In Part 4 we’re going to look at chord extensions. Extended harmony is where chords get a lot more interesting sounding but it’s also where the theory gets more complicated. Extensions are notes that we can add to basic chords like triads. Having established how to play triads in Part 3, we can now look at adding extensions to them.
The most common chord extension by far is the seventh, in Part 3 we looked at how triads are made up of a root, a third and a fifth and there is an interval of a third between each of these notes. In order to make a triad into a seventh chord we just continue this pattern of stacking intervals of a third and we add a note that is a third above the fifth and we call this note the seventh. Seventh chords have four notes in them root, third, fifth and seventh.
If you watched my video about “Intervals” then you’ll know that there are two types of sevenths, major and minor just like there are major and minor thirds. Fifths however are not major or minor and so the fifth is the same in both major and minor chords. For this reason, it is the third and seventh notes of each chord that define what type of chord it is. For example if you have a chord with a major third and a major seventh in it, it’s called a major seventh chord and a chord with a minor third and a minor seventh is called a minor seventh chord. The word used to describe a chord that has a major third and a minor seventh in it is “dominant” and dominant seventh chords are very common. The chord symbol for a dominant seventh chord is just the number 7 (eg. G7, A7, C7 etc.) minor seventh chords are written m7 (eg. Gm7, Am7, Cm7 etc.) and major seventh chords can be written a number of ways such as with a small triangle or sometimes with an upper case M, but most commonly they are written maj7 (eg. Gmaj7, Amaj7, Cmaj7 etc.) These three types of seventh chords are by far the most common but there are others that I’ve also listed at the end of Example 1. For example, a chord with a minor third and a major seventh is called minor with a major seventh (min/maj7).
When we play extended chords we usually can’t play all the notes within the chord because we only have a finite number of strings on the bass. The more extensions we have means the more options we have, but it also means the more decisions we have to make in terms of what notes to leave out. In the case of seventh chords the decision is simple, I’ve already mentioned that the fifth is the same for major and minor chords so the fifth doesn’t fulfill a very important function in the chord (unless we alter it as in diminished and augmented chords). So if we leave out the fifth we have three notes left, the root, third and seventh. Example 1 demonstrates two different ways of voicing major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh and minor with a major seventh chords. The first way is to play the root on the A string, the third on the D string and the seventh on the G string. The second way is to play the root on the E string, leave out the A string and play the seventh on the D string and the third up an octave on the G string.
Just because the fifth is the same for both major and minor chords doesn’t mean we can’t alter it. You can flatten the fifth (lower by a semi-tone) to give you a diminished chord or sharpen it (raise it by a semi-tone) to give you an augmented chord. In order to play a diminished or augmented chord you need to include the fifth because the fact that it’s been altered makes it a key element in the chord. That is why I have included all four notes in the augmented and diminished examples in Example 1.
Another common chord extension that we can use instead of a seventh is a major sixth. We can add a major sixth to a major triad or a minor triad. The chord symbol for a major chord with a major sixth is just the number 6 (eg. G6, A6, C6 etc.) and the chord symbol for a minor chord with a major sixth is m6 (eg. Gm6, Am6, Cm6 etc.) Example 2 demonstrates how to play these two types of chords. Again, I’ve left out the fifth in both cases.
If we harmonise any major scale into seventh chords we get seven different chords, two major seventh chords (chords I & IV, three minor seventh chords (chords II,III & VI), one dominant seventh chord (chord V) and one half-diminished chord (a chord with a minor third, a minor seventh and a flattened fifth) (chord VII). Example 3 is a D major scale harmonised into seventh chords.
After the seventh, the next extension we can add to a chord if we keep stacking intervals of a third is a ninth. A full ninth chord has five notes in it, root, third, fifth, seventh and ninth. Example 4, demonstrates how to play a few common ninth chords by adding a ninth to a major seventh chord, a dominant seventh chord, a minor seventh chord and even a major sixth chord. As before I’m leaving out the fifth in each chord.
