The Five Types Of Approach Notes
In the first article in this series - The Three Things A Bass Line Has To Do (To Make The Band Sound Good) - the three principle functions of a bass line were set out as below:
- 1. The rhythm is complimentary with the drums.
- 2. The notes played are complimentary with the harmony.
- 3. The line targets Beat 1 of each bar and makes that note sound logical.
The first article in this series finished with an example bass line where the rhythm was complimentary with the drums of the practice track I generated and the notes were complimentary with the harmony (and were established devices from the vocabulary of pop and rock). But the line didn't target Beat 1 of the next bar which made the line sound vague.
To save clicking back if you've read Article 1, here's that line again:
Just by making minor changes to the notes at the end of each bar, this line can be edited to create a line that DOES target the notes on Beat 1 of every bar and makes them sound logical (which gives purpose and drive to the line):
If you compare and contrast the above two examples you'll hear for yourself that the second example sounds more compelling than the first.
And other than Bar 4 where I replaced a quarter note with two 8th notes, the edits to the line were solely changing the pitch of one or two notes and retaining the original idea in each bar, but the edits used approach notes to make the bass line target each root note on beat 1.
For the record, the approach notes used are as follows:
- Bar 1 - the G on beat 4 is an upper dominant approach note.
- In Bar 2 the open E string is a lower chromatic approach note. (Used in conjunction with the C on beat 3 though, it forms an advanced indirect resolution that's killer at 8th note and 16th note rhythmic levels.)
- In Bar 3 the C is an upper dominant approach note.
- In Bar 4 the B natural is a lower chromatic approach note. (You could also think of the Bb and B natural working as a 'double' approach note.)
So I'm briefly going to spell out the five different approach note types and give some examples so you can see and hear them in action.
Approach Note #1 The Chromatic Approach Note
A chromatic approach note is a note that's either a half step (one fret) below OR above the target note. So that's either a lower chromatic approach note if it's below the target note, or an upper chromatic approach note if it's above the target note.
This example uses both types of approach notes with the C to F chord progression (which incidentally is the most common chord movement in rock and pop). Note that lower chromatic approach notes have got the annotation 'lc' underneath them. And upper chromatic approach notes have got the annotation 'uc' underneath them:
Some quick rules of thumb when using Chromatic approach notes:
- Upper chromatic approach notes sound best when used to go to the target note from a note a whole step (two frets) above the target note. So in this example going from G to Gb to the target note of F.
- Lower chromatic notes can also work like this as in Bar 4. But they can also work with an interval drop as in Bar 1.
- Chromatic approach notes are more dissonant the longer they are held - note that the B natural at the end of Bar 1 is really dissonant but that the Gb at the end of Bar 3 is barely audible because it only lasts an 8th note and any tension heard is immediately released when the line resolves to F.
Approach Note #2 - The Dominant Approach Note
A dominant approach note is an approach note that's a perfect fifth above a target note, or a perfect fourth below it. For C, the dominant approach note is G and whether it's upper or lower depends on the pitch that G is played at in relation to the target note. For F, the dominant approach note is C.
Here's an example incorporating dominant approach notes:
Some quick rules of thumb when using dominant approach notes:
- Dominant approach notes are non-linear ways to resolve to a target note so although there is a vertical drop, the 'dominant relationship' between the two notes is a musical relationship that's hardwired into rock and pop chord progressions. (That's a more complex theory topic that we don't have time to get into here).
- Note that in Bar 4 the F drops down to C and then goes back to F on beat 3. That's a dominant 'push' contained within the bass line.
- The root down to the 5th is a bass line idea that appears in many bass lines.
Approach Note #3 - The Arpeggio Approach Note
I've never seen this approach note formally presented anywhere...it can be used in either direction. This example gives examples of this both ascending and descending:
Some thoughts on using argpeggio notes as approach notes:
- The arpeggios used here are R-3-5-6 or 8-6-5-3. On simple major chords the major 7th could be used instead of the '6' - but often the '6' is used instead.
- At the end of Bar 1 the last note - the '6' - is a minor third below the octave C on the downbeat of Bar 2. Theoretically that doesn't fit into any kind of approach note theory. But because it's part of an ascending arpeggio, that C sounds logical.
- The same happens at the end of Bar 3. This time the arpeggio descends - so it's an 8-6-5-3 arpeggio - and then the low root note is played on the downbeat of Bar 4. Again, musical logic makes that low F sound logical.
- This works with arpeggios like R-3-5-b7 (for dom 7 chords) or R-b3-5-b7 (for minor or minor 7 chords)
Approach Note #4 - The Octave Approach Note
This one is straightforward to understand - the approach note is an octave above or below the target note. You can see it at work in bars 3 and 4 of this example:
Some thoughts on using octave approach notes:
- The upper octave approach note is more common than the lower octave approach note.
- The lower octave approach note tends to be used where that lower note is also an open string. So for chords with E, A as the root note.
Approach Note #5 - The Scalar Approach Note
This one is the one most people get confused by. The upper scalar approach note is drawn from the scale that goes with the chord of the target note. NOT the scale of the chord on which the note is used.
In the example below I've changed the quality of the chords from C7 to F7. When approaching the C root note of C7, the lower scalar approach note would be Bb and the upper scalar approach note would be D. When approaching the F root note of F7, the lower scalar approach note would be Eb and the upper scalar approach note would be G. Here's the example:
So How Do You Use Approach Notes In Your Bass Lines?
This is a brief overview of approach notes and how they work.
In all of the examples you'll have noticed that the notes preceding the approach notes changed and that the bass lines in each example (apart from the very first example which is a repeat of the last example from the first article in the series) have a nice flow about them.
The reason for that is because I deliberately selected devices to play in each bar that incorporated the desired approach note in them.
Devices are the DNA of the bass players vocabulary...and we'll talk about those in the next article. Hit the blue CONTINUE button to go to the next article.