Online Bass Instruction with Rusty Springfield
Bass Chords

When I first took up the bass guitar, someone asked me why in the world I would choose to play bass instead of guitar. "After all," their reasoning went, "you can't play chords on it." Au contraire, mi amigo! Playing chords on bass is not only possible, but musically valid and hunks and hunks of burning fun!

The trick is to place the chord tones in the proper octaves so that they don't sound like they're in the "mud zone." Just about any chord can be represented by using only the three most identifying notes. In most cases, these would be the root, third and seventh. The fifth is not really important unless it's been altered as in a "flat five" chord.

The following diagrams can help get you started in your chord explorations. These voicings are basic. There are many variations, and as always, I encourage you to experiment with as many different chord types and voicings as you can think up.
  • Remember that harmonics can be mixed in with fretted notes to create rich chord textures and dense harmonies.

  • You can play the root with your left hand while your right hand plays two or three chord tones up past the twelfth fret.

  • As a variation of the above, try walking a bass line with your left hand while playing the third and seventh intervals with your right hand in a rhythmic pattern. This technique also works nicely with a Latin feel.
Below you will find some very useful chord diagrams. For simplicity's sake, I've placed all of the examples in the key of G, but you can, obviously move the chord "shapes" to other positions on the neck. The key will change, but the chord quality (major, minor, dominant) remains the same.

Go to the next lesson: Harmonics