A Guide to Playing Intervals on Bass Guitar

What Are Intervals and How Do You Play Them On a Bass?

The word “interval” describes the distance (in terms of pitch) between two musical notes. The smallest interval on the fretboard is a semi-tone. It’s the distance between any note and a note that is one fret above or below on the same string. There are 12 notes in an octave which means there are 12 semi-tone intervals. If we play these 12 semi-tone intervals one after the other then we are playing the “Chromatic Scale”. This isn’t a very interesting sounding scale but it’s really important to understand the chromatic scale if we’re going to understand intervals.

One octave chromatic scale starting and finishing  on C

Chromatic Scale Intervals on BassBecause there are 12 semi-tones in an octave, it is possible to play 12 different intervals within an octave (including the interval of an octave itself). Here is a list of all 12 intervals (plus 4 more intervals that are larger than an octave) along with tab showing how to play them on the bass. 

Intervals on Bass

The interval called a “tone” is equal to two semi-tones or you can think of it as the distance of two frets on a single string. Tones and semi-tones can also be called whole-tones and half-tones and also whole-steps and half-steps.

Thirds

An interval of three semi-tones is a minor 3rd and four semi-tones is  a major 3rd. Check out Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 1 where I show you how to make chords by using intervals of major and minor 3rd’s to harmonise scales.

Fourths, Fifths and Sixths

Five semi-tones gives us an interval of a 4th. A 4th is neither major nor minor. This interval is often described as a perfect 4th. Six semi-tones gives us an interval called a sharpened 4th because it’s one semi-tone bigger than a 4th. The same interval can be called a flattened 5th because it’s one semi-tone smaller than a 5th. It’s also sometimes called a tri-tone because six semi-tones is equal to three tones. Seven semi-tones makes a 5th or a perfect 5th. Eight semi-tones creates a minor 6th and nine semi-tones, a major sixth. Check out Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 2 where I use intervals of 4th’s, 5th’s and 6th’s to harmonise scales.

Seventh intervals and larger

Ten semi-tones make an interval called a minor 7th. Eleven semi-tones is a major 7th and twelve semitones is an octave. It’s important to note that after the octave the intervals start to repeat the same notes. However, we do still have different names for intervals above an octave. For example, a flattened 9th interval will give you the same note as a semi-tone. A natural 9th interval will give you the same note as a tone. A minor 10th interval is effectively the same as a minor 3rd and a major 10th is the same as a major 3rd

Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 2

Chords on the Bass – Part 2

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.

Intervals

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.

Part 2 Example 1 Chords on the Bass

In Example 2 I’m playing the same C major scale played in fourths. 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. However, 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.

Video 2 Examples 2, 3 & 4 Chords on the Bass* 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. 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.

Fourths, Fifths and Sixths

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. 

Video 2 Examples 5,6 & 7 Chords on the BassNotice 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. The higher note on the G string while we leave out the D string altogether.

These examples are just a 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 open strings. So, I really want to encourage you to experiment and come up with ideas of your own.

A melodic minor in sixths

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.

Video 2 Example 8 Chords on the BassNow move on to Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 3 – Triads. You’ll learn how we can add extensions to the triads so you can make more interesting sounding chords.

Warwick Alien Deluxe 6-String Acoustic Bass

Warwick Alien Deluxe 6-string

This is my new Warwick Alien Deluxe. I’m very impressed with it for a number of reasons. It’s my first 6-string acoustic bass and my biggest concern was that the bottom B-string would be weak. I’ve played 5-string acoustics before and none of them have had such a clear and powerful low B-string as the Warwick Alien Deluxe.

How does it sound?

I’ve tried to demonstrate in the video that the Warwick Alien Deluxe has a very clear sound across it’s entire range. From the clear low B-string all the way up to soloing above the 12th fret. It has a very clear and pleasant acoustic sound.

How good is the build quality?

Very good. Surprisingly good in fact. All of Warwick’s acoustic basses are now made in China. Even the more expensive Warwick ALIEN. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 features all of the standard Warwick hardware including Warwick Machine heads and Just-a-Nut III. It also features Fishman electronics including a piezo pickup and a Fishman Prefix Plus T Electronic preamp.

However, the most important thing about the build quality, and the thing that makes Warwick instruments stand out in general is the quality of the woods used. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 boasts a mahogany neck, a wenge fingerboard, a laminated spruce top and, as you can see in the video, beautiful back and sides made of laminated Bubinga. It’s the quality of the look of these materials and the tones that they produce that really makes you feel like you’re playing a high quality professional instrument.

In conclusion

The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is an outstanding, high quality professional acoustic bass guitar. It is fairly expensive, but not considering the build quality of the instrument and the quality of the materials used.

If you are looking for a high quality, great looking acoustic bass with a clear sound across a wide range from low B-string and playable above the 12th fret then the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is the instrument for You.

Warwick Hellborg Preamp

In the video, I play the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 through my Warwick Hellborg rig. The Hellborg Preamp is quite simply the best preamp for bass on the market and I use it for virtually all my recording. It’s so good that I use it when recording other instruments and vocals as well.

Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 1

Can You Play Chords on Bass Guitar?

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. The main one is that it really helps you to learn harmony on the fretboard.

 

Start by Playing Two Notes at a Time

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.

Example 1 Chords on the BassIf 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. However, I also play an open A string with each chord.

Add Open Strings to Make Chords

Example 2 Chords on the BassAs 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’ll explain below why I have used these chord symbols. If you don’t want to know the chord theory then please feel free to skip onto the next examples.

Chord Harmony Explained Chords I, II and III

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.
Chord IV

The fourth chord is now an inversion of a D major chord. It’s also a simple triad because there’s a D on the 12th fret of the D string and an F sharp 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 the lowest note, so we call the chord D over A.

Chord V
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.
Chords VI and VII
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. 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.

Change the Open String

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 you a different sound to example 2 and changes the chords, they’re now mixolydian. This is basically what you get when you play an A major scale over an E note.

Example 3 Chords on the Bass

Change the Key

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.

Examples 4, 5, 6 & 7 Chords on the BassThese 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.

Learn the Sounds and Come up With Your Own Chords

The examples are certainly not a complete list of all the modes. 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 your head and the notes are under your fingers then you’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.

Example 8 Chords on the Bass* 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 the scale I’m harmonising in exercise 8 is an A melodic minor scale. So, if I add the 3rd to either chord then it’s a minor 3rd, not a major 3rd. Then the full chord would be called A minor with a major seventh.

Now move on to Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 2. You’ll learn how we can make chords by using intervals of 4ths, 5ths and 6ths.