As musicians, we have a great many rules to follow. One rule in particular is that of a scale. When we play within a scale, we are limited to the notes of that specific scale, and that of its relative.
This doesn’t always have to be the case though. In fact, technically speaking, chromatic scales are every scale.
This means, in the proper context, they can be added to any scale. So how do we add notes of the chromatic scale into our bass playing?
First off, you need to understand a few things. Namely, you need to make sure you have a full understanding of the basic major scales and minor scales on bass guitar. You should also understand how intervallic relationships function, and how scale relations work as well.
Every Major scale has a relative minor, and likewise, every minor has a relative Major. Take for instance C Major. C Major’s relative minor is A minor. Why? Both scales share the same characteristic traits, and most importantly, the same exact key signature; no sharps and no flats. Basically, they are the same exact key, only played differently.
If you don’t possess the basic knowledge of relative Majors and minor, it is highly suggested you take some time to study them before approaching this lesson, as you may wind up confusing yourself.
The first thing you should consider when adding chromatic notes to your bass playing is your scale. Although the chromatic scale does contain every note and note interval along the entire fret board, just like any scale, there are variations of the chromatic scale.
The variations affect the scale degrees, as a chromatic scale in the key of C will have a different tonic, subtonic, etc. than a chromatic scale in the key of D. This will effect which notes are immediately available for use.
For instance, let’s say you are playing a rhythm in C Major. The notes of your rhythm are C, E, A, and C. To match this scale, we would need to use a chromatic scale in the key of C. This means every note, starting at C and ending back on C, would be available for our use.
Here is where intervals come in to play; the notes available for our rhythm are those closest to our given notes. Because our pattern is an ascending linear melody, our half note values will all be sharp. This means instead of having Cb, our available note would be D#, instead of Gb we would have F#, etcetera.
Because chromatic scales are constructed entirely half steps, our available notes would be the closest note to our given notes, and since we already established that we are playing an ascending linear pattern, our chromatic choices are as follows:
C – C#
E – E#
A – A#
C – C#
Now that you know how to use chromatic notes, the next step is to experiment with them. Remember to take into consideration scale properties and interval relationships. If your pattern is ascending, it makes more sense to have an ascending chromatic note rather than a descending. If your pattern is both ascending and descending, follow your last intervals direction. Above all, be creative, and have fun!
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