May 5, 2022

Bass Chord Charts: How to Play Bass Chords

Cat Dinh:

It was probably more than a decade ago when I inherited an acoustic guitar and figured I should learn how to play it. I had played piano and keyboard for a church band in my youth, so I knew the importance of chords, especially when a new song I'd never played was added to the set at the last minute. Michelle Branch was popular at the time and her songs seemed like a good place to start, and that was when I learned my first chord hand shapes: Am, C, and G. This is just one of the reflections that came back to me while developing Chord Charts and Bass Charts.

I was invited to talk about Bass Charts, but it's not much of an explanation without starting from Chord Charts. A lot of the work in making Chord Charts, such as chord identification and their timing, is thanks to machine-learning and the editing powers of our diligent Notetrackers, which you can read about in MIlo's dev diary.

Chord Charts are their own special mode; you can play with the Noteway and RS Tab notation as you would with other arrangements. But in this mode, you can also choose to display chord diagrams, which are available in two orientations: "RS Noteway" and "Traditional". In fact, "RS Noteway" is on by default when you play your first Chord Chart arrangement, so you'll see the Noteway on the top and four chord diagrams on the bottom. These diagrams shift as each chord passes the fretboard on the Noteway to show the current chord at the front. "Traditional" diagrams are oriented vertically, the way you would see chord diagrams in traditional chord books. You can set the default orientation in Settings and pick the orientation that works best for you!|

In addition to chord diagrams, we also adjusted the Noteway effects and scoring rules in a way that isn't too strict, but lets you know you're playing a chord correctly. We just want you to rock out at your own pace. I'll hand things over to our resident music expert and game designer, Jarred McAdams to explain further.

[RS+] News Article - Dev Diary for May 2022 - screenshot 1

A look at the new bass chord charts…

[RS+] News Article - Dev Diary for May 2022 - screenshot 2

…and the 6-string chord charts that inspired it.

Jarred McAdams:

When we name a chord in a Chord Chart, we're specifying a root note and a particular set of other pitches that go along with it. For example, if I have a CMaj7 chord, the "C" tells me what the root note is, and the "Maj7" tells me that I add the major 3rd, perfect 5th, and major 7th above the root (in this case, the notes E, G, and B) to form the full chord. But the order of those notes doesn't matter. Exactly how the notes are arranged doesn't change the name of the chord. You can double a note, shift notes up or down an octave, and even leave out notes in some cases (usually the 5th of the chord) and the chord is still a CMaj7.

When you rearrange the notes of a chord to get different variations like this, the different arrangements are known as "voicings." When a different note is played as the lowest note of the chord, this is specified using a slash---so if our CMaj7 chord had the E on the bottom, it might be called a CMaj7/E (read as "C major seven over E"). When different notes from the chord are placed on the bottom in this way, we refer to result as an "inversion" of the original chord.

With Chord Charts, you have the freedom to play any voicing or inversion of the named chord that you would like. The noteway will offer one standard voicing that you can use, but you're free to play any version of that chord you know, moving notes up or down an octave, shifting the whole thing up or down to a different position, doubling notes, and so on. You can even cycle through different voicings of the chord in order to give your performance a more melodic quality. Or you can just stick with what's shown in the noteway - it's entirely up to you.

Cat Dinh:

So, no matter how you decide to play the chord that's shown, Rocksmith+ will pulse to let you know you played all the tones in the chord correctly. The chord streak will count each successive chord played, and resets when a chord is missed. This, like with our other arrangements, is possible with the help of note detection, which you can read about in Brian Poedy's dev diary.

That's all fine and good for guitar players and chord charts, but based on feedback from the Beta we knew that bass players were not getting enough love. So we set out to try using Chord Chart data to generate charts for bass. With bass, things get a little more complicated. We had to shift our thinking because of the way bass is traditionally played: not as chords, but as chord tones.

A look at the new bass chord charts...

...and the 6-string chord charts that inspired it.

Jarred McAdams:

When talk began about building a bass version of chord charts, we knew we couldn't just recycle the system we had built for guitar---strumming chords on bass like you do on guitar would not provide the musical experience our bass-playing friends were looking for.

