Root & 5th Bass Lines
I find it quite surprising that there is one thing that pretty much all pro bass players do so well, and it’s so apparent that somehow it gets overlooked?!
Those learning to play bass or even in local bands and being “semi-pro” are somehow very good at skipping practicing it.
I’m talking about good ol’ fashioned root & fifths bass lines.
It’s not a country thing. It’s not just rock – it’s everywhere.
It is the essence of bass playing, and if you haven’t been practicing (enough), well, it’s time to change that.
In this lesson, we’re going back to basics to shine a spotlight on this must-have bass skill.
What is a root note?
The root note is the most important note in a chord.
Imagine a tree root, each chord starts with this note, and it’s the most important note for all bass players.
As a working bass player, you’ll be spending most of your time playing root notes.
How to quickly find a root note?
Look at the name of the chord.
It starts with a root note followed by chord quality (for example, major or minor).
So for example, if you have a B major chord, the root note is the note B.
In the case of C7, the root note is the note C. In the case of G minor 7, the root note is the note G.
Check out some of the examples:
B7 – root notes is the note B.
Gsus4 – root note is the note G.
Am – root note is the note A.
F#11 – root note is the note F.
To follow chords with root notes, you need to look at the chord progression and play the root note on the bass for each chord, jamming along with the backing track or a band.
The Perfect 5th
5th is one of the strongest notes you can play to support chords, apart from the root note, of course.
That’s why this note is used so extensively for improvising bass lines and no doubt as a staple of pretty much all bass lines.
Check out these two common positions for finding the Perfect 5th interval on bass:
Creating Root & 5th Bass Lines
Okay, now that you know how to play a root note and where to find the perfect 5th in relation to the root note let’s take a look at how to improvise roots and fifths bass lines.
I want to offer up this simple formula and sort of strategy you can use:
| ? - - - | ? - - - | ----> this is the chord progression | R 5 | R 5 | ----> this is the improvisation formula
Now all you need to do is fill the formula with the actual chords and bass line notes:
| G - - - | C - - - | ----> this is the chord progression | G D | C G | ----> this is the improvisation formula
…let’s explain the formula with this example in mind:
In the first line, you have chords from the chord progression.
This one features four bars of G major followed by four bars of C major.
In the second line, you have the root & 5ths bass line that outlines chords played in the backing track.
The rule is simple: play the root note on each chord change, followed by perfect 5th.
You end up playing two notes per one bar of music, but you can play it double time, depending on the song and tempo.
So for the first bar where chord G major is being played, you start with the root note G, followed by perfect 5th, which is the note D.
In the second bar where chord progression goes to C major chord, you outline it with root note C, followed by 5th which is the note G.
Straightforward, I know – but trust me, this stuff is real music and massively overlooked.
You need to practice this kind of thing, no matter your level, as this will help you in all areas – jamming with bands, improvising bass lines, composing, [fill in the desired skill here].
Root & 5th Bass Line
Backing track for practice is included in the free lesson resources package.
Recording task: once you have learned the tune, record a video of your performance and send me a link so that I can feature it on this page.
Here we have some example famous songs that feature roots & 5ths bass lines:
Handy Resources For Download
To help you follow the material I’ve covered in this lesson, I’ve created a handy free package that includes PDF that summarizes everything in this lesson PLUS you get practice backing track so that you can play it on your computer or living room audio system and improvise over.
Suggested Bass Courses
If you’re serious about bass and would enjoy step-by-step online bass lessons and courses, I strongly suggest checking out how Bass Road Academy online bass courses can help you get results.
When it comes to roots & fifths bass lines, I suggest that you look into my Country Bass – Johnny Cash Style course to get some additional practices (and cool patterns) under your finger.
Hope you’ll find this lesson helpful.
Want to get better at playing bass and make steady progress?
Level up your bass skills with online bass courses and lesson series at Bass Road Academy.
Learn why behind the bass lines you play, have a strategy when improvising and make progress faster.