2 frets and you get your IV chord. I find these shapes make a I - V - IV - V style progression (or any variation with the I - V - IV movement) very easy.


With the vi chord, you’ve got some options. You can go back up to the seventh fret, or you can jump up to the first three strings down at the second fret. Where I go usually depends on the chord I’m coming from or going to next. I find the voicing of this triad on the first three string very resonant on my bass VI, so I often prefer this for a minor triad to the version using strings two, three, and four.


There’s nothing stopping you from mixing the triads from one group in with one from the other. Just think about what the common relationships are.


Also, I only outlined the relationships for when the I triad is the second inversion shape barred across one string. What if the I chord is played using a major triad in the E shape? Where are your IV, V and vi chords then? Practice this often, and don’t be afraid to try new voicings for chords when playing songs or writing your own.

The addition of the top two strings on a bass VI opens up a lot of song territory, and using triads and their inversions is a great way to take advantage of that sonic space.

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