So, we thought through our options... We considered only displaying the root note, but that could quickly become tedious for intermediate and advanced players. We thought about showing just the chord symbol---the way you might see it in a lead sheet---and letting users improvise freely, but we realized that would require players to know which notes to play over each chord. That's not something we could count on everybody knowing right off the bat.

Ultimately, we took a hybrid approach. In the Noteway, we would show the root note and the name of the chord. That way, beginners could stick with those roots while advanced players might improvise freely over the chord changes.

For players in-between who want more than the root notes but could still use a little guidance, we added arpeggio diagrams in place of the chord diagrams. Here we can show not just the root note, but all the tones in the active chord found through the fifth fret. Players will have the choice to stick to the roots, venture out to other chord tones, or even throw in a few passing tones, neighbor tones, and enclosures along the way if they're feeling adventurous.

Cat Dinh:

The main differences between Bass Charts and Chord Charts are what the Noteway and the diagrams show and how the streak is counted. For bass, Chord Chart data decides the root note on the Noteway and generates real-time roots and chord tones. These are fixed across 5 frets on a chord tone diagram. Each correctly played chord tone during a chord zone increases the streak count---when nothing is played, the streak is reset. One thing we found was that our amazing note detection system was able to pick up fundamental and harmonic notes, which made evaluating notes during bass charts too lenient, so we tightened it up to evaluate the loudest detected note. Bass Charts is a highly improvisational experience, which makes it difficult to systematically assess, so playing chord tones correctly is not counted in your Skill Progress.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to building this mode. It wasn't simple to develop this new feature, but with the team's hard work we're excited for players to be able to play Bass Charts for themselves.

Cat Dinh became interested in playing the guitar after they and their roommate were going through a Rachael Leigh Cook phase and saw Josie and the Pussycats, learning their first chords and party trick riffs on an inherited 3/4 acoustic guitar. They regret not paying more attention to music theory when learning piano as a child, but was happy to learn more about it during the development of Rocksmith+. Tears for Fears may be happy to know that Cat will never be bored of listening to "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" on repeat for hours.

Cat has contributed to game development for more than a decade, with credits in programming and production. This is their first project as game designer and working with a development team in Japan since moving there in 2013.

Jarred McAdams is a game designer, musician, gamer, husband, and father based in Oakland, CA. He holds a master's degree in music composition, and worked in video, theater, and dance before entering the game industry in 2008. He contributed to a number of successful music game franchises and has been part of the Rocksmith team since 2011.

How To Read & Play Bass Chords

[RS+] News Article - Dev Diary for May 2022 - How to read and play bass chords

As a bass player, understanding how to read bass chord charts is essential to your success as one of the rhythm keepers in a band.

Bass chord charts are basically graphical representations of the notes that make up a chord, and they're used to help bass players understand which notes to play when playing chords on the bass guitar. In this article, we'll discuss everything you need to know when it comes to chords on the bass guitar.

What Exactly Is a Chord?

In the simplest of terms, a chord is a group of three or more notes played simultaneously to create a harmonic and musical effect, a combination of individual notes, and the notes played together form a unique sound that can convey different emotions and moods. Chords can be made up of many, many different combinations of notes, including major or minor triads, seventh chords, and extended chords, among others.

Chords are an integral part of music of all genres, including rock, pop, jazz, blues, classical music, and many more. By using different chord progressions and voicings, musicians can create different vibes and textures in their music, and chords can be used to support a melody or serve as the foundation for an entire song. Understanding and using chords is a fundamental skill for any musician, and it can greatly enhance the quality and depth of their music.

Do Bass Guitar Players Always Play Chords?

Bass guitarists don't often play chords because their primary role in a band is to provide a foundation in the key of the song for the other instruments to build on - granted, this isn't always the case. While the bass guitar typically plays the root note of the chord, which is the note that gives the chord its name, it can also take charge and play chords by itself, letting the guitar play lead melodies on top.

However, this needs to be pretty well arranged because if the bass guitar were to play chords while other instruments were also playing chords, it could clash and make the music sound muddy or confusing. Also, bass guitars tend to have fewer and thicker strings than guitars, making it more difficult to play chords.

