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Passing Notes

By Cliff Engel

Chord tones are identified as the root, third, fifth, and seventh degrees of a scale while scale tones consist of the second, fourth, and sixth scale steps. Non-diatonic notes are tones which are not found within the chord or its diatonically associated scale. Embellishing tones are notes of secondary significance in music, and many times they are not diatonic to the harmony. Often, they create dissonance and resolve by either a half step or a whole step to a more critical pitch.

One of the most commonly employed embellishing tones is the passing note. A passing note connects two other pitches of greater importance through stepwise motion. The passing note may appear in a descending or ascending fashion between two pitches, and it may or may not be diatonic to the harmony. When a scale tone is positioned between two chord tones, it is functioning as a passing note. For example, the passing notes in these exercises will be the second, fourth, and sixth scale degrees of the Mixolydian mode because Mixolydian is one of the most common scales musicians will utilize when playing over dominant seventh (7) chord types.

This collection of exercises contains the most common passing note techniques used in the construction of solos. The one and two-octave arpeggios of G7 as well as the G Mixolydian mode will function as the basic building blocks of all the exercises. After passing notes from the G Mixolydian mode are applied to the chord tones of G7 over one and two octaves, you are presented with a sixteenth-note phrase featuring these techniques over the G7 chord to demonstrate how you could potentially utilize these techniques in real musical application on an individual chord change. You will also find an eighth-note line over the ii-V-I, the most common chord progression played in jazz music, in C major to illustrate the type of phrase you could improvise using passing notes.

These exercises are excellent for ear training purposes because they will help you internalize the sound of passing notes notes along with how they relate to particular chord types. They are also great exercises for expanding your fretboard familiarity since they can be played across every position of the fingerboard, and due to all of the string crossing that is required, these exercises will certainly help develop your technique.

Play through each of the exercises as notated. Transpose to the other keys such as C7, F7, Bb7, and also apply these techniques to all of the remaining seventh chords including Maj7, m7, m7b5, dim7, mMaj7, 7sus4, Maj7#5, Maj7b5, 7#5, and 7b5 using the notes from their most closely associated scales. To help make this amount of material seem more manageable from a time perspective, you can apply these techniques to just one seventh chord per day. Then, improvise solos using these passing note techniques over individual chords, short chord progressions such as the ii-V-I or any of its common variations, and complete song forms including the 12-bar blues. As you study transcribed solos, locate passing notes, observe how they are used, and assimilate those techniques into your own playing.

This lesson has been excerpted from Soloing Techniques For Bass Guitar & Acoustic Bass. If you would like to learn more about soloing, ENROLL TODAY!

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© 2014 Cliff Engel