A complete guide to bass chords – how to play them and how they are constructed.
Most of the time, bass guitarists stick to playing single-note lines. However, by introducing bass chords into your playing you can create new textures and interesting effects.
Knowledge of how chords are formed will also benefit your understanding of music, and can help in songwriting, composition and improvisation.
- Want this information at your fingertips? Check out our printable Bass Scales, Chords & Arpeggios book. Download your copy today!
- If you’re unclear on some of the technical terms on this page, have a look at our Guitar Chord Theory pages.
Open Position Bass Chords
Open position chords are played in the first three or four frets, near the nut (the grooved ridge that separates the fretboard from the headstock).
They are usually easier to play than movable chords (covered further down the page) and the open strings give them a bright, ringing sound.
Try out all of the following chords on your own bass guitar so you can begin to hear the differences between the chords.
Open Position Major Chords For Bass Guitar
Major chords consist of the root, major third and perfect fifth notes. They produce a ‘cheerful’, open sound.
Open Position Minor Chords For Bass Guitar
Minor chords contain the root, minor third and perfect fifth notes. They produce a ‘sad’ sound.
Open Position Dominant 7th Chords For Bass Guitar
Dominant 7th chords produce an ‘expectant’ sound, and often resolve to the tonic chord. (See our guitar chord theory pages for an explanation.)
Open Position Minor 7th Chords For Bass Guitar
Minor 7th chords have an ‘open’, rather ambiguous sound. They are often used before a dominant 7th chord as the ii chord in a ii V I progression.
Movable Bass Chords
This is where things start to get interesting …
Movable bass chords shapes can be moved up and down the neck of the instrument to play chords with different root notes.
For example, the same major chord shape can be used at one position to play an A major chord, and at another to play a C major chord.
On the following chord shapes, the root note is represented by a white circle. This should be positioned over the desired root note on the fretboard.
Want to know more bass chords, scales and arpeggios? Check out our popular ‘Bass Guitar Scales, Chords & Arpeggios‘ book. It gives you the tools you need to create awesome bass lines and solos.
Movable Major Chord Shapes For Bass Guitar
Movable Minor Chord Shapes For Bass Guitar
Movable Dominant 7 Shapes For Bass Guitar
Movable Minor 7 Shapes For Bass Guitar
Major 7th Chord Shape For Bass Guitar
Bass Power Chords
Bass Diminished Chord Shape
Bass Augmented Chord Shape
Because frets get narrower the further up the fretboard you go, some movable chords are easier to play in higher positions.
Playing chords can be quite a strain at first, so take things slowly: it will get easier.
Bass chords can be played either with a pick or with the fingers. They can be strummed, or the notes in the chord can be played individually to create riffs and bass lines.