Opening Our Worlds And Ears To The 3rd

Posted on August 29, 2010


Hello and welcome to this weeks edition of the Bass Corner!

    Today our world opens up because I will be acquainting you with the 3rd. I love this interval, adding it will now give us 2 very distinct sounds, major and minor.

    Whole songs are written exclusively from major and minor tonalities and they are also combines too. We have been hearing these 2 distinct tonalities all our lives. When you were in elementary school, if you had general music classes, with or without you realizing it, the songs you learned had melodies that were based from either scale. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Bah, Bah Black Sheep, and the ABC song. These 3 songs actually have the same exact melody, try them on your bass if you remember them.

    Typically it is said that the major 3rd has a “happy” sound and the minor 3rd a “sad’ quality to it. I will let you compare and decide after playing between the 2 of them.

    The interval responsible for this first division between the 2 sounds is the 3rd. We need to know this as bassists because we want to reflect the major and minor sounds in our lines. I will first help you to find them on your neck and then will give you some practical uses for them.

The major 3rd is located 2 whole steps or 4 half steps above the root.

     If we are on the note F on the first fret of the E string then our major 3rd will be 4 frets up on the 5th. The major   3rd of F is the note A (this is also the same pitch as your open A string).

    Now let try finding the major 3rd of the note G, the 3rd fret on your E string. The major 3rd will be 2 whole steps up, this brings us to the note B. This is also where knowing the natural half steps and being able to label your fret names will come in handy. I covered that in my second article “Naming the Bass Fret board”. The note B is on the 7th fret on E but this same pitch is also on the 2nd fret of the A string.

Practice playing between these 2 notes. You want to get used to physically playing them and also to the sound being created.

    Next we will want to check out the minor 3rd. You may also hear the minor 3rd being referred to as the “flat 3rd” or the “flat 3”. When people say “flat” in this instance they are just talking about the 3rd being lowered a ½ step, when we make a note flat we lower it a ½ step.

    What I find so fascinating about this interval is that it is only one ½ step away from the major 3rd. When played, to me, they sound worlds away from each other. This has to do with the slight dissonance created from the overtone series. Dissonance is a beautiful thing, it creates tension and what tension asks for is movement and eventual resolution. This goes for many things in life, not just music.

    Back to the minor 3rd, let’s take either of those roots from above and create a minor 3rd. I am going to use the G. The minor 3rd will be 1 whole step and 1 half step from the root or we can also say that it is three ½ steps from the root. This is one ½ step below the major 3rd. The root G is on the 3rd fret and if we count up 3 frets it brings us to the 6th fret which is the note Bb (flat). This Bb is also located on the 1st fret of the A string. Depending on the song I use both positions of the minor 3rd. If I stay on the same string then I’ll use my first finger on the root and my pinky on the flat (minor) 3rd. If I decide to cross strings for the flat 3 then I will play the root with my 3rd finger and the flat 3 with my 1st.

    Practice this minor 3rd interval now many times and from different starting frets, again getting used to how it feels to play them but especially to their difference in sound.

    A really nice way to hear the difference between the major and minor 3rds is in playing them together as in a chord. Let’s head up to the 12th fret of the D string. This is the note D (all the open strings repeat at the 12th fret). Play this note with your 2nd finger and at the same time play the F# (sharp), which is the 11th fret on your G string, with your 1st finger. This creates a major 3rd. Listen to it, soak in its consonance.

    Now drop your first finger down a fret, from the 11th to the 10th on the G string, hear the difference created. This is the minor 3rd, not as consonant but not completely dissonant either. How does this chord make you feel?

     If we were to combine the 5ths that we talked about last week with the 3rds that you just learned we can create Triads. Triads are chords that contain a Root, 3rd and a 5th.

When reading chord changes you will see the triads written like this:

Major triads:

1. C

2. C major

3. C maj.

4. C but with a triangle after it.

Minor triads:

1. C minor

2. C min.

3. C-

    Having a practical playing example I find is helpful to solidifying what I learn so I thought we could check out a blues. On a side note here, you are going to encounter a major and minor 3rds in multiple song settings that have a chord progression but when I think of them I immediately go to those walking blues bass lines learned when I first started playing the bass. If you don’t have this already in your bag of tricks then it is a good one to throw in.

