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Create Your Own Bass Lines (Part 2)

Part 1 of This Mini Series

If you've not read Part 1 of this mini series yet, go back and read it and then hit the blue 'CONTINUE' button at the end of the article to get back here.

Part 1 is here:

Create Your Own Bass Lines (Part 1)

In Part 1 we learned:

#1. Rock and pop bass lines are made up of discrete units of vocabulary. I call these devices.

#2. There are a finite amount of devices...you can create a career knowing just 15 to 20 devices (and knowing how to use them).

#3. The R-3-4-Ch/8-3-4-Ch device was demonstrated with a small number of real world examples (I could have included plenty more).

4. If you analyse hundreds of bass lines looking for common devices, you'll find a reasonably small set of ideas that all professional bass players use and forms the vocabulary of the bass guitar.

5. No-one teaches this vocabulary. It's the key to playing authentic sounding bass lines.



Part 2 - Creating TWO Bass Lines/Introducing The Two Chord Matrix

In this lesson I'm going to create two bass lines. The first one will go through the kind of exercise my student GC used to create the blues line in Part 1...and the second bass line will be to a 60s rock style chord progression that I'm sure you'll find familiar when you hear it.

To create both of those lines we're going to use a two chord matrix to provide a mini vocabulary that you can use to create your own lines.

Let's start by looking at the blank chord progression for a C7 blues:


There are just four chord movements in this 12 bar blues:

  • C7 to F7 – roots move in ascending perfect 4ths/descending perfect 5ths. G7 to C7 (bar 12) also has this movement.
  • F7 to C7 – roots move in ascending perfect 5ths/descending perfect 4ths. C7 to G7 (bars 8 and 11) also has this movement.
  • C7 to C7 – chord is static. This happens in bar 6 too – F7 to F7.
  • G7 to F7. This happens in bar 9 – roots of the two chords are a descending major second apart.

By choosing four possible devices that can be used for each of these chord changes, I can create a 'matrix' to use to help create a bass line.

Sidebar: for each of the two chord movements I've got many more than four possibilites in the library of bass devices I've been cataloguing and codifying for the last 12/13 years or so. But to make it understandable to you, I've chosen four possibilities for each chord movement.

Here's a graphic that sets out this information in tabular form:

Each of the devices listed in the Two Chord Matrix do the following jobs:

  • Outline the harmony.
  • Create 'melodic' drive and take the listener's ear from the root note of the first note to the root note of the next chord.

Note it's called a Two Chord Matrix because each device connects two chords.

So to create a bass line, I'll outline the first four bars.

The first bar is C7 to F7, and I've chosen the 8-b7-6-5 device. So I take my blank 12 bar, and I start from C (and I've chosen C at the third fret of the A string) and I write in the notes that correspond to 8-b7-6-5. Remember that '8' is the root but played as an octave (in relation to the notes that follow it). The 'b7' of C7 is Bb. The '6' is A. And the '5' is G.

Here's what the score looks like with that device pencilled in:

Sidebar: before we move on to bar 2, if you just played that bar slowly and out of tempo with your bass and land on the F, you should be able to 'hear' whether that F sounds logical or not. If it doesn't, that means you've chosen a device that doesn't work to get from the root note of C7 to the root note of F7. Now if you choose a device from the first column of the Two Chord Matrix it's impossible...but take a device from say the third column, translate that to C and then play it followed by an F root note and see how that sounds.

To move from F7 to C7 we need to choose a device from the second column of the Two Chord Matrix. The device I've chosen is our old friend from Part 1, the R-3-4-Ch device. Here's what the bass line looks like with that device pencilled in to Bar 2:

Onto Bar 3.

Although there is no chord change as such - C7 lasts for two bars - the root note of C7 still has to be set up at the beginning of Bar 4. To do that we need to choose a device from the third column of the Two Chord Matrix.

I chose 8-5-b7-ch - and note that the '8' (or octave) is in relationship to the notes that follow it and indicates you're playing the root note ABOVE the '5; and the 'b7'. And the 'ch' is the chromatic note between the b7 and the 8:

Onto Bar 4.

Bar 4 is a C7 chord and it moves to F7 in Bar 5 - so I'm back to choosing a device from the first column of the two chrod matrix again.

I've chosen the R-3-5-3 for this bar. Note that sometimes I might annotate the first note as an '8/r' because the same pitch functions as the octave for the notes before it, but the root note for the notes after it. Here's what the line now looks like:

Note that I always include the root note of the next chord when I'm doing this bar by bar exercise. That's partly so I can audit each bar and check that the device I've chosen leads the ear in a pleasing manner to that root note.

I've completed the full 12 bar bass line - and I did it just be working bar by bar and choosing a device from the appropriate column of the two chord matrix. Note that for the two chord matrix that devices used for C7 to C7 work just as well for F7 to F7. Or that devices used for F7 to C7 will work for C7 to G7. And devices used for C7 to F7 will work for the G7 to C7 two chord movement.

This is because all the chord qualities are the same - and the distance between those pairs of root notes is the same.

Here's the completed 12 bar bass line:


And here's what it sounds like:


Now that's a perfectly functional bass line and you could use that as a skeleton of a more dynamic line by adding rhythmic variations into it, or modifying devices, or more advanced ideas.

The point is:

  • The line was created by selecting devices from the two chord matrix.
  • The two chord matrix was created by identifying the four different chord movements within the twelve bar blues and then choosing 4 devices for each chord movement to add to the matrix.

The concept of the two chord matrix doesn't just work for the blues though.

On the next page I'll repeat the process with an 8 bar section of a 60s style rock song and create a two chord matrix for the chord progression of that song.

Click the blue CONTINUE button when you've read this page, understood it, and you're ready to move forwards.



1. Each chord progression is made up of a number of discrete two chord movements. E.g. C7 to F7. F7 to C7. And so on.

2. If you pick the right device for each chord, not only will it support the harmony but it will also create melodic drive and lead the listener's ear to the next root note (target note).

3. You can 'audit' whether a line has melodic drive simply by playing it slowly and out of tempo and finishing on the root note that follows. If it sounds 'logical' then the line has got melodic drive. If it doesn't....then back to the drawing board.

4. Note that 'logical' doesn't have to mean predictable.