Jump to content

Chord substitutions in practice?

Recommended Posts

When jamming I find myself using the mixo shape a lot with its flat 7th. It kinda feels right and makes me come up with nice lines or arps pretty easy.

This made me stop and wonder: What patterns or shapes are widely used to jam or even solo by people who know what they're doing?
A guitarist friend told me he finds it easy to work from a minor shape when soloing.

I never really did any soloing myself really (I am not feeling self assured enough to), hence the question.

Or... should I just familiarize with all the different modes...

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I don't go by shapes.

i don't know if I could call myself one of those "people who know what they're doing", but when I'm practising to jam tracks I just use some or all of the required notes, although I err on the side of simplicity. If I can make something sound good with just root and 5th, then I've done my job. No need to overpopulate basslines with notes. Less is more.

The jam tracks are exercises for me to test my skills at improvisation so that i can feel comfortable moving from chord to chord as well as testing myself finding the chord tones all over the neck wherever the root is. As mentioned, I don't go by shapes because I think they're very limiting, albeit convenient. I will never improve as a bass player by sticking with what is convenient.

For example, if I'm playing the Dm7 chord, this will use the intervals: root(D), minor 3rd(B),  5th(A), and minor 7th(C).  So when I'm jamming I'm not going to be sticking with the minor(eg Dorian, Phrygian, or Aeolian) shape, but instead I will be looking for those intervals all over the neck. I could play the minor 3rd one string up and 2 frets down, or I could play the minor 3rd 4 frets up on the same string, or the minor 3rd 1 string down and 4 frets down. It helps me to think on my feet so that I'm constantly trying to improvise.

Don't forget to look into the possibility of using inversions. You don't always have to start on the root note and it can make it more interesting by adding some ghost notes and other decorative elements.


If you're actually performing in a gig or a recording studio, then shapes for the notes nearby are a convenience because you don't want to be finding the notes all over the neck - that will just be wasted effort. Simplicity is best. But if you practise as above,  you won't need the shapes because you'll know where the notes are that you need when the time comes.


Knowing the modes is always useful for when playing chord progressions. For bassists you only really need to know the Ionian(or major), Dorian(minor),  and Mixolydian(dominant) modes because most of what we play will be chord tones. The major, minor, and dominant chords will make up 99% of what you'll ever need.


If you don't want to get bogged down in what type(major, minor, dominant, suspended etc) of chord you're playing then stick with root and 5th.


Hope that helps or gives some food for thought.

Edited by TheLowDown
  • Like 2

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

When I'm improvising, the notes I use are heavily dictated by what the chords are. 

I think chord tones are the foundation for improvising but rather than playing to a shape I'd prefer to know where the notes are across the whole of the fingerboard, whether it's the actual notes or the intervals. Knowing that opens up the entire neck rather than being locked in to a scale position, especially if you play their inversions too.

Obviously you can move away from playing just chord tones, but knowing what they are is an important part. You don't really want to be playing Mixolydian over a major 7 chord, or playing Lydian over a minor chord or whatever. You can, but you should know how to resolve the 'out' notes.

Knowing how the chords work together (ii V I etc) can also help you play longer, smoother lines without playing each chord one by one.

Learning modes can be useful, but I think that guitar and bass players often place too much importance on them without really understanding them well enough. Focus on the chord tones instead and it will give you a solid basis for improvised either a bassline or soloing.


Edited by Doddy
  • Like 2

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...