So if we keep up this idea of stacking intervals of a third we end up with an eleventh and then a thirteenth, and by the time you reach the thirteenth you have seven notes. Most scales have seven notes so a seven note chord would effectively be equivalent to playing all the notes from a scale simultaneously which is usually a bad idea. Also, you can alter (either sharpen or flatten) the upper extensions (ninth, eleventh and thirteenth) in the same way we altered our fifth earlier which gives us a huge amount of options in terms of extending our chords. So we have to exercise some judgement over which extensions we can add to which chords and that all comes down to what we think sounds good. For example, you normally wouldn’t want to add an eleventh to a chord with a major third in it (major or dominant) because the eleventh clashes with the third but you can add a sharpened eleventh. If you were going to add an eleventh to a major chord then you would normally leave out the third which would change the chord to what we call a “sus” chord which is a chord that omits the third and usually replaces it with the fourth, which is the same note as the eleventh. Check out my video on “intervals” if you don’t understand why the fourth and the eleventh are the same note.
Example 5 demonstrates some common extensions that we can play over major or minor chords on the bass.
For Example 6 I’ve had to switch onto my six string bass to play some of these extensions. The ability to play more extended harmony is one of the main reasons I choose to play six string basses most of the time. If you don’t have a six string bass then many of these chord shapes can be adapted onto a five string bass.
In part 3 we’re going to look at how to play triads on the bass. Triads are simple three note chords that form a foundation for a lot of extended harmony. Before we can go on to explore chord extensions it’s really important to understand triads.
There are essentially four types of triad, these are major, minor, diminished and augmented and they are written out here in Example 1. In this example all the triads have the root note C.
We can harmonise scales into triads. In part one we harmonised scales into intervals of a third and a triad is two intervals of a third stacked together, by which I mean you take a root note find a note that is a third above it and then another note which is a third above again. The three notes of a triad are often referred to as the root, the third(an interval of a third above the root) and the fifth (an interval of a third above the third and an interval of a fifth above the root). You will find that when you harmonise a major scale into triads you’ll get seven chords, three major triads (chords I, IV & V), three minor triads (chords II, III and VI) and one diminished triad (chord VII). Example 2 is a G major scale harmonised into triads played in root position (the root note is the lowest of the three notes).
In the previous example we refer to these triads as root position because we’ve arranged each triad in a neatly stacked order with the root at the bottom and the third and the fifth stacked on top of it. If we change the order of these notes to make either the third or the fifth the lowest note then we have what we call an “Inversion”. There are only two possible ways to invert a triad. The first way is to put the third at the bottom as in Example 3.
If you harmonise a melodic minor scale into triads you get two minor triads, two major triads, two diminished triads and one augmented triad. Example 7 is a G melodic minor scale harmonised using root position triads.
In this second part in my series of videos about playing chords on the bass, we’re going to continue looking at how we can make chords by playing double stops (two notes played at the same time) over open strings. In Part 1 we harmonised scales into intervals of a third and in Part 2 we’re going to see how we can get a whole new set of sounds and chords by changing the interval we use to harmonise our scales.
If you’re not sure what an interval is or how we play intervals on the bass then check out my video called Intervals which is also available on this site and it will explain everything.
In Example 1 I’m playing a C major scale harmonised into intervals of a fourth.
In Example 2 I’m playing the same C major scale played in fourths and I’m playing it over an open A string. Then in the following examples I’m still playing a C major scale over an open A string but I’m changing the interval that I’m using to harmonise the scale. In Example 3 I’m harmonising the C major scale in fifths and in Example 4 I’m using sixths. You can hear that each different interval gives us a different sound even though I’m harmonising the same scale over the same note.* I’ve marked some chords * in the above examples because they don’t contain thirds. The Am7 and Am9 chords could also function as A7 and A9 because they don’t contain the note C which is the minor 3rd. I’ve labeled them as minor chords because if we were to add a third in this key it would be a minor third C and not a major third C#. The G9/A chords in Examples 2 & 3 also don’t include the 3rd B but again I’ve labeled them according to what they would be if we added a 3rd in this key. The same is true for the chords marked in the examples below.
The next examples are a similar idea only this time I’m harmonising a D major scale and playing it over an open E string, this gives us a Dorian sound. In Example 5 I’m harmonising the scale in fourths, In Example 6 I’m using fifths and in Example 7 I’m using sixths.
Notice how in Example 7 using the open E string instead of the open A string gives us a different option for fingerings when we play the scale in sixths. We can now play the lower of the 2 notes on the A string and the higher note on the G string while we leave out the D string altogether.
These examples are just a very small demonstration of some the sounds that you can come up with using this idea. It wouldn’t be impossible to list here all the possible variations you can achieve by harmonising scales over an open string so I really want to encourage you to experiment and come up with ideas of your own.
