Applying Major Diatonic Chords in Basslines

Now that you've learned all seven diatonic chords of the major scale, it's time you learn to use them. Application is always the best way to learn something. You can't avoid the need for exercises, but by playing actual music instead of exercises, you work on your musicality.

Always work on your musicality and have purpose behind what you play and practice.

Diatonic Chord Exercises

This lesson is mostly about the exercises. I want to show you how diatonic chords appear in all styles of music, and why it is critical you know and understand them.

While there is still a lot more to harmony than these seven chords, what's left is built around, or somehow related to, these seven diatonic chords.

Think Chords, Not Individual Notes

As you learn songs and play through my exercises, you will probably think from one note to the next. This is natural, but not what you want. It's really important for you to see (hear!) the bigger picture.

There's the old saying: "You can't see the forest for the trees." At first, you won't "hear the chord for the notes!"

Don't think individual notes. In your mind, and especially in your ears, group the notes together and recognize how they define and support the chord being played by the entire group.

Making Up Your Own Basslines with the Diatonic Chords

I highly encourage you to create your own basslines using the diatonic chord shapes you've learned. You can make up basslines to chord progressions from the exercises, from other songs, your own chord progressions, or in your band.

Try playing the same progression and bassline in different keys. Move the major scale position up and down the fretboard playing the same bassline.

The Bass Police?

You probably won't like your bassline creations right from the beginning. Don't worry. There's no bass police. No one will take your bass away from you. If you want to create music, the price of admission is to create some stinkers.

Think of it this way. Have you noticed as you get older you learn what things not to say? Creating music has the same learning process. You'll often think,"Oh, I should never say that again!" That's okay. Talk enough now, and you'll learn to shut up like the masters.

Beginning Tips for Making Up Basslines

When my students set out to write their first basslines, they almost all make the same mistakes. Consider these things:

Rhythmic Pulse Required

The most essential ingredient for a bassline is rhythm. You can play "correct" notes all day long and it will be nothing without a steady rhythmic pulse.

Does listening to your bassline make you want to tap your foot or, even better, dance? When something is successful rhythmically, it will make the listener want to move whether it's waltzing or headbanging. If it doesn't, there's something missing rhythmically.

Play to a metronome or a drum beat. Play with other live musicians. This will help you focus and stay rhytmically aligned.

Root Notes on One

In the beginning, it's a good idea to play the root note of the chord on the beat when the chord changes. This isn't what happens 100% of the time in every bassline, but it might happen 85-95% of the time. And, it's never a bad place to start.

You might start by playing just root notes on the first beat of each chord change. As you get comfortable with where the chords change, you can fill in the gaps with other notes from the chord and other possibilities we'll be exploring later.

Diatonic Chord Example Exercises

In my exercises I give you six examples of basslines applying the diatonic chord shapes, each in a different style: Country/Folk, Gospel, Reggae, Rock, R&B, and Jazz.

My biggest hope for you in this lesson is that you'll understand these diatonic chords are applied in all styles of music. What makes genres different from one another is mostly the rhythms and instruments used, not the notes.

Not Heavy Enough for You?

When we keep things purely diatonic and major, it will rarely have that really heavy sound. For that we're going to need to discuss concepts which fall outside of the major diatonic chords like minor scale harmony, the blues sound, and other things. Don't worry. The diatonic chords are still an important part of your understanding of music. Just keep growing your hair out, and we'll get to the heavy stuff.

Not Funky Enough for You?

Similarly, funky basslines will need some additional explaining in future lessons. Often part of what makes something funky note-wise is it avoids fully resolving. When we play diatonically, it often resolves spoiling the consistent tension found in a lot of funk basslines.

Get to work on the exercises!

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