Bass, Lessons — January 17, 2012 3:45 pm

Transposing Bass Guitar Melodies

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Transposition in music is when we move notes exact order to another starting point. This new starting point could be a scale, chord or key. What can be transposed is anything from a simple groove to a complex melody.
Most of us have transposed to some degree in our playing careers. If you’ve played blues bass lines before then you have transposed. When you moved the exact same bass line from the I chord to the IV chord that was transposition.
In my first lesson on transposition I want to introduce the syllables of the major scale. These syllables help to label the sounds in my head. I have also seen choral directors use their hands to show different pitches, raising and lowering and even having different gestures and hand positions for each note. Some people claim you can assign a different color to each pitch and recognize it that way. Then there are the lucky few who are born with perfect pitch, the ability to label a pitch they hear without the aid of any outside musical instrument.


Transposing Bass Guitar Melodies


You can download all of the examples in this lesson in PDF format here.

In musical example “A” below, you will see the C major scale ascending and descending. The scale tone syllables “ Do re mi fa sol la ti Do”, are above each note. Sing the notes while playing your bass. If the part is too low to sing comfortably then try bringing it up an octave.

In example “B” I used a very well known melody. Bass lines are great to transpose as well and I will be doing some of that in my later lessons as well as entire chord progressions but I feel melodies are a great place to start as they open the neck up a little more for us. The reason I use such a simple melody is to help rely on your ears as much as your sight. When learning new techniques having something familiar to start with can help expedite the learning process. You can focus on your ears and syllables.

Contrary to popular belief this melody was not even initially written as a nursery rhyme and in it’s later years composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote 12 variations/exercises based on the melody.

Example “C” has you transposing the melody to the key of G major. Having a comfortable working knowledge of this scale and using the syllables should make this an easy task. The syllable are exactly the same as they in C major.

If you have been playing bass for a while then you are aware that in standard tuning, transposition is easy and a piece usually holds the same pattern when moved around the neck. This is why it’s important to try transposing to the key of E, A or D also, to break that pattern.

Example “D” is in the key of A to help break out of the pattern.

Example “E” is just a reminder that any musical example can be fun and can be turned into whatever you like.

Being able to transpose is not only a necessary and helpful tool if you want to play in bands, especially bands involving a vocalist. There have been numerous occasions, where I have been asked to transpose an entire chord progression on the spot because the vocalist was not comfortable or even because the band had learned it in a different key.

Music is sound. We use tabs and notation to relay the messages of the sounds that we or a composer would like used but when it all comes down to it, music is sound first and foremost and we can’t write or see that, we can only hear or feel it. Transposition is one of the more helpful tools in forging your relationship with sound.

Enjoy your BASS!!!

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