I am just working on my harmony 9, and I am wondering if you can have non-chord tones in the bass?

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    well...if the bass has the note in it does it become a chord tone? can a bass player play a non-chord tone, sure....there are no rules...is it going to sound good....maybe?? – b3ko Aug 7 '18 at 13:56
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    What's 'harmony 9' please? – Tim Aug 7 '18 at 16:55

Depending on where it is applied and how, and disregarding passing tones and the like, what could be non-chord tones in the bass actually end up changing the harmony. For a simple example, if the chord on the chart/being played by others is a G chord and the bass player plays an E beneath it, the chord becomes an E-7. Once you start adding different notes beneath a chord, it starts to get a bit more complicated trying to analyze the chord, so people often use slash chords instead of trying to give them a name of their own. This is particularly useful outside of Jazz, where Jazz has an extensive set of chord types as part of the standard repertoire and most other genres don't often use them. For instance, if you were to play Emin/F in a Jazz context, it would easily be reinterpreted as a sort of Fmaj7 #11, where in a pop context, most players wouldn't really know what to call it/how to think of it other than Emin/F.

Getting to the passing tones and neighbor tones, etc., these are incredibly common and part of most bass players' vocabulary, which I suspect is not what you're asking about.

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    Don't fall into the trap of analysing chords "by eye". Music is for listening to, not for looking at the score. If the others in the band play four beats of a G chord followed by D, while the bass plays G F (natural!) E Eb D on each beat, the harmony is just G followed by D IMO - whether the musical genre is Jazz, Pop, or Beethoven (who often wrote that sort of thing!) It doesn't sound like "G, G7/F, Em7, some sort of Eb augmented chord, D" - not to me, anyway. – user19146 Aug 7 '18 at 16:24
  • I would definitely agree on the whole but if we were to see a single bass note over a single chord, such as the G with E in the bass, I’d analyze that both visually and aurally as E-7. In the case of the more complicated slash chord I provided, I think that those familiar with the Lydian sound would probably hear it as a sort of Fmaj7 #11 and use a Lydian scale for improvising. The example you gave would be one of non-chord tones as passing tones in the bass. – Basstickler Aug 7 '18 at 16:40
  • That Em7 could easily have been G6 with an E bass - G6/E if you like. and may be for a whole bar, or maybe it's just working its way to G7, as an instance. – Tim Aug 7 '18 at 16:51
  • Sure, you could call it that but ultimately I’d still hear it as E-7. In my opinion, there really is no G6/E, just E-7. Similarly, I don’t really think there is an E-7/G, just a G6. – Basstickler Aug 7 '18 at 16:58

Leaving out passing tones, the answer is, as so often, yes and no. And it's very much up to how you choose to analyse it. Does a 'slash chord' define a new chord or the basic one with a 'non-chord' bass note? Is 'C/Bb' a different chord to 'C7/Bb'? What about 'C/F#', the famous final chord of the show 'West Side Story'?

But I think that's too complicated an answer for the intention of this question. Yes, there are 'non-chord' bass notes. When we write F/G, the G note is used ONLY in the bass, it isn't added to the upper structure.

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  • "When we write F/G, the G note is used ONLY in the bass..." -- that seems like a good rule-of-thumb to me, but wouldn't it be OK to write, say F/C to express an F in 2nd inversion, even if the 5th is doubled in the chord? Or rather, wouldn't it be OK to double the 5th in a chord written as F/C? Maybe we could think of a few other similar cases. – ex nihilo Aug 8 '18 at 1:37
  • But in F/C the C is NOT a non-chord note. – Laurence Payne Aug 8 '18 at 10:38

As passing tones, absolutely. For example if you're going from an F7 to a G7, an F# (which isn't in either chord) works very well to transition. For other notes, sometimes you'll see tones written for the bass that normally wouldn't be a part of the chord (but since they're written in I guess they're technically now chord tones?) For example, the progression "Stairway to Heaven" Am7, Am7/G#, Am7/G... The second cord is an Am7 (A-C-E-G) played with a G# in the bass.

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    I have to disagree with Am7/G#. G natural is not played in this part, so it's actually an inversion of Am(maj7). – coconochao Aug 7 '18 at 15:00
  • "but since they're written in I guess they're technically now chord tones" - No no no --- not unless they sound like "new chord tones"!!! Not every "combination of notes played simultaneously" is a "chord". – user19146 Aug 7 '18 at 16:28
  • I didn't mean to suggest that any random notes played at the same time constitute a "chord." What I meant was that if someone writes "Am(dim)7#9-11-13(Add4)/Bb" (whatever the heck that is) then regardless of what the "chord" "sounds" like, all those notes are (by definition) "chord tones." If you write "Am" and then happen to play the other notes at the same time, well then they're not. It's all a matter of context. – Duston Aug 7 '18 at 16:40
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    Is it really Am7/G#? Am/G# is plausible. Am M7 is a better name. – Tim Aug 7 '18 at 16:56
  • Am7/G# is more descriptive because you're explicitly saying you want the G# on the bottom. Yes, AmMaj7 has the same notes, but it's not really the same. Just like Am7 is the same as C6, only it isn't. – Duston Aug 7 '18 at 19:38

Unless you want to change a lot of chord names, probably using a lot of slash chords, no. Take a simple tritone sub, but just using the bass note. An oft used ploy for bassists. The chord is C, going to an F, but towards the end of the C bar, the bassist plays an F#/Gb, to lead on to the root of F, F. That's not really a chord tone of F, and especially not of C, which is the chord in question. Is it worth calling the chord at that point in the bar anything but C?

There are plenty of other places where non-chord tones are used. Yes, the chord name could be changed, but it's only a technical exercise, which won't really help anyone.

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