Bass Guitar vs. Chords: Here’s What You Need To Know


Bass guitar and a regular guitar share a lot of similarities. And differences. You can’t play a guitar if you don’t know chords. Chords are a pillar of guitar playing.

But how do chords relate to bass guitar, and in general, a bass guitar playing? This article is going to answer some of the regularly asked questions on this subject.

Let’s start!

Do You Need To Know Chords For Bass Guitar?

It is not necessary to know chords in order to play a simple bass guitar, because most bass playing doesn’t include playing chords. However, it is very advisable to get acquainted with chords. While a bass guitar is usually played one note at a time, knowing chords will indirectly improve your bass playing in a long run.

Chords are related with notes. A typical chord consists of three notes. A root note, a third and a fifth. So, for example, a G major chord have three notes, namely: G, B and D.

When a guitar is playing a chord, let’s say (again) a G major chord, usually bass guitar accompanies a guitar with a root note. In this case it’s a G note. However, that’s just a basic bass playing. A lot of times bass players use other notes from a chord that’s being played.

If a G major chord is being played, a bass player may use a B tone in order to emphasize a transition to C major chord (if that’s the tradition). Also, when you have a simple polka rhythm, a bass players use a fifth note, also, in addition to root note.

These are just a few of the examples where a bass guitar is playing more than a root note. There’s a LOT more to it. So, I’d say it’s pretty important to know at least basic chords, even if you’re playing a simple basslines.

Can You Play Chords on Bass Guitar?

You can play chords on a bass guitar, although chords are rarely played on it. There’s a reason for that. Bass guitar tones comes from a very low register.

That means that bass guitar sound covers the low end frequency spectrum. On the other hand, a regular guitar covers a mid and high end of a frequency spectrum.

In the mix, bass guitar serves as a filler for a low end frequency spectrum. If you were to play a chord on a bass guitar, you would play a three bass notes at a same time.

Chords played on a bass guitar would cause an unpleasant sound in the mix. The mix would sound muddy, and that sounds bad, obviously. It would eat the sound of other instruments in the mix, and the listener wouldn’t be able to hear other instruments that clear.

However, there are a lot of examples where a bass player is playing chords. Although, it is more often that bass player plays a two note at the same time. Technically speaking, two notes doesn’t make a chord. But two notes, usually a root note and a third, makes a harmony.

Usually, in those cases, it’s being played on a higher part of the neck, meaning those are higher bass notes. Why? It’s because higher bass notes are not that muddy as lower ones.

Those chords, or harmonies, played on bass, usually emphasize the end of a bridge, or chorus, or something like that. In other words, even in the cases where bass players play chords or harmonies, they tend to play it once or twice throughout the song, in order to anticipate or emphasize some movement in the piece itself.

Arpeggiating is Much More Common

As it’s been said, chords usually don’t sound good on a bass guitar. But we also pointed out that bass playing include, more often than not, more different notes from a chord. In other words, bass playing includes playing more than a simple root note over a chord that’s being played.

That’s why bass players are often arpeggiating over the chord. What’s arpeggiating? In this context, bass player is playing a bass line that outlines a chord that’s being played by guitar.

For example, a guitar may play a D minor chord. That’s a chord that has a D note (root), F (third) and A (fifth). Bass player may play a simple D note over a chord. But often that’s too simple and dull.

Arpeggiating over a D minor chord would be playing a D, F and A chord in some rhythmic pattern.

Playing only a root note of a chord results in a simple bass line. While some songs have those bass lines, most of songs use a bit more complex bass lines that consist of more notes.

Can You Play Guitar Parts On Bass?

Sometimes you can, sometimes not. It’s either not compatible (physically too demanding) to play certain guitar parts on a bass, or it just doesn’t sound good. On a bass, you can often play some solo that’s usually played on a guitar. But even then, you’d have to arrange it in slightly different way from original.

By ‘guitar parts’ we mean something that’s played on a guitar. Chords are played on a guitar. We talked about chords earlier. What else? Soloing is done on a guitar.

You can solo on a bass guitar, but it’s usually called a ‘bass solo’. Those are very different from guitar solos. To play an exactly same guitar solo on a bass guitar is usually physically exhausting up to impossible.

Bass guitar strings are just too thick in comparison to guitar strings. It is very hard, if not impossible, to perform various guitar soloing techniques on such thick strings.

If you want to know more about bass strings and their characteristics, take a look at this article from this site.

Don’t get me wrong, you CAN solo on a bass guitar. There are a tons of YouTube videos showing great, jaw dropping, bass solos. But those are very different solos from guitar solos.

Can You Strum On a Bass Guitar?

Strumming on a bass guitar is not common, but you can definitely strum on your bass guitar.

When we talk about strumming, we talk about strumming chords. What else would you strum?

Again, chords are usually not played, nor strummed on a bass guitar. But there are a few bass players that incorporated strumming in their playing.

You can check this video lesson on bass strumming. There you’ll see how it’s done, with a few famous examples.

Can You Play Power Chords on Bass?

Yes, you can play power chords on a bass guitar. Most of the time, bass guitar playing does not include power chords, but you can play it if you wish.

But again, it’s rarely played, just like regular chords are rarely played on a bass guitar. It’s because it wouldn’t sound good in the mix.

However, for a solo bass or a bass + drum combination, you can play power chords or regular chords on a bass guitar without sounding muddy.

It depends on what’s in the mix. And while most of recordings out there have a guitar with the bass, bass guitar usually don’t play chords, either regular or power chords.

How Many Chords Does a Bass Guitar Have?

Guitars don’t “have” chords. Chords are being played on a guitar. You can play chords on a bass fretboard. However, since a classic bass guitar has 4 strings, while a guitar has 6 strings, there are a fewer chord shapes you can play on a bass guitar.

Think about it. The more strings an instrument have, the more shapes and combinations can be played on it. Since guitar has usually 2 strings more than a bass guitar, there are more possible chord shapes and combinations derived from guitar fretboard.

That’s the case if we talk about a regular, 4 string bass guitar. There are, of course, bass guitars with 5, or 6, or even 7 strings!

Conclusion

I hope this article provided you with a good and useful bit of information. If that’s the case, I’m more than happy about it. It is always a pleasure to help my fellow guitar brothers on their journey.

In case you’re interested, take a look at other helpful articles on this site.

Cheers, and rock on!

Recent Content