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Root, Fifth, and Sixth

More Bass Foundation Building

In this lesson we will once again add one note to our roots and fifth foundation just as we did in the root-5th-flat 7th lesson. Since it is so important, I will repeat myself for emphasis:

When creating a bassline one of your major responsibilities is to support the sound of each chord. Each chord is made up of a specific set of notes. The most supportive bass notes you can play are the root and fifth of each chord followed by other notes in the chord (we will examine chords in more detail later).

There are many other notes in addition to the root and fifth which you can mix in to your basslines. As you learn more basslines, you will see how the strongest, most supportive sounding basslines have that all-important root/5th anchor in them somewhere — often at key points in the line.

Root - Fifth - Sixth

In this lesson we will add a note called the 6th into our well-practiced and understood roots, 5ths and octave patterns. A lot of times we are looking to create a bassline which is simple and supportive. After that we want it to be melodic or we just want to add some variety to the basic supportive sound of the line. The sixth is a highly melodic note we can add to our roots, fifths and octave patterns.

The sixth can be applied to virtually any major type of chord. It can also work on some minor chords. Remember, your ear is always the final judge (or the ear of whomever is paying you). Sometimes the sixth may not be the best note choice. Always listen!

Why is It Called a Sixth?

You're not required to know why it is called the sixth at this point in the lessons. If this part doesn't make sense, don't worry. In time it will.

In music it is common to assign number names to notes. These number names are called scale degrees. The note we are discussing in this lesson is called the sixth because it is the sixth note of the scale from which it comes. Since we haven't even talked about scales yet, I don't expect you to know what the scale is. For the purposes of this lesson, it's not important.

Playing R-5-6 Patterns on Bass

The sixth can always be found two notes above a chord's 5th. You can also think of it as three notes below any root note. The above diagrams show the pattern on the root note C.

We can combine our new friend the sixth with the root, fifth and octave patterns learned in previous lessons to create larger note patterns. See if you can cobble together your own R-5-6 patterns. And don't forget you can shift these note patterns to a root note on any string and any fret.

Fingering Root - Fifth - Sixth Patterns on Bass

When you play the R-5-6 pattern you should stick to the one-finger-per-fret position. This is another easy-to-play bass note pattern. Click the play button on the fretboard diagram to see my suggested fingerings for each pattern.

The Use of Root - Fifth - Sixth Bass Patterns

The root-fifth-sixth pattern has a brighter, happier sound to it. It's a very universal pattern and you will find it all over. I first picked up on this pattern's use in soul music, Motown, and funk where it is used extensively. It is used in everything, however. The root-fifth-sixth pattern is a very useful and easy-to-learn tool to add to your bass playing vocabulary. And like it or not, you will use it at some point. Many more things combine the sixth with other notes. In later lessons we'll be learning about those possibilities. For now you have one more easy-to-play pattern useful in a lot of situations.

Root - Fifth - Sixth Basslines

Here are some basslines which make a lot of use of the R-5-6 pattern. Check them out:

  • California Girls by The Beach Boys
  • I Just Can't Turn You Loose by Otis Redding
  • Mr. Pitiful by Otis Redding
  • What's Going On? by Marvin Gaye
  • I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) by The Four Tops

I put together a few Root-5th-6th bassline exercises for you to practice.