I'm trying to understand how the bass timbre folds into the harmony.

I understand doubling more dissonant intervals is generally bad unless creating a cool melody. Is this basically because it's "accenting" a dissonance in the harmony??

Is adding a note that isn't in an above harmony basically just adding a note to a chord?? Say: If there's a C5 playing... and the bass plays a D in a lower octave... does the overall harmony function as a Csus2??

Does the timbre and the distance of the bass make this not work??

  • 2
    Depends on what you want to do with it, so you might want to give us a bit of context. If, for instance, you were in G and holding the D as a dominant pedal point, this would just be "business as usual" - all kinds of things find themselves over pedal points, often more dissonant than this would be. In classical music, this would be a ninth in the bass, and that was considered a real no-no (except that Schoenberg used one in Verklärte Nacht and it worked beautifully). It's a truism, but it really does depend on how you use it.
    – user16935
    Jan 29, 2015 at 5:33

2 Answers 2


I would be careful of how you use the word timbre, which refers to the quality of the sound.

There are several embedded questions here, and I will try to address them.

Most doubling rules apply to voice-leading, and the treatment of the bass is integral into creating a satisfactory and refined sound. Instead of "accent" I would use the word "emphasize" which is a subtle difference.

Bass register very typically serves as the aural foundation. So, whatever note is put in the bass, the other notes will be heard in reference to the lowest pitch, regardless of whether or not they are functional, and regardless of whether or not you want them to be; it's just the way things work.

It is impossible to discuss harmonic function without understanding contextual harmonic motion. I want to clarify for other readers that "C5" refers to a specific guitar chord-shape. With a "D" in the bass, it wouldn't be heard as a suspension unless there was an anticipation in the bass, followed by the actual suspension, and then resolved by downward motion to a resolution. Downward basslines are very popular, though not usually achieved through suspension and resolution.

Bass is your stability, and to suspend it would be to suspend your foundation, which creates a certain effect.

Your question of whether or not it works is subjective - it depends on what you're trying to do. If you're trying to destabilize your bass and blur harmonic function, then yes, it would work. Otherwise, it just sounds like a Dm11 with some omitted notes.


Listen to, oh, I dunno...Paul McCartney. He's ALL OVER THE PLACE in terms of busy lines. And his stuff works great.

One of the issues with catching tension notes in the bass is the concept of "low interval limits." What happens when you violate low interval limits, is that the interval that you're playing ceases to sound like that interval, instead sounding like an awful wolf-tone-ish thing. So there's only so low you can go with, say, a 9th tension, before it starts to sound like mush and nonsense.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.