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A song I like adds great motion to an otherwise simple progression by adding passing tones in the bass line, leaving the other harmonies unaltered. Please see the following transcription: Tenor and Bass parts with tenor expressing chords and bass moving stepwise

Does this pattern only work in certain progressions? Notice the movement never jumps more than one whole step — is that an important aspect of this bass line? If the bass was more disjointed, or if the accompanying chords harmonized with the bass tone (rather than remaining static), would the progression lose its flow and become uncoordinated?

Does this technique have a name? My primary question is whether this technique applies better to some progressions than others.

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  • I think a thorough analysis of this passage will depend on the genre and tempo. If it's fast, I would think of those bass notes as passing tones, but if it's slow, you could argue for analyzing them as slash chords. Perhaps you could provide more contextual information about the song in question. As for whether you can use this device over other chords, the laconic answer is, "Try and see."
    – Max
    May 1 '20 at 1:02
  • Thanks. Gentle rock song--approx 120 bpm. Looking for a theory rather than "try and see" here. If theory has nothing to say, then that's cool too.
    – 286642
    May 1 '20 at 1:10
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    As Max says, they're passing tones. ('Passing notes' in UK). It's extremely common. If the bass notes were G A F instead of F G A, the G would be an 'accented passing tone'. As it is it's an unaccented one. "Does this technique have a name?" It's not a technique. Pop/rock/folk singers do it all the time, it's omnipresent in Common Practice music and it's what a walking bass does all day long. There's a good article about non-harmonic notes here Yes - it adds some movement. Music with only chord-tones in the bass would be a bit dull. May 1 '20 at 6:26
  • Thank you @OldBrixtonian -- I'd like to accept your response as the answer but it is a comment, so I dont think I can right now?
    – 286642
    May 1 '20 at 15:06
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    @286642 Your kind comment is ample reward :-) May 2 '20 at 2:19
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The question suggests a viewpoint in which the chords are the "main" thing, with the bass line in a purely supporting role. But consider the bass line as "the melody" (or a melody, anyway). A vocalist singing what is currently the bass line wouldn't raise any eyebrows: it would just be a melody accompanied by chords. Those roles just happen to be flipped here insofar as we tend to think of melodies as being above their accompaniment.

If the bass was more disjointed, or if the accompanying chords harmonized with the bass tone (rather than remaining static), would the progression lose its flow and become uncoordinated?

Thinking of the bass line as the melody leads to the recognition that a more disjointed bass line, or a bass line harmonized even more closely by the chords, can maintain (or lose) its flow and harmonic coordination in the same manner as any melody can.

Does this technique have a name?

  • This is a straightforward example of a "walking" bass line — mostly movement by step, connecting chord tones. (See Old Brixtonian's comment on the OP.)
  • It also has characteristics of a sequence: the bass always uses scale degrees 1, 2, and 3 of the corresponding chord; however, it's not a true sequence in that the transpositions are not of equal intervals. (That is, the second measure is up a step from the first, but the third measure is up a fourth from the second. In a true sequence, each measure would be shifted by the same intervals.)

My primary question is whether this technique applies better to some progressions than others.

There's nothing particularly special about the chord progression itself. One can construct a walking bass line (or independent melody) for most any chord progression, even maintaining the same basic pattern as in the OP, though adjustments to rhythm or note-direction might facilitate the greatest smoothness.


A beautiful example of the interchangeability of bass line and melody is in John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. The bass establishes itself early on (0:31).

But the final minute-plus of Coltrane's solo (4:55 – 6:05) is the continual repetition of that initial bass part, played at various pitch levels, sometimes complimented by the piano chords, sometimes contrasting sharply, yet maintaining cohesiveness throughout. This is immediately followed by another 45 seconds of voice and bass in unison with the same melody, bringing the entire piece full circle.

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