Creative Bass Playing with Tritone Substitution

Do you ever feel like your bass playing could use a dash of magic? Well, today we’re about to do just that. Imagine creating bass lines that not only groove but also use intriguing harmony concepts like for example the tritone substitution.

Benefits of Learning Tritone Substitution:

  • Enhanced Improvisation: Tritone substitution adds a layer of unpredictability to your playing. When you become comfortable with this technique, you’ll find yourself effortlessly moving in and out of different chords.
  • Unique Bass Lines: Tritone substitution opens up a world of possibilities. You’ll be able to create lines that stand out, adding a distinctive flavour to your line.

Understanding the Dominant Seventh Chord: The dominant seventh chord, found on the fifth degree of a major scale, is formed by a major triad paired with a minor seventh. The true magic of this chord lies in the flat 9 and the dissonant interval known as the tritone.

What is a Tritone?

A Tritone is an interval of three tones. In the scale of C major, the tritone occurs between F and B. The tritone is a very dissonant interval due to the conflicting two notes.

What is substitution?

Substitution is the alteration of elements of a chord sequence without altering the overall tonal effect. It is not the addition of 9ths, 6ths, etc. to a chord.

What is tritone substitution?

The most important notes in a dominant chord (say G7) are the third and the flat seventh (B and F). So in terms of functional harmony, G7 can be replaced by Db7, as it will do the same job, for example, wanting to resolve to a C chord. Since Db7 is a tritone away from G7, the substitution of one for the other is called tritone substitution.

Enter Tritone Substitution: Now, let’s make this concept come to life. Tritones possess an intriguing symmetry, inverting into the same tritone. Both of these distinct dominant seventh chords share the same desire to resolve to the same destination, creating a colorful harmonic possibility.

Putting It Into Practice: Let’s apply this knowledge with a practical example. Imagine you want to target a specific chord, say C. Conventionally, you’d use the standard dominant seventh chord, G7, to resolve to it. However, with tritone substitution, you can introduce the tritone substitute dominant chord, Db7, into the mix. Db7 guides you to C, just like G7, but it does so in a unique and colourful manner.

Taking It to the Next Level with Related II Chords: There’s another potent tool to consider, the related II-7 chord. This chord smoothly transitions into a V7 chord, resulting in a satisfying and effective progression, enhancing your line.

The Endless Possibilities of Tritone Substitution: The tritone substitution and related II chords hold the keys to unlocking creativity in your bass playing. Despite the chromatic twists and turns, these chords maintain a clear function, making them accessible tools for bassists seeking some sophistication into their lines.

Where Can I use it?

From the functional harmony point of view, you can substitute any functional dominant chord with a dominant chord a tritone away. For any dominant chord functioning as a dominant, you can substitute a dominant chord a tritone away.

Does it only work on dominant chords?

From the above reasoning, yes, but in fact sometimes it gets used on minor, half diminished and even major chords. Maybe start by using it only on dominants until you get comfortable.

Closing: Whether you’re new to your bass studies or you’re an intermediate player eager to spice up your playing, don’t hesitate to try the tritone substitution. It’s a technique that injects complexity and a touch of magic into your lines.

Explore More with The Fret Trainer Ebook: For more insights into substitutions and an in-depth guide to bass creativity, I invite you to explore my Fret Trainer Ebook.

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