How to Play Bass Chords and Triads

Although bass players don’t usually perform chords, understanding how to create chords is still crucial for their musical development. A chord is composed of a sequence of notes taken from one scale.

Major chords are constructed from stacking thirds. Their sound is much prettier than minor chords and more commonly found in jazz than rock, blues or funk music.


When it comes to scales, it is vitally important to comprehend the intervals between notes. In simple terms, this means knowing how many frets you move up or down for each whole or half step – where one whole step equals two frets and half steps one fret.

The first major scale you should master on the bass fingerboard covers four frets and should be played using one finger per fret – starting from your second finger on its root position. There is also a minor version that should be learned.

Minor pentatonic is another invaluable scale. Similar to its major pentatonic cousin, but with the addition of sharp or flat notes that alter intervals between notes for an alternative sound. This creates more bluesy chord sounds. To practice playing this pattern around your neck and with different chords to gain a feel for how it sounds.


Triads, chords that contain three notes, play an essential part of basslines. The diagram above displays a major triad, consisting of its roots 1, 3 and 5. Also known as an Em, Am or E-chord, this type of chord is easy to play and gives a full sound; similarly the minor variety with its O3 (1, O3, 5) produces more melancholic tones; two major triads combined into diminished or augmented chords often used in jazz music can produce diminished or augmented chords.

Triads vary by their intervals between notes. When starting off a triad with any root note from any scale, its chord is commonly known as being that scale’s chord due to its relationship between that root note and its tonic chord (i.e. starting off on C will always lead to C Major Chord).


To understand arpeggios, first it’s necessary to be familiar with triads and major chords – these form the core foundations of bass playing – as triads and major chords are essential components. Arpeggios offer another layer of complexity for adding dynamic fills.

An arpeggio is a broken chord where each note of its composition are sounded in ascending or descending order one after another; keyboard instruments may refer to these chords as “rolled chords.”

Sounds can span one or more octaves. Their sound may also be sustained and overlapping or broken up into shorter rhythms using hammer ons, pull offs, slides or bends.

When practicing arpeggios on the bass, try beginning by playing all quarter notes at first before gradually moving up to 1/8th notes as shown in this video example. This will enable both your fingers and ears to hear each individual chord tone, providing a good warm-up for other bass techniques such as walking bass lines.


Chords are groups of three or more distinct notes played simultaneously. Chords may be major, minor, augmented or diminished and each type has its own special character created by the intervals between its chord tones.

Roman numerals are often used to represent chord symbols; however, you may come across chord progressions written with numbers followed by letters called figured bass notation which provide exact instructions on which chord should be played over a bass note.

Learning figured bass will enable you to understand chord progressions better, as it provides the necessary information on specific bass notes and inversions. Knowing the symbols used for specific notes such as added sixth triads (CM7) as well as sus4 (when indicated with four dots) or sus2 (indicating two diminished sevenths from C to G) indicates how to play chords marked with sus4. A chord marked sus4 may also imply raising its fifth by half step.