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One of the problems with simple I-IV-V types of progressions is that they don’t necessarily lend themselves well to creating interesting bass lines. But by using slightly more interesting chords, combined with chord inversions, you can create bass lines that sound much more like little musical journeys.
What follows is a list of progressions that will require the bass to move in interesting ways. The first four are progressions that result in descending bass lines, while the next four require the bass to move upward, all step-by-step. Some of them end by jumping out of the descending or ascending pattern, ascending or descending for half of an octave.
For any chord with a slash (G/B, for example), the first letter is the chord name, while the note after the slash is the bass note. So G/B means that you should play a G chord, while the lowest sounding note (the bass note) should be a B.
Clicking on [LISTEN] after each progression will open a new tab or window, and the sound file will play. Close that window to return to this one.
Descending Bass Lines
- C G/B Am Am/G F C/E Dm C [LISTEN] (I V6 vi vi4-2 IV I6 ii I)
- C C7/Bb Am C/G F Fmaj7/E Dm G7 C [LISTEN] (I I4-2 vi I6-4 IV IV4-2 ii I)
- C Bb Am Gm F Eb Dm C (I bVII vi v IV bIII ii I) [LISTEN] (This progression is from “All Right“, from Donavon Frankenreiter’s 2010 album “Glow”, transposed from G major)
- C Bbmaj9 Ab Abmaj7/G Fm Eb Dm7 C [LISTEN] (I bVIImaj9 bVI bVImaj74-2 iv bIII ii7 I)
Ascending Bass Lines
- C G/D C/E F G Am G/B C [LISTEN] (I V6-4 I6 IV V vi V6 I)
- C A/C# Dm B/D# Em F G Am [LISTEN] (I V6-ii ii V6-iii iii IV V vi)
- C Bb/D Eb F Gsus4 G C [LISTEN] (I bVII6 bIII IV V4- V I)
- C Dm Am/E E Bb/F F G C [LISTEN] (I ii vi6-4 III bVII6-4 IV V I)
In a sense, moving bass lines create a kind of countermelody that works to give the listener another moving line to focus on. Done well, they also strengthen the sense of harmonic drive away from and back toward the tonic chord. Though the sound files provided above are done with acoustic guitar, they’ll work in any genre, at any tempo, and in any performance style or time signature.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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