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Walking Bass

Scott Noftle (137) · [archive]
Style: Jazz · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

Constructing a walking bass line is kind of an art form, HOWEVER even in art you still have to work by guidelines.
My guidelines for a walking bass line are:
- provide a rhythmic pulse to solidify the chosen tempo, in the style of Jazz this is achieved by using mostly all quarter notes.
- outline the harmony ( chord changes ) of the tune, to provide the soloist a platform on which to build ideas.

As for the pulse of the line this is something that comes with practice, I can't really teach you to swing, it's just something that comes after years of playing. (sometimes it never comes)

Let's work on how to outline the Chord changes in a tune.
A simple rule to follow is: Always play a chord tone on beats 1 and 3 of the bar.
What is a chord tone?
Here is a bass line for a standard Jazz Blues:



Let's break it down bar by bar so you can see the notes in each chord.


Notice that in the line above (except for one instance) beats 1&3 are always notes in the chord of that particular bar. Also the note on beat 1 is preferably the Root, but in the line above sometimes the 5th or the 3rd is used. As for beats 2&4 notice that these notes are usually one or two steps away from the notes that follow. This is what gives the bass line a fluid feel.
Now, try to construct your own bass line.

Using the same changes in the line above, try to write out two different bass lines.
The first one, in half notes,(two beats per bar) only using the notes of the chord changes. Since your playing half notes your only playing on beats 1&3 anyway. Use the Root note as beat one, and pick any of the other notes as beat 3.
For the 2nd one use the same line as the first but this time put notes in between the half notes to create a line using all Quarter notes. ( 4 beats per bar ) Try to make the notes on beats 2&4 move logically to the next note never using a note more than a Tone away from the next.

If your not used to walking bass lines this exercise could be very difficult at first but one you do it a few times, it will get easier. The idea is to be able to look at the chord and instantly come up with a line that fits.
Walking Bass