Root, Fifth, and Flat Seventh

Building on a Foundation

So far in the common bass pattern lessons we've covered roots, octaves, and roots and fifths. These note patterns are applied by bassists to provide each chord of a song with a solid foundation. Think of roots, 5ths, and their octaves as a solid, simple anchor for each chord played in a song.

Obviously bass players play a lot more than just roots and 5ths. There are 12 notes in all and they are all fair game if you can place them correctly. We can add a new dimension to these basic bass patterns just by adding one frequently used note to them. Though it's only one more note added to the root/5th foundation, it greatly increases the possibilities of the basslines you can create.

Root - Fifth - Flat 7th

In this lesson we will add a note called the flat 7th into the mix of roots, 5ths and octaves. You'll remember that the root and the 5th were two notes found in almost all chords. Even though the flat 7th is used a lot in basslines, it is a little less universal and a little more care needs to be taken when applying it. When you apply it always listen that it fits with the sound of the chord.

Some chords have a flat 7th in them, others don't. On those chords which do, you can always apply the flat 7th. On those chords which don't, many times you can still apply the flat 7th and it will sound good. But, you have to be careful. Listening, experience, and more knowledge of chords and scales will teach you when to apply this note.

Why is It Called a Flat Seventh?

In the roots and fifths lesson I mentioned that notes are assigned number names in relationship to the root note. We will discuss this more thoroughly in later lessons on scales and chords. I'm sure many of you are curious, so I will give you a quick explanation:

The 7th is the seventh note of the major scale. To flat a note means to lower it by one note (meaning one fret lower). Therefore a flat 7th means one note lower than the 7th.

Playing R-5-b7 Patterns on Bass

The flat seventh is easy to locate on the bass fretboard. The flat 7th is always two notes, or frets, below any root note. In the first fretboard example above, the root is A on the 5th fret of the E-string and the flat 7th is the note G two notes lower.

You can also find it two strings above on the same fret. In the second fretboard example above, the same root note A is shown with its higher flat 7th. (Notice how this higher flat 7th is just two notes below the octave of the root note which is ghosted in.)

When you add the flat 7th to the root, fifth and octave patterns, you get a number of new note patterns to play. You can shift these patterns around to any root note on any string.

The third example just above shows a flat 7th on a string below the root fingered with the 1st finger. This flat 7th is still two notes below the root note. It's only on a lower string. This fingering may confuse you in the beginning, but eventually you might find it very useful.

What combinations of roots, fifths, flat 7ths and their octaves can you find on your own?

Fingering Root - Fifth - Flat 7th Patterns on Bass

When playing the R-5-b7 pattern you will most often stick to the one-finger-per-fret position. Click the play button on the diagrams for suggested fingerings. This is a fairly comfortable note pattern to play. Since it sounds good and is easy to play, it gets played a lot.

Note names and the Flat 7th

A common point of confusion for beginners is that they think the flat 7th must be a note named with a flat. It doesn't. The flat 7th can be any note of any name. For example, the flat 7th of the root C# would be B.

The Use of Root - Fifth - Flat Seventh Bass Patterns

The root-fifth-flat 7th pattern is a really common bass sound in most popular styles of music. It's hard to think of a style that doesn't use this pattern somewhere. You will hear many blues basslines make use of it. Since the blues has influenced nearly every other style of music (rock, jazz, soul, funk, etc.), this sound lives on in each one of them.

The Sound of Root - Fifth - Flat Seventh Bass Patterns

You will encounter this bass pattern everywhere. Some familiar flat 7th bass sounds:

  • Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers
  • Born on the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • (Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine by James Brown
  • How Many More Times by Led Zeppelin
  • Down in a Tube Station at Midnight by The Jam
  • Black Magic Woman by Santana
  • Driven to Tears by The Police
  • Pick Up the Pieces by Average White Band

Here are some basslines applying the Root-5th-b7th pattern in various ways.

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