## Remember How You Remembered Pi? (On Bass Mnemonics)

“May I have a large container of coffee?”  This handy mnemonic never made it to my German speaking  classroom back in high school, but it would have come in handy to remember those elusive digits that make up the mysterious Pi!

## Mnemonics are one of my favorite ways to learn and teach because they work and make learning more fun.

And they can be super useful for us bass players. The symmetry of the fretboard, letter names and numbers, possibilities for mnemonics abound. a few weeks back I posted a video on one of them: “Making an X, the ultimate shortcut to rhythm changes”. And there are a whole lot more applications, for example:

• Fretboard shapes
• Intervals (even more on that here, in my Interval Formula)
• Chord changes
• Ear training
• The pentatonic shapes (listing them all in this article, a fun visual mnemonic!)

There are

• visual mnemonics – we can visualize shapes and diagrams on the bass fret board and associate them with objects we are familiar with!
• Auditory mnemonics can help us identify intervals! For example, you could link the sound of an interval to the beginning of a song you are familiar with.
• And kinesthetic ones (the feeling channel!) – as we learn to make box shapes on the fret board!
• Or emotional cliches for interval identification: ascending: major third ascending = happy; minor third ascending = sad; major sixth = romantic minor sixth = dramatic etc.

## Please read all about this here in Part 1 and Part 2 of my series on mnemonics for bass and music. These articles were originally published on notreble.com

Enjoy! Oh, and I would love to know – what music related mnemonics do you know? Any “old duck going fishing…” to remember the cycle of fifths? What is “All cows eat grass” in a language you speak? Looking forward to your replies!

## Ah, sus chords!

Sus means suspended – what we are suspending here is the third of the chord, so a sus2 or sus4 chord is essentially a chord with “something else” instead of the third, which leads to it being less stable and not defined as major or minor. This “something else” can be the second or the fourth.  Or the 7th can be added, hence sus7.

## How do they sound?

In classical theory these kinds of chords have to be resolved, there are rules to be followed so that the ear is pleased. Suspended chords create a slight rub or tension and back then the ear wanted that to resolve into beautiful triads made up of thirds.

These days our ears quite like a bit of a rub and we do not worry about suspended chords not being resolved. Pop tunes use a lot of these chords because they can create a nice floating feel, for example. The Police, U2, The Beatles… unresolved suspended sound abound!

As an aside regarding tension and resolution: even the tritone as part of the dominant seventh chord, which has even more tension than a suspended chord – need not be resolved these days. We quite like the rub and can play a blues in the key of G, for example, where the seventh chord would be used on the root, sub-dominant and dominant. No problem, it just sounds bluesy!

## What kinds of sus-chords are there?

Sus2, sus4, sus7. Sus4 is way more common, so sometimes we get lazy and just refer to sus4 as a suspended chord. Csus, thus, means Csus 4, in terms of notes: CFG. Chordal instruments can play notes in any order to fulfill the chord assignment. This is cool because you can play CFG by stacking fourths: G- C-F.

Sus2 means the Second is played instead of the Third: CDG. A nice sounding voicing for this chord is to stack perfect fifths: C-G-D. Because of it’s open sound it also works well on the bass even in the medium-low range.

Sus7 is typically a shortcut for sus4 7, so a sus4 triad with a minor seventh: CFGBb. Sus4 maj7 is possible, but far less common. It would mostly be used in modern modal music (Jazz, Fusion, concert music)

Suspended chords in general are fun for chordal instruments because they can create the suspended effect by overlaying certain triads over the bass note (so, in a way, the bass is who makes it suspended! We are powerful!)

For example, if you play a triad a whole step below the root (bass!) you create some good sounding suspended chords:

Bb triad over C- written Bb/C – which creates: C D F Bb. So there you have the 2 (sus2!) the 4 (sus4!) and the flat 7. The sus still refers only to the third, it is a shortcut for sus 47

You’d get the same effect by playing a minor seven chord from the note a fifth above: Gmin7 over C – written Gm7/C – which creates: C D F G Bb.  (Which also makes sense because Gmin7 contains bb major in it… G – Bb – D – F… The Bb major triad Bb – D – F sits on top of a G!)

More options are: Dmin/C (which depending on context and voicing can be heard as not being an inversion of Dmin7)

Gmin/C (which creates a sus2 7)

D/C (which depending on context and voicing can be heard as not being an inversion of D7). This creates a #11 sound, which is typically not heard/perceived the same as sus chords with a perfect 4th. It’s heard as a Lydian sound. But it is technically still  a sus chord).  As a voicing try (on a 5 string bass or a piano) C-G D F# A  (C-G ensures that this is not a D7 inversion).

What other sus chords are possible? Sus b9, sus #4 maj7, sus 2 maj7 (G/C); sus b2 7 (or maj7 = strange). Put your experimental hat on and share your findings in the comments.

## The truth is, chord symbols are always just an approximation.

It does not need to explicitly say Sus247 for chord players to add some of those extra notes. Chord players will often add the 9 (the 2 up the octave) or 11 (the 4 up the octave) to chords anyways, whether the symbol specifies 2 or 4 or not. The 2 (or 9) is often used together with the 3rd (the add9 chord)  whereas the 4th is typically not used together with the 3rd (modern modal (Jazz) music is an exception. And some tunes use it as a special sound – like Pink by Aerosmith – but arpeggiated)

The most important and sound defining factor is not whether the chord symbol specifies sus2 or sus4, but that there is no third. Sus7 adds the minor 7th to the sus sound and 7 or not, that makes a noticeable difference in chord density and color!

Sometimes the 2 or 4 may be in the melody, so the composer may point to that by specifying a sus2 or sus4.

