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Playing the bass line

It’s an effective move for the guitar player to become the bass player. Even if you never actually play a bass line, it’s a good idea to learn how to construct one.

I love it. It helps me get into the mind of a bass player. It helps me figure what they care about. And what they care about (probably more than anyone) is groove.

Let’s take a basic progression and see what we can do with it. We need the notes before we can sink into groove.


bass line


What you have here is a G major arpeggio, followed by and E minor arpeggio, a C major arpeggio, and an A minor arpeggio.  Let’s talk a bit about arpeggios.



Arpeggios are simply the notes in a chord played one at a time instead of together. These are the main notes that any bass player in any style will play. But outside of walking bass, no bass player will play them in the way I’ve outlined above. There needs to be some rhythmic interest.

Before we get to rhythm, though, let’s see how arpeggios are built. It’s not all that complicated.

Let’s start with the key of C.


C            D            E            F            G            A            B


How to make an arpeggio

Arpeggios are made by taking every second note of the scale. If you want a C major arpeggio, take the C, the E, and the G. If you want a D minor arpeggio, take the D, the F, and the A.

How do I know that building an arpeggio from the D is a minor arpeggio?

Here’s how it works in any major key (I’ll use C major as examples here):

  • the arpeggio built on the first note is always major: CEG
  • the second and third notes give us minor arpeggios: DFA and EGB
  • the fourth and fifth notes are major arpeggios: FAC and GBD
  • the sixth arpeggio is minor: ACE
  • and the seventh is diminished: BDF


To be totally clear:

C            D            E            F            G            A            B

maj            min            min            maj            maj            min            dim


Now you know how to find the main notes for making a bass line. Take a song that you like to play, and find the arpeggio notes on the E, A, and D strings.


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