How To Read Bass Chord Charts

Bass chord charts are read the same way as guitar chord charts, so if you've already learned those before, you're off to a great start. Each chord is represented by a series of dots or circles on a grid.

The dots or circles indicate which strings and which frets to play. The vertical lines represent the bass strings, while the horizontal lines represent the frets. The dots or circles indicate which strings and which frets to play.

The numbers on the dots or circles represent the fingerings that should be used to play the chord. If a chord has an X above a string, the string should not be played.

What Are Some Chords To Play on the Bass?

[RS+] News Article - Dev Diary for May 2022 - What are some chords to play on the bass?

There are plenty of chords that you can learn to play on the bass, but there are a few specific chords you may want to start with.

The Most Popular

Some of the most popular chords to play on the bass include major and minor chords. Major chords are generally used in happy or uplifting songs, while minor chords are used in more melancholic or sad songs, though most songs have some balance of both, creating chord progressions.

Some of the most common chords on the bass guitar include C, E, and A due to their availability and ease of playing on the bass guitar's thick strings.

Other popular chords include power chords, which are commonly used in rock and metal music. Power chords are typically made up of just two notes, the root note and the fifth note of the chord (though technically, these should be called power harmonies, that's less fun to say.) You can easily play power chords by playing a note on either the first or second string and playing another note on one string up and two frets closer to the bridge.

Open Position Chords

Open-position chords on the bass guitar are chords that are played using open strings as a focus point. Open-position chords are commonly used in bass guitar playing because they allow for more sustain and a fuller sound and reduce the number of frets you have to hold down on the heavier strings.

To play an open position chord, you start by playing one or more open strings on the bass guitar, and then use your fingers to fret the other notes of the chord on the other strings. For example, an open position A chord on the bass guitar would use the open A string, the second fret of the D string, the second fret of the G string, and the second fret of the E string.

Open-position chords are often used in simple chord progressions and can help to add depth and richness to a bassline. However, it's important to note that not all chords can be played in an open position on the bass guitar, and sometimes it may be necessary to use different voicings or positions to achieve the desired sound.

Movable Chords

Movable major and minor chords on the bass guitar are chords that can be played in any key by moving the same shape up or down the fretboard, similar to the power harmony but with a few extra notes.

These chords are sometimes known as "bar chords'' on a standard guitar because they may require you to use your index finger to "bar" all the strings at a certain fret while using your other fingers to play the other notes of the chord. This doesn't quite apply on the bass, though, because the notes that you would hold down with the index finger, creating the bar, don't exist on a four-string bass.


A movable major chord on the bass guitar primarily consists of three notes that you can move up and down the neck: Any note on the 4th string, then two frets up on the 3rd string, skip the second string and play the note between the frets of the first and second note. You could also play the same fret on the second string. However, most bassists' hands aren't that big, and you could end up hurting yourself.

This positioning can be played up and down the first string wherever you'd like, and if you play it on the 3rd string, it becomes a 7th chord!


The minor chord version of a moveable chord is very similar to the major positioning, with just one adjustment. Instead of playing the fret between the first and second notes, you'll play the same note on the 1st string as you will on the 4th string. Again, for this minor chord, you can play it anywhere on the first string, and you can add the 2nd string if you're feeling up to the challenge!

What Are Some Techniques for Playing Bass?

[RS+] News Article - Dev Diary for May 2022 - What are some techniques for playing bass?

You can use various techniques to play bass guitar --- here are some of the most common with some tips for success.

Using a Pick

Using a pick is a popular technique for playing the bass guitar, regardless of what your friend that listens to Victor Wooten says. A pick is just a small piece of plastic or gift card that's held between the thumb and index finger. It is used to strike the bass guitar strings, producing a clear, consistent sound.

To use a pick, hold it firmly between your thumb and index finger. Make sure the pointed end of the pick is facing down and toward the strings. Place your hand over the strings, with your thumb resting on the E string and your fingers resting on the other strings. Use a downward motion to strike the strings, starting with the lowest string (the E string) and moving upward.

