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The Fifth – Why it is Your Best Buddy…

The Fifth – Why it is Your Best Buddy…

fifth ariane cap

Root – Five – Root – Five…

it is a kind of signature bass line – and it works! In country, bluegrass, folk music, as well as in bossa (where it’s root – five – five – root root – five – five); also, a great way to start playing walking bass, for example, is to play root – root – five – five – it gives you four beats per bar and outlines the chord change. For many styles the bass alternating characteristic rhythmic pattern and with a style-intrinsic  feel plays a key role. There are many subtleties to root-five and there is lots to say on that, but in this post I want to talk about why the fifth is a bassist’s best friend in so many styles…

A Bassist’s Best Friend?

The 5th shows up early in the overtone series – you can verify that by playing a harmonic on the seventh fret. So you have a harmonic on the 12th (first overtone, the octave) and the next one at the seventh fret – which produces the 5th up. Of course tuning wise that 5th is a tad higher than the fretted D would be, which has to do with our tuning system being well-tempered or equal tempered.

Why is this relevant? Early overtones are contained in the note. So if I hit the open G, the overtones of octaves and fifths are also heard. So the fifth is a very related note, it sounds not too foreign to the root. Hence, when playing the fifth in a groove you add information, but one that is very close to the root. You can easily verify this on your bass. Play a high G (I recommend the 10th fret on the A string) and listen to the sound. Then add a fifth above (D on the 12th fret of D). Play both notes at the same time. it sounds fuller, richer, but still pretty G-ish. On the other hand, if you would make that D an Eb for example, it definitely sounds like a new sound.

So, the fifth is a bassist’s best friend because:

  • it sounds congruent with the root,
  • does not introduce an entirely new sound quality, just adds fullness to the root sound,
  • is not likely to clash with any extensions or chords the chord players might add,
  • adds variety without drawing too much attention.
  • The five pulling to the one is a very strong bass movement (more on that later)

So now you know one reason why fifths are a bass player’s best friend! But there is much more to fifths, stay tuned for the next blog post on fifths!

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2 Replies to “The Fifth – Why it is Your Best Buddy…”

  1. love the article on the fifth again Ariane right to the point short but good info you are right on target with your teaching

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