This has eluded me!

As you guys may have read from my introduction thread, I am a hack guitar player picking up the bass. The question I have is so elementary but it is something my 58 year old brain has a hard time grasping. In a song, how do I figure out which chords will go together? I know intervals and can play different bass lines within one chord so far, but how do chord progressions work so I can string together bass lines to actually make a song? I am going to take the B2B course and I am sure Josh covers this. But I have watched Circle of 5ths videos until I am blind and am not really making the connection. Could someone steer me in the right direction? I just need a “eureka” moment to continue moving forward. BTW, I have a passing knowledge of stuff like I-IV-V and have books with charts in them. I think I am just trying to figure a way to immediately know what chords work with each other and make song melodies just sound right.

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Basically, I just just go by the changes in the lead sheet or chord chart and create my bassline using the pallet of tones within those chords.
As far as progressions, some of the most commonly used ones are 1-6-4-5, 1-6-2-5, 1-5-4-4, and a few others.
Take the B2B course and you will be blinded by all the lightbulb moments.

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I intend to. Will probably start the weekend after the 15th of August when work permits me time to commit. I could have probably simplified my question by asking if there is a formula to show me chords that sound right together.

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The simplest formula I can offer is you should always resolve the V chord back to the I chord if you can. That’s why chord progressions like I-VI-IV-V and I-VI-II-V sound so nice. Try it on any root note and you will see what I mean.
When you graduate from B2B I recommend the chord tones course at TalkingBass… lot’s of lightbulb moments in that course.

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There is no easy answer to this question without you having a firm knowledge of theory, and lots of practice, BUT, if you just want to noodle around this is what you could try.

First find the key.

Here are the chord qualities for any of the major keys, using the key of G as an example.

    G          Am       Bm       C         D     Em          F♯
    I          ii       iii      IV        V     vi         vii
 Major        Minor    Minor    Major    Major  Minor     Diminished

(Root/Tonic)

So let’s pick the key of G (1 Sharp), as shown above.

1 - Most songs will start and end on the I chord - But not always.
2 - Now just play through the song and plug in the appropriate chord that sounds right to you.
3 - Most of the time you can do this just using the I IV V and vi chords - But not always.
In the key of G this would be the G C D and Em chords. Note: Forget the vii chord for now.

If your question pertains to hearing a song, or playing along to a song someone suggests that you do not know, this will only come with years of practice, and to some this will never happen.

This is called playing by ear. My father was great at this and if someone said play Yankee Doodle Dandy he could do it right away.

If you are looking for a formula for this FORGET IT. ONE DOES NOT EXIST.
The closest to any formula for breaking down a song, and knowing what chords to play, would be the 12 bar blues, because it has a very structured format.

Not sure if this helps you but these are my thoughts on this.

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Actually, it helps tremendously. As a neophyte, I still have a lot to learn. I have books on theory that should be able to guide me in a good direction

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Just remember this is a journey not a race.

The best theory book I have found is one recommended by Josh and that is one called ‘All About Music Theory by Hal Leonard’.

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But how did you know that those chords fit as the ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii. How did you know the A minor is the ii to the G etc…? Is that knowledge within the Circle of 5ths?

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In the major scale, by definition, the I, IV and V are major, the ii, iii and vi are minor, and the vii is diminished. A is the 2nd note (ii) in the G major scale, so the chord is going to be minor.

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In all Major keys the I chord (also called the Root or Tonic) is a Major chord, the ii and iii chords are minor, the IV and V are Major, the vi is minor and the vii is a diminished.
You could call this a formula if you want but is still only a guideline that works 95%+ of the time.

Here is a chart I did and posted on another thread that may be of use to you.

Music fits the old saying noting is as constant as change.

Edited chart to add chord qualities.

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A light bulb just clicked somewhere in the deep corners of Sylacauga AL

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And what did it show :slightly_smiling_face:

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Well, sorta.
There are a lot of very standard chord progressions in pop, in jazz, etc that give you a certain feel. The overall key and then chord progression give the general tone and feel so, depends on the feel you are looking for. Then go into other types of “world” music and things change up a lot.

If you Google “most common chord progressions” you can youtube yourself silly for a while.

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That I have a lot of studying and practicing to do and this could be the start of a wonderful journey

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@Bald_head_Ed you’re asking some great questions, and these are things we need to know, but I feel that you are overthinking it. Unless you are composing the song, or if you’re playing freeform jazz where everyone is doing their own thing, your job as a bass player (or any musician) is to just stay with the same chord progression in which the song was written. That’s why I mentioned earlier that I just use the lead sheet or chord chart to create my bassline for a song. If I can’t obtain either of those, I transcribe it by ear as best I can. I certainly don’t try to re-invent the song.
All this chord progression and chord tone knowledge will come to you as you work through the B2B course and possibly the Chord Tones course on TalkingBass, and it will be very helpful to you.

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You may be right. I tend to the OCD spectrum when attacking anything I want to do. I want to learn and memorize all possible so I can be the best I can be.

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This you will accomplish, I’m sure of it!

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There is a great teacher online that I was trying to watch last night about chord tones. His eyebrows prevented me from completing the video. They looked like someone glued wooly bear caterpillars to his forehead. And his Aussie accent was hard to follow. :bug:

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ah yes, I cannot watch him for a second either!

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I am sure he is a nice bloke, but good Lord, the only thing I look at is his eyebrows. He could be speaking in Chinese and I would not even realize it.

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