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Passing Tones


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by George Urbaszek

Generally, a passing tone is considered to be a scale tone between two chord tones. However, it could also be a semitone between two scale tones that are a wholetone apart. And, in a strict classical sense, passing tones are meant to be on “weak” beats. Whatever the definitions, passing tones are an excellent means of connecting notes. 

All examples/experiments below have the A minor and D minor triads as their basis. The rhythm is the same for Ex 1-8. It is a two-bar phrase compatible with the chord changes. Watch out! ... these examples are in 3/4 time signature. Your two-bar count-in should therefore be 123, 223.


Ex 1 starts with the predetermined rhythm using the chord tones from Am and Dm.   (See “Creating Bass Grooves”, April 2001.)



Ex 2 introduces the passing tone (PT) B between chord tones A (root) and C (3rd) and the passing tone E between chord tones D and F. Note how the line already takes on a different shape/sound.


Ex 3 has the passing tone between the 3rd and 5th of each chord.



Ex 4 has passing tones between all chord tones.



Ex 5 introduces a chromatic passing tone (CPT) in the first bar of each chord. Note how the line takes on a major tonality. I have indicated this by placing suggested chords in parentheses. This would then make the second note of each bar a leading tone (LT) to the major 3rd (which was originally intended to be a CPT).


Ex 6 has the fourth note of bars 1 and 3 both passing and leading.


Ex 7 has passing tones alternating with leading tones.


Ex 8 strongly suggests a major tonality, with the originally intended passing tones becoming leading tones.


Ex 9 adds an eighth note to the original rhythm, using scalar and chromatic passing tones.


Ex 10 - You work it out.


When you play Ex 1-10 non-stop you will hear the experimental, developmental process taking place. For example, when experimenting with passing tones, they may become leading tones and therefore alter the chord qualities (as Ex 5 & 8 demonstrate).

Be aware of this as you experiment with your own ideas. There are still many more combinations possible. Try mixing up individual bars of any of the examples. Try a b9 (Bb) on the Am chord to create a phrygian tonality. (What’s that?! you ask. Check out “The Modes” by Lucas Pickford, December 2000.) 


Here are some possible results of such experimentation: 

·        more melodic bass lines

·        developing intensity in your accompaniment of extended solos

·        becoming more aware of harmonic implications

·        enjoying the fruits of your labor

·        others enjoying the fruits of your labor

·        getting gigs ... and so on


Until next time. Keep creating....and Bass of Luck!

George Urbaszek


George Urbaszek plays and teaches in the Great Down Under, in Australia. This year he will be busy touring with Sweet Mischief, promoting the 9-piece band’s debut album. He also teaches worldwide via audio correspondence. For more information about George and his lessons, go to







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