Before I leave you, I’m going to share one more idea, here’s what the A melodic minor scale that I introduced at the end of Part 1 sounds like when you harmonise it in sixths and play it over an open A string.
I love the sound of chords played on a bass and I use chords a lot in my playing. Apart from just sounding great, practicing chords on the bass has many benefits and it can really help us to learn harmony on the fretboard. A good place to start is with double stops (playing 2 notes together). In this first example I play an A major scale two notes at a time using intervals of a third. This gives us the foundation of seven different chords.
Click on the examples to make them bigger.
If you play through my written examples, I would encourage you to not just play them the way they are written, its a ok to start like that but once you feel comfortable with the notes I would recommend changing the order in which you play them as this will help you to experiment and come up with musical ideas of your own.
In this second example I play the same notes I played in example 1 but I also play an open A string with each chord.
As you can see from the chord symbols written above the notes, adding this open A string changes some of our double stops into chords. I will try and explain below why I have used these chord symbols, if you re not interested please feel free to skip onto the next examples.The first chord is still A major but the second chord becomes an inverted B minor 7 chord because the A is the minor 7th relative to the B while the D played on the 7th fret of the G string is the minor 3rd.
The third chord is now A major where before it was C sharp minor. This is because the C sharp played on the 11th fret of the D string is the major 3rd relative to our open A string and the E played on the 9th fret of the G string is now functioning as the 5th. These three notes make a simple A major triad (A, C sharp and E) more commonly just written as A.
The fourth chord is now an inversion of a D major chord, again it is a simple triad, there is the D played on the 12th fret of the D string, there is an F sharp played on the 11th fret of the G string, F sharp is the major 3rd relative to D and the open A sting is the 5th relative to D. So these 3 notes make up a D major triad but it’s an inversion because D is not the lowest note, A is, so we call the chord D over A.
I think of the fifth chord as A major seventh even though it doesn’t contain the major 3rd note, C sharp which is normally found in this chord. It does contain the 5th E and the major 7th G sharp. It’s OK to sometimes leave notes out of chords. On the bass, if we are dealing with extended chords (chords with lots of notes) we will have to leave some notes out so in this case the chord can still function as an A major seventh chord even without the C sharp.
The sixth chord is still F sharp minor as it was in example 1 only now we call it F sharp minor over A because the open A string is now the lowest note.
The seventh chord I have called A major ninth because the G sharp played on the 18th fret of the D string is the major 7th relative to A and the B played on the 16th fret of the G string is the 9th. Normally in a full A major ninth chord you would have a C sharp (the 3rd) and an E (the 5th), but the chord can still be thought of as A major ninth.
If you are struggling to understand all this explanation of the chord symbols don t worry too much, the most important thing is that you learn what they sound like so you can be creative with them.
In example 3 I still play the same notes as example 1 only now I play an open E string with each chord. This gives us a different sound to example 2 and changes the chords. The sound we get is called mixolydian, this is basically what you get when you play an A major scale over an E note.
Now in the next examples I’ll change things slightly. I’m going to stop using the notes from the A major scale that we worked out in example 1. Instead, in the following examples I’ll use the notes from a G major scale (example 4), F major scale (example 5), E major scale (example 6) and C major scale (example 7), and play each of them with an open A string.
These examples are meant to demonstrate the different sounds you can achieve on your bass by harmonising different major scales over a single bass note. In this case the single note was our open A string. I’ve added the Greek names for the modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Aeolian) to the examples above for your reference. These examples are certainly not a complete list of all the modes and I’ve simply presented them here so you can take the idea and experiment to come up with your own ideas. The most important thing, as with everything we practise, is to learn the sounds, once the sounds are in our heads and the notes are under our fingers then we’ve achieved the most important target. Learning the names of the chords and the modes is useful but not nearly as important as learning the sounds they make
I’ve added one last example here to give you an idea of something slightly different. All my previous examples have used a major scale. In this example I’m using a scale called the melodic minor scale. Try this out and see if you can come up with something interesting.* I’ve labeled the 5th and 7th chords here Amaj7 and Amaj9 because that’s what I’ve called the same chords in previous examples. As I mentioned before, neither chord includes a major 3rd but both chords include the note G sharp which is the major 7th relative to A and so they can both function as an A major chord. It is however important to note that because the scale I’m harmonising in exercise 8 is an A melodic minor scale, then if I were to add the 3rd to either chord then it would be a minor 3rd and not a major 3rd so the full chord would be called A minor with a major seventh.