In alot of songs there's a chord progression. Say we have a 4 chord progression. Each chord can correspond to a note the bass plays. So now the bass is playing a 4 note progression. Is that called a bass line (are they one in the same?) Is a 'line' and a 'progression' the same thing?

The reason I ask is when I'm trying to figure out a song by ear, I like to think in terms of bass notes (not chords b/c thinking of a single note is easier), and then I later convert them to chords based on if they sound major or minor, etc. Note that sometimes these bass notes aren't the roots of the chord, it's just the "essence" of the chord at the time (it's the note that sounds most like the chord). Sometimes I'll hit the seventh of a chord for example.

  • Your method of converting bass notes to chords will fail as soon as you try to transcribe a boogie-woogie song. That's the most prominent subgenre I can think of that consistently has a walking bass with plentiful nonchord tones.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 17:21
  • @Dekkadeci I'm not trying to figure out lines/walking basses (as those are easier), rather chord progressions. been using chordchord.com as practice.
    – user34288
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 18:39

6 Answers 6


Is a bass line the same as a bass note progression?

"Bass note progression" is not a term that I've ever heard. Generally, we speak of a "bass line" and a "chord progression." They are separate but related things.

The chord progression consists of the sequence of chords. I have heard the term "root progression" used to refer to the movement of the roots of the chords in the progression. This is a theoretical term used to analyze the way the chords related to each other and the overall tonality/harmony of the piece.

"Bass line" on the other hand tends to have a more practical meaning. It refers specifically to the melodic line the the bass instrument or voice is playing. Sometimes this is very simple and consists solely of the root notes, but it often includes additional chord tones and passing tones.

  • Thing is when I turn the chord progression into tones (by trying to play by ear) they might not necessarily be the roots. It’s the tone that most captures the essence of the chord. Could be a seventh note on that chord for example.
    – user34288
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 0:50
  • 2
    @foreyez That can be a problem, but most of the time, in most forms of music, the note that the bass instrument plays on the downbeat of a chord change will be the root of the chord. So if a particular song has a complicated bassline, it can be helpful to focus on just the notes on those downbeats.
    – Peter
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 0:57

No, not in general. The bass line is the sequence of lowest (in general as usual) notes. The chord progress is the sequence of chord roots (and usually any chord modifiers.)

The bass line usually moves more quickly than the root of the chords do.

This is a modern (after 1700) development. Modern analysis would show the chords C-E-G followed by C-E-A as a root position C-major chord followed by a first inversion A-minor chord. Earlier (figured bass or general bass) would treat the two a E with a major third and perfect fifth followed by E with a major third and major sixth.


You have a lot of terms in the question: the bass, bass line, bass progression, chord, chord progression, bass note, root.

Some of the terminology is synonymous.

Each chord can correspond to a note the bass plays.

Yes, but 'correspond' is vague. We should try to be specific with terms and distinguish between what is concrete and what is conceptual/abstract. The concrete is what actually is played. The conceptual is basically analysis of what is played.

  • The bass: this really can mean two things either the musical part that is the lowest, or the instrument that is playing that part. The bass guitar will usually play the bass part. Concrete.
  • Bass note, bass line, bass progression: these would simply be the notes of the bass part, note being singular, progression being a series of notes could be just a progression of two (D2 to A1) or could be for a section (D2 A1 B1 G1). Concrete.
  • Chord: this can be both concrete - like when the guitar plays a D chord - or it can be more abstract - like when a group is play linear parts and chords result from the combination of parts. While the former is straight forward the later could be open to analysis and interpretation depending how independent are the linear parts. Things can be further complicated when chord instruments like guitars and keyboards play over a bass part combining to form extended chords, like a guitar playing a D chord over a B in the bass. The resulting chord might be analyzed as Bm7. You could refer to the guitar chord as an incomplete Bm7 - conceptual - or call in a D chord, because in concrete terms that is what the guitar is playing in isolation.
  • Chord progression: when you get past the complications of identifying the chords, the chord progression is a series of chords.
  • Root: lowest tone of a chord when all chord tones are arranged in ascending thirds, not necessarily what the bass part plays, a chord root can occasionally be omitted and implied. Conceptual.

Is a bass line the same as a bass progression?

Yes. Bass line, bass progression, the bass part, bass note(s) all are just synonymous terms for the notes the bass plays. Bass progression might not be the best choice of words, because it could be confused with the more common terms chord progression and root progression. All three of those terms have different meanings.


The bass is hardly going to be playing one note per bar - or even one note per chord if that stays staic for a few bars. Wouldn't call that a line or a progression. It's a chord progression - any line of chord changes is that. And while the bass often plays the root on beat one, it won't always, so don't take that note as the root necessarily.

A bass line or progression is more of a run type of thing, perhaps like a walking bass leading to the next chord.

  • so from your answer you’re saying there is no term for what I am describing.
    – user34288
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 23:02

The bass line is a simple concept, where there is clearly a designated bass instrument - it's what's actually played by that instrument.

A chord progression is a more abstract concept. "The sequence of chords" is a simplification of all the notes being played in the piece. A chord progression might not actually capture all the information about the harmony of the piece.

If you're figuring out a piece by ear, you need to decide if you are just trying to work out a chord progression, or if you are trying to actually transcribe/hear each of the instrumental parts accurately.

It sounds more like you are trying to work out chord progressions? If so, the bassline often provides good clues. But not always - and it won't always even be possible to come up with a chord progression that seems to capture the essence of a piece.


Yes, working out the bass line first can be a good approach to discovering what chords fit a song.

Beyond that, we're just discussing labels. You've invented a term 'Bass progression'. OK, you invented it, YOU tell us what it means!

Are all sets of chord a 'progression'? Or do we reserve that term for a set that does something functional? C, D7, G7, C is clearly a 'progression' if anything is. What about Cm9, B♭m9 repeated ad infinitum? And does it matter? We want to know what the chords are. Who cares whether we label them a 'progression' or not?

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