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What Is a Bass Guitar Chord?

Angela Farrer
Angela Farrer

A bass guitar chord is a standard combination of two to three different notes that are intended to be played on separate strings of the bass guitar at the same time. Playing bass guitar is a bit different from playing other types of guitars because bass players usually do not play chords as frequently in practice sessions or as parts of complete songs. Many beginning musicians first learn to play the notes of each bass guitar chord separately; these note combinations are known as arpeggios. Bass guitar chord progression follows a prescribed pattern of finger placements along the fret board, and the sound of each chord develops a higher tone as the player's hand moves up further up the neck of the bass guitar.

The number of bass guitar strings is normally four on instruments that are played for certain music genres such as rock and heavy metal. Some basses designed for jazz or blues music may have five or six strings. These different instrument types usually require a somewhat different approach to each bass guitar chord. The thickest string on a four-string bass guitar is the E string, which is the one closest to the musician's chest. The remaining strings are most often designated the A, D, and G strings.

A bass guitar may have four to six strings.
A bass guitar may have four to six strings.

Playing bass guitar chords is frequently done with a bass amplifier in order for the musician to determine whether he or she is producing the correct sound through accurate finger placement between the bass guitar frets. Each bass guitar chord differs in pitch and tone depending on how where each finger is pressed between two given frets. Some chords require the fingers to be right up against a fret while others require more space between the two along the fret board.

The first type of chord that a bass guitar player usually learns is the C major chord, which consists of every second note played on the C major scale. The three notes in a bass guitar C major chord are C, E, and G each played on a separate string. Another name for this type of three-note chord is a triad. The next triad in a basic bass guitar chord progression is the D minor chord; the musician moves to this chord from a C major chord by shifting his or her fingers one step away from the previous notes on each string. The finger playing the C note shifts to the D note, the finger playing the E note shifts to the F note, and the one playing the G note shifts to the A note.

Discussion Comments


Finding bass players who bang out chords is a bit of a rarity (a notable exception is Lemmy from Motorhead -- he's built a career out of playing chords). Chords tend to sound awful on a bass unless some effects are applied.

I've seen bassists counteract the muddy rumble that results from playing chords with compressors or distortion. There are other tricks that bass players use to make chords sound great, so experiment at will.

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    • A bass guitar may have four to six strings.
      By: schankz
      A bass guitar may have four to six strings.