This is the fifth post in a series of specific posts where I just talk about my passion for music theory, different exercises and things that i’ve thought up that may shed light on something or somethings that musicians are either struggling with or else it’s a completely new subject to them or opens a completely different door to them musically.
If I can inspire my fellow musicians as much as they inspire me, then I can die happy.
So, here goes.
Lesson 5 in the aptly named: Music in Theory
Extended Range Bass Guitars & The Pentatonic Scale
This article was not planned. It is 2am already and I am writing this immediately after having a discussion about pentatonic melodies.
This is actually the first Bass lesson I’ve ever written so it’s going to be super niche by comparison to the others, I have yet to decide whether or not I’ll do more instrument curated lessons.
The Pentatonic Scale
First off, You’ve heard it. I don’t know who you are as a reader, but provided that you have at least once in your life heard music, you have definitely heard the pentatonic scale in all its effective and simplistic glory. The pentatonic scale is the seed from which almost every genre and tibre of music is grown. It is common in everything from the latest modern pop hits to medieval prayer chant and the music of ancient Greece, Folk music, Traditional music, even Javanese and Balinese prayer song (gamelan) employ a type of pentatonic scale.
As the name would suggest, the pentatonic scale is comprised of 5 notes. In the major pentatonic scale, the 5 notes present could be described as an incomplete major scale, but in terms of tonality the pentatonic scale is complete by itself. I like to think of the notes it contains as the most harmonically obvious notes or as anchoring notes in the particular key; this is why rock guitar solos sound so great and why songs like the Cup song are so easy to sing without accompaniment.
To find the pentatonic notes of any key, you count ahead on the Circle of 5ths and rearrange those notes into the order of the musical alphabet so they fit into the space of one octave; so for example, The C Pentatonic scale will be 5 consecutive steps on the Circle of 5ths including C; C G D A E, in order of the musical alphabet you have C D E G A, and that’s the C major Pentatonic scale.
The minor Pentatonic, like the natural minor scale, contains the same notes as its major equivalent just beginning on the 6th degree. So, C D E G A becomes the A minor Pentatonic; A C D E G.
That’s all Well and Good But, What about the Extended Range Bass Part?
For those who don’t know, an Extended Range Bass literally means a bass that has a wider, more extended range than the traditional 4 string 22 frets variety, and they were first invented in the 60s with the introduction of 5 and 6 string Basses. Extended range includes the likes of 5-12 string basses or even Les Claypool’s 32 fret bass, but the variety I want to focus on for this lesson is the 7 string Bass tuned BEADGCF.
This actually came as a eureka moment for me while watching Chris Severin play with The Headhunters in the Sugar club in Dublin last September. Prior to that gig I hadn’t actually seen a 7 string Bass being played in the flesh, nor any bass with that level of virtuosity behind it. The performance was pretty mind blowing on so many levels, as can be expected from Jazz veterans such as the Headhunters.
If you are a bass player and you have touched on scales before, you’ve probably been taught the Pentatonic scale; the Major and minor pentatonic scales are usually more often than not; the first scales we ever learn. String instruments are very different animals to keys; the likes of scales take on shapes that are completely different all over the fret board whereas a pentatonic scale in one octave on a piano is going to be the same notes and the same shape as the next octave and the next. The Pentatonic scales are only really useful if you can play it in more than one octave and many teachers have different ways of showing students how to play this way on a 4 string bass; by using different starting notes and playing a number of different shapes up and down the neck of the bass.
The way I always understood it was there were 3 different shapes, major, minor and a kind of box shaped pentatonic that matched the notes from major to minor and followed the pattern, hardly the most academic approach to it.
The way a lot of online bass tutors and how the likes of Contemporary music colleges break down the pentatonic scale is by 5 different shapes, so in C your 5 shapes will each be C D E G A each starting on the respective notes; 2nd position starting on D, 3rd on E and so on.
I drew up some very rough, ghetto copy book diagrams which you can check out for clarification here:
The 5 shape approach maybe is the best way to teach the pentatonic scale on a 4 string Bass, but it does encounter some problems once you decide to jump to a 5 or 6 string bass.
That’s why I’ve got this:
This is a Diagram of the 7 string Bass, tuned in perfect 4ths; BEADGCF I mentioned earlier, and it completely rules out the need to study 5 shapes only to encounter issues along the way. As you can see, on a 7 string Bass, without moving the position of your fretting hand, all 5 of the above shapes can be played in the one position.
And with only one shape or pattern to remember, it’s a lot more likely to free up the fret board for you, regardless of whether you’re playing a traditional 4 string or the bass belonging to a Jazz funk veteran.