Another way to look at chords is to see them related to scales and keys. A given major scale or key represents a musical universe founded upon a chosen key center or tonic pitch. The tonic is the first note of a scale. It's also the name of the scale and its corresponding key signature. Once you choose your tonic pitch and key, it's then time to investigate what chords inhabit that musical realm.
Remember, each note in the scale can be numbered one through seven. This can often help you analyze, and even memorize, a certain succession of notes (melody) through the use of these scale degrees and intervals. Bringing a more harmonic emphasis into the picture, you can now build triads — or later, larger chords — on these same numbered scale degrees. Each note in the scale can have a chord that emanates from it. By choosing the notes for those chords only from the constituent members of the scale or key, you maintain the integrity of the key. When you create harmony out of the scale itself, you're employing what's called diatonic harmonization. Before you embark on this odyssey of harmony, it would be helpful if you'd review some major scale patterns on the electric bass. You should also learn the remaining notes on the neck.
You know that each open string on the bass (E, A, D, G) increases by one half step as you move fret by fret up the neck. For example, the E string proceeds as follows: open E, F, F-sharp/G-flat, G, G-sharp/A-flat, A, A-sharp/B-flat, B, C, C-sharp/D-flat, D, D-sharp/E-flat, E. Above the twelfth fret on each string, the notes simply repeat. All the strings proceed in a similar fashion.
When acquainting yourself with pitches on the neck, first identify where each white or natural note is on each string. Then, gradually fill in the sharps and flats. With the exception of E-F and B-C, the sharps and flats are always found in between the naturals on the neck.
When you have learned these important notes, you are now free to explore optional positioning of scales, exercises, and any other musical passage. Before you get too creative, first play a major scale that starts on a low G (third fret, E string) and moves all the way up the E string (see Figure 5-2). This gives you a chance to use the whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half formula mentioned in Chapter 4. Since this is a G-major scale, there is one sharp found in the key signature (F-sharp). This means that you will always play F-sharps in this key unless otherwise notated.
Next, look at the tab for a major triad and minor triad on one string. Notice that the G-major triad and the A-minor triad use every other note found in the G-major scale, starting on the notes G and A respectively. This is illustrated in Figure 5-3.
G-major scale on one string
Be mindful of the key signature!
G-major triad and A-minor triad on one string
This should start to give you the idea of what diatonic triads are doing. Again, you take the major scale and build triads starting on each of its notes. Those triads further exploit the major scale by utilizing every other note within the scale as the basis for those triads. This also makes visible the form of the triad that employs the root-third-fifth formula.
Finally, take a look at a new position for the major scale. In Figure 5-4, you will use a closed position, meaning that no open strings are used to play this scale.
G-major scale in closed position 1
Next, diatonic triads can be attached to each note or scale degree using the new closed position major scale. As an additional challenge, try reading this exercise using standard notation instead of tab. Tab is provided in case you need help. Also, since the bass is such a symmetrical instrument, tuned in perfect fourths, you should notice that the upper G (the highest note in Figure 5-4) can also serve as a brand new starting point for extending the G-major scale beyond one octave to the next highest D. As stated earlier, chords played as single notes are called arpeggios or broken chords. This is shown in
G-major diatonic triads in closed position 1
Be mindful of the key signature!