The frontline: Stewart McKinsey

Since we’ve done some work with bass parts and melody, let’s stay in the higher register for a while and look at chords and how they’re applied to a song. Because ERB has such a wide range, we are able to analyse or compose a song with each part in its own octave. This means that it will be easier to hear how the parts function together but also that we can understand a little better the roles of composer and arranger. Now, with this frequency separation we can hear how to make a piece of music work, not just as bassists.

stewart mckinsey picSo how does this break down? Let’s start with a simple format. If we keep the bass-line to the lowest part of the fingerboard, say from the lowest A of a four-string and below, and we restrain the melody to the highest part of the fingerboard, say only the highest octave of the instrument, this leaves quite a lot of room to play with chords.

If the bass part and the melody part will be single note lines, we now have a great deal of freedom in finding the chord voic- ings that will work best between the low part and the high part. The bass line will give the song its motion and the melody will speak for it, but the chords will provide the body, the thing need- ing motion and the place where the voice originates. The chords will provide the structure that will allow the other parts to work.

Chords can be simple double stops or as complicated as five- or six-note clusters. I find that the first part of a song that’s written really dictates what the others will be. For instance, writing the melody first will give you some idea of what the bass-line and chords should be, just as beginning with a bass-line will essentially create the environment for the melody and the chords. The more complicated the chords, the simpler the other parts must be. Remember that the goal is to create a functional piece of music.

In the next article I’ll give you some ways to find interesting chords for the piece of music you’re working on. The composer and arranger do not just make the pieces of the puzzle fit, they ensure that the completed puzzle is lovely.

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