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.