Behold The 5th

Posted on August 22, 2010


Hello Everyone! It’s back to the shred shed, in the previous weeks we covered the fret names and roots and octaves. The next step in learning to construct bass lines is adding the 5th. In this week’s article we will discuss where to find them on the neck and where to use them in a musical setting.

    I’ve always liked the 5th, next to the octave it’s the most unobtrusive chord tone to add. It has a very consonant sound and can fit easily into many musical styles. Latin music such as Bossa Nova and Samba use this chord tone heavily. I don’t know that I’ve played a Blues bass line that didn’t include the 5th. Jazz, rock, hardcore, flamenco….you get the picture.

    On a personal note, when I was first learning to read through changes, if I was unsure of where and what chord tones to use I would always jump onto the 5th. I knew this tone would always fit, unless it is a chord that has a flat 5, there will be discussion on that in a later article.

    Tonally speaking, the 5th is 3 whole steps and 1 half step away from the Root or 7 half steps. Remember the half step is from 1 fret to the next and the whole step is 2 frets away. If you are on the first fret of the E string, the note F, then the 5th would be located 7 frets away on the 8th fret. Jumping up to the 8th fret is very impractical, which is why we will cross over to the next string.

    The name of the note that is the 5th of F is the C note. The C note we’ll be looking for is on the 3rd fret of the A string. We can say that this interval is located 1 string over and 2 frets up on the fretboard. This pattern will stay the same all over your neck as long as you’re in standard tuning.

    Use the chord progression patterns from last week but instead of playing whole notes on each chord substitute them with a half note (2 beats) on the root and then another half note on the 5th.

1.   C               F              G

2.   C               A              D          G 

3.   G               E              A           D

4.   G               C              D

5.   C               Bb            A           G


Switch the rhythms around a bit. Try playing all quarter notes using these patterns:

1. RR55

2. R55R

3. RRR5

4. R555

5. R5R5

6. 55RR

7. 5RR5

8. 555R

9. 5R5R

    Now let us take a look at the 5th and the octave. Again, in standard tuning, the 5th will be located on the same fret as the octave but 1 string above it. Tonally it is 2 whole steps and a ½ step away from the octave or 5 half steps.

    A lot of country, blues and show tunes use an octave to 5th pattern as the staple of the bass line. You will also find an example of this in many, many other styles but this just happens to be where I have seen it most.

    Now try getting used to playing the octave and 5th or the root, 5th and octave. Use the above examples and substitute the root or 5th to include the octave.

    Play the roots and octaves and octaves and 5ths separately ( melodically) and then together (harmonically) as a chord.

    I hope you enjoyed learning about the 5th. Maybe you were already acquainted with it, I would almost bet that you’ve already played these types of intervals hundreds of times but just have not had a name for them yet. This is just another spice to add to your playing, the 5th is one of the bigger spices though, consider it the salt or pepper.

    Come back next week, we‘ll be journeying into the land of major and minor. How do you get there you ask?By using the 3rds. Throwing the 3rds into the mix will start to add such color to your line, all the chord tones will, all the non-chord tones will also. Try all notes against your roots. Start getting used to the way the sounds change. Remember to play them melodically and harmonically. As Bass players we play mostly a melodic, linear instrument. It is important for us to get used to hearing the different intervals that chords contain and this is why I stress the harmonic aspect as well. Enjoy your BASS!

Have a wonderful week!

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