If you want to play chords on the bass and create your own bass chords, it helps to know that chords come from scales.
Different scales will create different chords.
In this bass lesson, I’ll show you how to create lush sounding chords from a simple major scale. I’ll also show you an easy way to voice these chords so that your fingers don’t hate you. After all, the bass is a demanding instrument.
I’ll also show you how you can take a Drop 2 Chord Voicing and create any chord out of it.
One more thing. At the very bottom of this post, you’ll get a free Drop 2 Chord Voicing Cheat Sheet. You can print this out and use as a reference when you practice.
Why Drop 2 Chord Voicings on the bass?
Drop 2 Chord Voicings are my favorite chord voicings for the bass. The reason is that this particular chord voicing does not have any string skips. So, you can use this chord voicing on any 4 string, 5 string, and 6 string bass.
There are other Drop Voicings, such as Drop 3, Drop 2 & 4, and Drop 2 & 3, which we will get to later on in this bass lesson. You can still use these other chord voicings can on a 4 string bass. But, you will likely need to play them as partial chord voicings. Instead of playing all 4 chord tones, you might play 2 or 3 of those notes instead.
Another reason I like Drop 2 Chord Voicings is that they are easier on the hands. For the most part, you will not need to stretch your fingers too much.
And one last reason why I like voicing my bass chords as a Drop 2 is that they are easy to invert. I can play different inversion of the chord with relative ease. The less I have to think, the more I can focus on making things feel good in the music.
How to create bass chords from scales – the easy way
I mentioned earlier that all chords come from scales. This is not a concept that I came up with. Barry Harris talks about this all the time. And many of our past Jazz Greats understood this.
When you think of chords as coming from scales, you end up with more freedom to move the voices in the chord. You are also able to conjure up any type of chord with ease.
So, here’s an easy step-by-step way to create bass chords from scales. After you a familiar with the basic concept, we can dive right into Drop Chord Voicings.
Easy step-by-step way to create bass chords from scales
For this example, we will look at a C Major Scale.
- Map out the notes of your scale: A C Major Scale has these notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Find all notes on your bass fretboard. Know where they are. Find them in many octaves.
- Start thinking of your scale as numbers instead of letters: Instead of C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, think 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The numbers are scale degrees.
- Find the notes of a basic 4 note chord voicing: A basic 4 note chord voicing, voiced in 3rds, would be 1, 3, 5, and 7. Find the notes 1, 3, 5, and 7 on your bass guitar fretboard. Playing 1, 3, 5, and 7 from a Major Scale will sound a Major 7 Chord.
- Explore different chord qualities: If you want to play a different chord type, like a C Major 6 chord, play 1, 3, 5 and 6.
You’ll notice right away that some of these chord voicings are not easy to play on the fingerboard. Your fingers will have to stretch a great distance on your bass guitar.
This is where Drop Voicings come in handy. Drop Voicings rearrange how the chord notes stack.
You’ll end up with a chord voicing that is much easier on your fingers… for the most part.
What’s a drop 2 chord voicing and how to play it on the bass
A Drop 2 Chord Voicing takes the voicing that is 2nd from the top, and drops it down 1 octave.
For example, a chord voicing 1, 3, 5, and 7 will then become 5, 1, 3, and 7. The 5 was the 2nd voicing from the top. Now the 5 is the lowest voicing of the chord.
Root Position C Major 7 Bass Chord
For a C Major 7 chord (C, E, G, and B), the Drop 2 Chord Voicing will be G, C, E, B. This is a much easier way to play C Major 7.
Once you get the hang of that, try inverting the chord.
First Inversion C Major 7 Bass Chord
A first inversion C Major 7 chord is: E, G, B, and C. This is still pretty hard to play this chord on the bass. A Drop 2 Chord Voicing for this chord will be: B, E, G, and C. The note B was the 2nd voicing from the top, so we took it down an octave. The chord voicing: B, E, G, and C is much easier to play.
Second Inversion C Major 7 Bass Chord
A second inversion C Major 7 chord is: G, B, C, and E. This is another challenging chord to play on the bass. A Drop 2 Chord Voicing for this chord will be: C, G, B, and E. This another easy on the hands bass chord shape.
Third Inversion C Major 7 Bass Chord
A third inversion C Major 7 chord is: B, C, E, and G. If you have octopus fingers you might be able to play this chord voicing. A Drop 2 Chord Voicing for this chord will be: E, B, C, and G. This is still a challenging chord shape to play on the bass. But, this chord shape is much more manageable. It also sounds lush and modern.
Here are 3 other drop chord voices to explore on the bass
There are other drop voicings that sound great on the bass guitar.
- Drop 3 Chord Voicings take the 3rd voicing from the top and drop it down an octave.
- Drop 2&4 Chord Voicings take the 2nd and 4th voicing from the top and drop those down an octave.
- Drop 2&3 Chord Voicings take the 2nd and 4th voicing from the top and drop those down an octave.
Below is a Drop Voicing Cheat Sheet PDF that you can download and print out for practicing chords on the bass.
Or you can check it out below.
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Barry Harris’ concepts are often voiced as Drop 2 Chord Voicings. His DVD explains the concept of a Drop 2 Chord Voicing and these are easy to apply on the bass. Check out these DVD’s on Amazon:
The Barry Harris Workshop DVD – Part One (4 Dvds/workbook)
The Barry Harris Workshop DVD – Part 2 (4 Dvds/workbook)