I SPY… THREE-NOTE SEQUENCES
Bass Player|November 2020
Hey there, bass players! Welcome back to our game of ‘I Spy’. Let’s take a moment to recall the rules. In this game, our goal is to refine the most essential tool in our musical arsenal: Our ears. By highlighting a particular theme and attempting to spy it on a record, we’re actively listening for something that lies beneath the surface of the songs that we love. Our goal is to draw attention to it, to call it by its name, and to recognize it in its natural habitat.
Ryan Madora
In the last issue, we discussed the ubiquitous nature of chromatic lines and focused on a four-note sequence. While this is a common definition of chromaticism, particularly as it pertains to our four-fret span, we can’t overlook the popularity of the three-note chromatic sequence.

While a four-note chromatic line is used to move in the direction of a minor third, such as descending from the root note to the sixth of the scale, a three-note chromatic line allows us to move in the direction of a whole step. Integrating the chromatic note allows us to sneak in a bit of dissonance, again under the guise of voice leading.

Let’s learn a few exercises and get a feel for how this will fall on the fretboard. Each exercise is written with a triplet feel, an obvious pairing for this three-note phrase. Once you get the notes under your fingers, get creative and apply the same patterns to different rhythms.

To begin, we’ll play a simple sequence in one position (Exercise 1). Start with your first finger on the 5th fret of your E string and move the pattern across all strings, ascending each time. Then, play the same series in a descending manner, beginning with your third finger on the 7th fret of your E string. Move across all the strings, descending each time. As you work through this exercise, you may find that it’s a bit easier than a typical four-fret span chromatic exercise. You’re omitting the pinky, so the three-note series feels more natural and musical. To integrate that digit, try playing the same patterns starting with your middle finger. This will be challenging but worth the extra practice time.

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