Here is the basic chord progression:

G              G              G                G

1-2-3-4      1-2-3-4      1-2-3-4       1-2-3-4

C              C               G                G

1-2-3-4     1-2-3-4       1-2-3-4       1-2-3-4

D              C               G              D

1-2-3-4      1-2-3-4     1-2-3-4     1-2-3-4

    Look at all your chords and using the above key, try and figure out which triads you will be playing, major or minor. Because they are all just a capitol letter and nothing after then we are safe to assume they are major chords/triads.

There are so many blues bass line patterns, I am going to use the R353 pattern for today.

    Starting with the G chord and playing 4 quarter notes in each measure let’s play the Root, 3rd, 5th and 3rd. These notes will be G (3rd fret E string), B (2nd fret A string), D (5th fret A string) and back to B (2nd fret A string). The fingering pattern that I like for this is: 2nd finger on G, 1st on B and pinky on D.

    Because the G chord is repeated 4 times or 4 measures and because playing through the R353 pattern takes up only 1 measure, we will repeat this 4 times.

    Next we will basically play this same pattern but start from C. The root C is on the 3rd fret of the A string. The major 3rd of C is E which is on the 2nd fret of the D string and the 5th, , the note G is the 5th fret of the D string. The fingering pattern will remain the same.

    Lastly we need to find the R353 for the D chord, before we start take note that the D chord lasts for only 1 measure and thus we will only play through the 4 beat quarter note pattern once.

    Our root D we will play on the 5th fret of the A string. The major 3rd is F#, which is located on the 4th fret of the D string and our 5th is the note A located on the 7th fret of the D string. Using the same fingering as before will be helpful.

    Play through the progression as many times as you can and memorize it if possible. I find that taking a song “off the page” and memorizing it helps us to really know and own it.

For our last segment here we will take this same progression and turn it into a Minor Blues.

Same progression but the chord symbols will change a bit.

G-            G-             G-            G-

1-2-3-4    1-2-3-4   1-2-3-4   1-2-3-4

C-              C-             G-            G-

1-2-3-4      1-2-3-4     1-2-3-4      1-2-3-4

D              C-               G-               G-

1-2-3-4     1-2-3-4        1-2-3-4        1-2-3-4


    Notice that the D chord is still a major, you won’t change any of the notes in this chord. With the G- and C- chords you will keep the root and 5th the same and alter only the 3rd.

We will still play 4 quarter notes on each measure and the notes of the G- chord will be:

G (3rd fret of the E string), Bb (6th fret on the A string), D (5th fret on D).

I am also going to change the fingering with this pattern. Play G with your 1st finger, Bb with your pinky and D with your 3rd.

On the C- chord, our root (C ) is still on the 3rd fret of A, our minor 3rd (Eb) will be the 6th fret of A and our 5th (G) is on the 5th fret of the D string. And again, use the same fingering as above.

    I hope you enjoy playing through these examples and getting to know the major and minor 3rd. I can almost bet that if you have been playing for a few years that you have already seen this type of bass line but maybe did not have a name for it Just like the guitarist needs to know what a G chord is, we need to know what the notes in a G chord mean to us.

    I am fresh off a great gig last night. The reason I mention this is because practical use of anything you learn is so helpful in cementing it into your musical being. Plus beyond that it is just fun to be able to use what you learn. I have placed myself in many playing situations just to be able to get out there. I’ve played in jazz, blues, rock, r&b, folk, country and Christian rock praise bands. When I didn’t have a band to play with I would call up friends to jam or stop by an open mic or open jam at a local club or coffee house. Whatever kept me stepping up that ladder of knowledge and helped me to get closer to my musical goals is what I went for. I’m not saying I wasn’t a bit nervous at times going into a new playing situation but I’ve always found it to be worth it. Enjoy your Bass!




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