Basic and 7th Chords, Modes, and Solo Scales for Bass Guitar

Part of the Bass Guitar For Dummies Cheat Sheet

In order to play bass guitar well, you need to acquaint yourself with some important chords and modes (scales). A basic understanding of music will help you master these approaches, but here’s an overview of what you need to know:

  • Basic chords, or triads: These consist of the three most important notes of any musical scale: root (1st), 3rd, and 5th. You can find the notes for the triad by playing any scale up to the 5th note, skipping every other note.

  • 7th chords: A 7th chord has one more note than the triad — the 7. The sound of a 7th chord is a little more complex than the sound of a triad, and it’s extensively used in contemporary music.

  • Modes, or scales: In almost all songs, one mode (scale) predominates. Mode is simply a fancy word for a musical scale. Know the mode you’re playing in, and you’re well on your way to providing great bass lines for any song.

  • Solo scales: A solo scale is exactly what it sounds like — a scale you play when you’re soloing or the featured player in a band. Solos are usually reserved for traditional melody instruments, such as saxophones, but bassists are also asked to perform solos on occasion.

Following is a readily accessible diagram of the most important chords and modes for your bass playing endeavors. The open circles on each diagram represent the root of a chord or scale — the starting point for your fingers. The black dots represent the chord- and scale-tones.

You only need three strings to complete an octave, thus the three string diagrams presented here — even though your bass has four or more strings.

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