## What does all this mean for the bass player?

Since the main point of suspended is “no third”, stay away from it or use it only as a passing note. You can justify a lot of note choices by creating a good bass melody but of course it has to fit with the rest. When in suspended doubt, leave the third out. Adding the 5th is always a great way to add variety and staying in the safe zone (unless of course it says b5 or features something like this: o, ø, +, aug, dim.)

Chordal instruments may do 2 or 4 and it will always fit. As a suspended dominant, it has to be the sus4 for the expected effect (suspending the leading tone).

That said 2 and 4 will go together nicely in most suspended chords anyways, so if guitar susses 4 and you stick the 2 in there as part of a melodic bass line, all is good. We are responsible for the root and then making a cool line for the rest of the bar, so roots, fifths and also sixths are safe bets. And of course as we think about all these notes, we must always keep a juicy groove going.

I hope this helped you suss out a bit about them suspended chords. For more info on these types of chords, check out my book. The 20 unit music theory course also practices them – by making grooves and doing reading drills, so you don’t have to worry when a sus2, 4 or 7 pops up in the chart.

## The Music Theory for the Bass Player Spelling Bee…

It all started with marveling about the note H in the German musical alphabet and me being on the phone trying to spell something akin to Oachkatzlschwoaf (which means tale of a squirrel where I come from!). English is not my mother tongue. The way German is wired, we just don’t spell like they do here. And if we do, most certainly not in English. And the international phonetic alphabet with Alpha Bravo Charlie… is just so un-inspiring. So I decided to create the new Music Theory for the Bass Player Phonetic Alphabet and recruited Facebook for help. Here it is. If you find omissions, please continue to play in the comments! Thanks everyone for playing.

### Rules

• Music theory terms or bass terms okay.
• No names of bass players for letters (no Jaco Pastorius, no Xander Zon…  That is the next game!)
• No song names (also another game)

## The Music Theory for the Bass Player Phonetic Alphabet

• A (#, b, maj7, 7, 9 etc!)
accent
acciaccatura
allegro
amp
approach
arco
articulation
augmented
arpeggio
aeolian
altered
• B
Bass
bridge
backbeat
bar
bass solo
bebop
Big Box/Little Box
Boot Shape
buzz
• C
cable
cantus firmus
chicks
chromatic
comping
compressor
clef
chord
chorus
cycle
circle
• D
dedication
delay pedal

diatonic
diminished
Do
double-stop
duration
dynamics
dorian
distortion
downbeat
• E
ending
ebony
embellishment
end pin
equalizer
ergaonimics
Excuse me – I hit a bad note!
• F
funk
fretless
flat-9
f clef
Fa
fatigue
feel
filter
finger picking
fingers
flat
flatwounds
fret
fuzz
• G
gain
gargoyles (I look like gargoyle when I’m gigging)
ghost notes
gig bag
gigue
groove
gig
• H (the German B)
half step
hands
harmonic minor
harmonics
harmony
hazard exercises (Steve Bailey)
heart
hemiola
Hexagon shape
hipshot
homophony
horse hair
hum bucker
impedance
improvisation
improvise
instrument
intermezzo
interval
intervallic
intonation
ionian
hammer-on
• input
• jazz
jacks
jam
jazz
joint
juxtaposition
• knobs
keeperofdafunk
key signature
klezmer
• La
ledger line
legato
Little Box/Big Box
lydian
locrian
legato
• major
maple
measure
melodic minor
melody
meter
metronome,
mezzo
Mi
minim
minor
minor,
mixer
modality
modes
modulate
monster groove
mordent
mute
mixolydian
• noise
neck
nut
natural
ninth
No time to practice!
• offbeat
oooops
overtone series
octave
• pull-off
parametric
passive
pedaling
pentatonic
phrasing
pianissimo
piccolo
pick
pickup
pizzicato
pluck
pocket
ponticello
practice
precision
prelude
pulse
Pythagoras
phrygian
• quarter note
quaver
quintuplet
• reggae
rallentando
Re
recapitulation
repeat
rest
rhondo
rhythm
rock
root
roundwounds
riff
run
• sustain
staff
string
swing
syncopated
segno
scale
seventh
sharp
shuffle
slap
slide
smorzando
So
staccato
strap
swing
• TAB
tabular
thumping
tritone
third
tap
tenor clef
tenth
Ti
tone
transducer
transpose
tremolo
triangle
triplet
tuner
tuners
Two-feel
• unison
upbeat
Upside Down Boot
• verse
vintage
volume
• waveform
walking
whammy bar
• x and bacon after the gig!
X Brace (Double bass)
x pattern
x-factor
xenochrony
XLR
• Yyz
y connector
• zone

## What does “Rhythm Changes” mean?

We refer to “Rhythm Changes” to a chord sequence made famous by George Gershwin’s tune “I Got Rhythm”. The A section of this tune features a two bar phrase with chords changing every other beat, like this:

I chord, VI chord, II chord, V chord.

In the key of C:

|| Cmaj7 Am7 | Dmin7  G7  |etc.

This sequence typically repeats and then varies in a myriad of ways for the rest of the A section.

I like to look at these chords as a “slice out of the cycle… look at just the roots: A – D – G – C! Can you find it in the cycle?

## Why is it important?

This sequence shows up in a myriad of songs in a variety of styles. From “Anthropology” to “Straighten up And Fly Right” and “You and me and a Bottle Makes Three!”, rhythm changes are a formula we need to have under our belts!

## Ultimate Short Cut?

Because these songs are often on the faster side with two beats per measure, it is considered a bit of a harder exercise for bass players. I do, however, have you covered… Start with the roots, and if need be, repeat them to create a “walking” feel. You can also do roots and fifths and roots and approach tones, but start here, with my ultimate mnemonic….