Practicing using a pick regularly is important to build up speed and accuracy. Start by playing simple bass lines and gradually work your way up to more complex pieces. As you get more comfortable with the technique, you can experiment with different types of picks and find the one that feels most comfortable for you, but you'll likely want something firm.

Using Your Fingers

Using your fingers to play the bass guitar is a technique that has been used for decades by players in all types of genres. This technique involves using your fingers to pluck the bass guitar strings, producing a softer, more rounded sound than a pick.

To use your fingers, rest your thumb on the E string and use your index, middle, and ring fingers to pluck the other strings. Start with the lowest string and work your way up, using a gentle plucking motion. It's important to keep your fingers close to the strings and use consistent pressure when plucking.

One advantage of using your fingers is that it allows you to play more complex bass lines and create a wider range of sounds. However, it can take some time to build up the necessary finger strength and dexterity, so practicing regularly is essential. You'll want to stretch before and after working your hands to avoid strain.

Slap Technique

Slap technique, or "thumpin' and pluckin'" as creator Larry Graham calls it,  is a more advanced technique that involves using your thumb to slap the strings of the bass guitar, creating a percussive sound. This technique is often used in funk, rock, and pop music (or all three if you're Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

To use the slap technique, place your thumb on the E string and use a snapping motion to slap the string against the fretboard. Follow up with a popping motion using your index or middle finger to pluck the string. This creates a distinctive, percussive sound often used in bass solos and fills. The slap technique can take some time to master, but it's a valuable technique to have in your arsenal.

What Are Some Tips for Proper Bass Playing Technique?

[RS+] News Article - Dev Diary for May 2022 - What are some tips for proper bass playing technique?

No matter what technique you use to play the bass guitar, there are a few tips that can help you play more efficiently and effectively:

Keep Your Wrist Straight

Keeping your wrist straight is crucial when playing the bass guitar. Bending your wrist can cause discomfort, pain, and even injury, such as tendinitis, especially when playing for extended periods. One way to ensure your wrist is straight is to adjust your bass guitar's strap so it sits comfortably. It's also important to take frequent breaks and stretch your wrist and hand to prevent strain and injury.


Relaxing your hands and fingers is another important aspect of playing the bass guitar. Tension in your hand and fingers can make it more difficult to play and cause fatigue and discomfort.

Try to keep your hands and fingers relaxed, and use a light touch when playing - this allows you to play more smoothly and with greater control. Practicing finger exercises, such as finger stretches and warm-ups, can also help to reduce tension in your hand and fingers.

Proper Posture

Using proper posture is essential when playing the bass guitar, as a heavier instrument, you'd be surprised how quickly it can weigh on you.

Sitting or standing up straight helps to reduce strain on your back, neck, and shoulders and allows you to play with greater ease and control. Make sure to adjust your bass guitar's strap so that it sits comfortably, and use a footrest if necessary to keep your posture upright.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Regular practice is the key to improving your bass guitar playing skills. Consistent practice helps to build muscle memory, improve technique, and develop a better sense of rhythm and timing. Set aside time each day to practice, even if it's just for a few minutes.

Practice playing scales, chord progressions, and songs to build your skills and develop your musical repertoire. Remember that practice doesn't make perfect, but it does make progress, and with regular practice, you can achieve your musical goals on the bass guitar.

In Conclusion

The bass is an excellent instrument to pick up due to the physical exercise it takes to play, the confidence that comes with driving the band, and even the improvement of your mental faculties. Understanding chord theory and knowing how to play different chord shapes and voicings can add depth and complexity to your playing and open up new musical possibilities.

Reading bass chord charts may seem daunting at first, but with practice and patience, you can quickly learn how to interpret chord symbols and diagrams and apply that knowledge to your playing. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced bass player, investing time and effort into learning bass chords and chord charts is sure to pay off and take your playing to the next level.


How Chords and Key Impact Emotion in Music | The Music Studio

Thumpin and Pluckin | Mix Down Mag

Health For The Working Bassist, Pt 1 | No Treble

Study Kids Engaged in Music Class Benefits | Northwestern

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