EZ Street

March 1, 2005

We started investigating bass runs—and hearing how they provide musical stepping stones between one chord and the next—in the Feb. ’05 installment of EZ Street. Our journey began by linking major chords with major bass runs; in this lesson we’ll explore minor bass runs, and discover how they draw you into a minor chord from a preceding major or minor chord.

First, let’s review the basic concept: Constructed from an ascending or descending series of notes, a bass run starts a few beats before a chord change and ends on the new chord’s root. Whether a bass run ascends or descends, its job is to lead unequivocally to the new voicing. A bass run is a musical escalator designed to smooth the transition from one chunk of harmony to another.

This eight-bar progression has a time signature of 3/4, which simply means each measure contains three quarter-notes. (These quarter-notes can be summed or divided in different ways, as long as the total value remains the same.) Notice how the first two bass runs connect major chords to minors (C to Dm, G to Am). Both descending runs share the same formula: a half-step followed by a whole-step that lands you on the target chord’s root.

When a line consists of uninterrupted half- and whole-step moves, it expresses stepwise motion. But as we see in bars 5-8, not all bass runs are built using stepwise motion. For example, the bass run connecting Em to Am contains a minor third followed by a whole-step: E, G, A.

Once you can play this phrase as written, take it apart and reassemble it in ways that sound cool to you. By experimenting, you’ll learn to create bass runs on the fly.

Next time: Slurs.

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