Tommaso Zillio

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original lament bass

Is there anything better than chromatic bass lines (aka "the Lament bass")? If you've not heard one yet, watch the first 18 seconds of the video below. Or think "My Funny Valentine". Or think "Paranoid Android". Or...

You may be surprised to learn that there actually is something better, which is properly harmonized chromatic bass lines.

Any simpleton can play a descending chromatic bass line (*), but choosing the right chords to put on top of that bass line? That’s a whole other ball game.

As with most things, there’s no one better to learn how to do this from than 18th-century Italians. In this case, the 18th-century Italian we want to learn from is Fedele Fenaroli, Maestro di Cappella at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto in Naples.

Fenaroli shows us three different harmonizations for a descending chromatic bass line, and they are one more beautiful than the other.

... and, despite being two centuries old, these harmonizations still sound "fresh".

... and they are damn easy to play on guitar too!

... and you can take them as they are (no copyright) and make your own song with them!

Now, this is the point where you watch on the video below, take out your guitar, and have fun with music:

(*) Just start from the root note and go down one fret at a time ;-)

Want to learn more about harmony and chords? You should check out my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course if you really want to expand your understanding of chords on the guitar.

Video Transcription

Hello internet. So nice to see you lately, a lot of people are talking about the lament bass, which is a bass line that goes from the first note of the key chromatically down to the fifth note of the key, if I'm doing these in C Minor, I will play the C note, which is the root and going down B, B flat, A, A flat, G, and it's understood that on G, I'm gonna get either the G chord or the g7 chord, ready to go back to the C minor, so it will start with a C minor, then the bass would go down and you will use a different chord every time until here. And there are 1001 ways to harmonize these depending if you want to sound more classical, more jazz, more this and more that.

So what many people do not know is that if you go back to the Baroque era, when the lament bass was invented, then there were a few stock harmonization of the lament bass and those sound positively gorgeous. So let's go and see them. And we could do worse to understand what they were doing in the Baroque era, then checking out the writings of Italian teacher Fedele Fenaroli I shouldn't say Neapolitan, because technically it was part of the Neapolitan school, who was incredibly famous at the time and whose writing were used throughout Europe in the Baroque era and beyond.

Like all musicians, at that time Fenaroli is using a slightly different version of music theory, then what do we know today, so you guys will forgive me if I don't read from the original Italian manuscript of Fenaroli and translate it in English, because the translation will really not make any sense in modern terms. Instead, I'm going to explain what generally does using modern terminology of chords, okay, so Fenaroli gives two stock harmonizations of the lament base, and one of them can be played on the guitar in at least two different ways. Let's hear the first.

So the first chord is a simple C minor chord. The second chord is an A flat major chord in first inversion, generally, we'll think of these as simply raising the fifth of the chord to a six. And the aim of doing this is that these destabilizes the first chord, which is too stable. So these signals some movement is coming.

The next chord is a B diminished seventh chord, where you have only the natural B, the root of the chord, the D, which is the third, and the A flat, which is a diminished seventh of the chord, from here generally goes down to a G minor chord in first inversion, then we have an A minor seven. Then we have this strange thing here. Which as the notes a flat, C and F sharp, which is an augmented sixth chord, which I covered in several other videos.

Then we have a Jesus for g7 and C minor. So the basic idea here is that Fenaroli divides the notes in the key and the notes out of the key the notes in the key are C, B flat, A flat, and G and the notes out of the key are natural B and the natural a and other notes out of the key finale always put an interval of a seven to make it even more dissonant to make it clear in the mind of the listener that those are dissonant chord over dissonant notes. And so they need to move why instead on the chords of the key.

So C B flat and a flat generally puts the interval of a 6th on top, which makes it a first inversion chord because when you have the interval of a six over C so you have the note C In a flat, and a flat, it's an A flat major chord in first inversion. This is to make them more consonant and make it clear in the mind of the listener that those are your stable stepping stones going from the C to the G. So let's play it again.

First chord is C and it's stable. We make it feel like movement by adding the sixth and we have a dissonant chord here, than a more consonant chord. More dissonant chord, more consonant chord, but with this note here that wants to push you here. And then, just as you notice, all those courts have three notes.

So in the Baroque jargon, we are playing everything in three voices, if I keep the bass voice as it is, but I invert the other two, essentially, I'm taking the middle voice, and I'm raising this voice up an octave, I find a different way of playing the exact same chord progression that sounds different because now the top note is different, and it will sound this way.

So those will be the two possible different version of the first stock harmonization by Fenaroli but there is a second one and in the second stock harmonization. Fenaroli has the goal of harmonizing all these using contrary motion, that is why the bass line is going down. The other two voices are moving up to give this kind of sense of expansion from a chord where all the notes are close by to a chord where the notes are fairly distant.

For this reason, I have to play this one fairly low on the guitar to give space for the voices to go up. It sounds this way and the first chord in this one has to hold for twice as long as the other one to make everything work.

So how does this work, we still start from the C minor chord. The second chord is a G major chord in first inversion. So it's the fifth of the key then we descend on these other chord here. What is that? Well, that's a C seven chord is the tonic chord made dominant. And it's in a third inversion, meaning the seven these are the base because you see the B flat is at the base. And then I have C and E as top notes.

So that's a C dominant seven with the seven at the base, then this B flat descends to E and get notes on top, C and F so this is an F chord in first inversion. So what happened here is that we did a five to one in the key of F major with the C seven chord in third inversion seven for the base and the F chord in the first inversion third at the base.

The next chord is D which is again the augmented sixth chord which is very popular in Baroque music and then I have a G sus four, G seven and C minor again.

So again and you can hear how the chord progression expands and expands how the bottom voice the bass line is going down and the top voices are going up. Those stock harmonization that I just showed you. Those are the original lament bass.

This is how the people who invented it were harmonizing it and I think those are gorgeous sound and you can still use them in modern music. Because you can still write music with these exact chord progression and harmonization and make it work. So if you like them, take them they are not mine. They are absolutely in public domain. They have been used by everybody but again They still sound fresh and gorgeous and big.

So take them and do whatever you want with that. And if you need help understanding all those strange third inversion chord first inversion chord and how they resolve into each other and how they connect, I do recommend you guys have a look at my course complete chord mastery, where I do things in order from the simple thing to the complex thing.

And I make all the connections so you understand how all this stuff connects together and works in practice complete chord mastery. It's not a book. It's a complete video course. That takes you from the basics up, we do everything you need to know about harmony and chords on your guitar. All the theory is done straight on the fretboard. There is no theory for the sake of theory here.

Everything is immediately practical. And everything is developed through exercises so you know how to apply these immediately on your guitar. If you have just a minute click on the link on the top right to check out complete chord mastery.

If you liked this video, smash that like button and don't forget to subscribe and click on notification otherwise YouTube will not let you know when I put up a new video. And if you have any comments, feedback, suggestions, write them down in the comment. I enjoy reading from you and they make videos on your suggestions. This is Tommaso Zillio for, and until next time, enjoy.

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