Global Bass Online November 2001
by Ross Krutsinger
November 1st, 2001
Last week I subbed for a friend of mine on a gig involving reggae, soca, and other island music at a private party. This particular band did not hesitate to stretch songs out and often would play the same 2 or 3 chords for more time than necessary. The bass lines were simple and mostly based on diatonic triads, but the challenge, was finding a way to spice up these lines and keep the music interesting. The answer to this was as simple as the lines themselves—triad inversions. By mixing in triad inversions, I was able to maintain the feel of the song, avoid cluttering up the open space in the song, and keep the bass lines from getting too monotonous at the same time.
Let’s look at a bass line similar to the one in Bob Marley’s Keep On Movin. In the key of A, the bass line follows the I-ii chord progression and utilizes the major and minor triads of Amaj and Bm, respectively (see example 1.) Notice that the bass line uses the ascending root position triad of A major (A-C#-E or 1-3-5) and moves to the descending root position triad of B minor (F#-D-B, or 6-4-2). If played in a song, this line may very well repeat unchanged throughout the entire song, but we’ll look a few simple ways to add variety to the line.
The first change I chose to make with this bass line was to use the 1st inversion of the A major triad, where the root, A, is the highest note of the chord. Relative to the original line, I still played A-C#-E, but the first A note is displaced up an octave such that the line can be written 8-3-5 as seen in example 2. This small change makes a big difference in the sound of the bass part and still leads easily into the descending B minor triad. By occasionally using this modification, I spiced things up for a bit, but soon craved another way to modify this bass line.
Using the first inversion of the ii chord Bm triad was the next change. By again displacing the B note up an octave (see example 3) we have another variation that leads nicely to the aforementioned first inversion of the A triad. Similarly, the second inversions of each triad, which place the root in the center of the chord can be used (see examples 4 & 5) as another variation. Example 6 shows one possible line that uses all the various inversions of each chord.
Triad inversions are not only useful in this example, but in all types of musical situations, from simple to complex, and as with any approach, may be more suitable for a particular situation than others. By becoming familiar with the various inversions, bassists have another tool in their bag for creating their own unique lines.