Walking bass line question
I'm a guitarist but have been gigging on bass for several weeks. Been practicing a bunch and I think I'm beginning to actually play bass like a bass player instead of a guitarist.
Having trouble with a song we usually do at weddings. The song is the Sinatra version of "The Way You Look Tonight." Our old bassist did his own thing and played a walking bass line throughout. How should I go about converting the original line to a walking part. Having trouble connecting the chords and landing on the right notes. Anyone have advice or tackled this one before? Thanks.
Good advice that may or may not make any sense, depending on your knowledge of basic theory: sticking to chord tones is the safest bet
Better advice that still depends on your musical knowledge: play chord tones while using non-harmonic tones to smoothly transition between the harmonies
Best advice that really doesn't require much musical knowledge: find as many recordings of "The Way You Look Tonight," sit down with your bass in your hands, and try to learn as much of the basslines by ear as possible. If you read/write notation, write the basslines down. Practice. Memorize. Repeat. If all you can do is memorize a single chorus of the tune, just repeat that ad naseum - repeating the same (accurate) bassline over and over is usually preferable to trying to come up with a unique (and possibly inaccurate) bassline every chorus, especially if you're new to walking bass.
Also, these types of questions are usually better posted in the "General Instruction" category.
For walking bass, another thing to consider trying is to always land on the root note as the first note of every change - pretty typical technique and it helps solidify the change. Where you walk from there is up to you :)
Hereís a relatively straight forward way to start writing a walking bassline. Itís by no means the only way to approach walking, but itís easy, and it works.
This method uses Ascending Linear and Descending Linear basslines. The main thing you need to know is whether the chords in the song are major or minor. For Ascending Linear lines, it doesnít matter if they are 7th chords or not. You just need to know the defining quality of the chord.
Then you need to figure out the first three notes of the scale that defines the chord. These three notes, plus a passing tone are all you will need to write out for each measure of the song. Since jazz operates in quarter note pulses, in 4/4 time, you only need four notes per measure.
For example, take the chord progression CM7, E flat 7, Dm7, and G7
In order, these chords are Major, Major, minor, Major.
So for the CM7 chord, write out the first 3 notes of a C major scale:
For the E flat 7 write out the first 3 notes of the E flat Major scale:
E flat-F- G
For the Dm7 write out the first 3 notes of a D minor scale
For the G7, write out the first 3 notes of a G major scale
So now you have 3 of the 4 notes you will need per measure. To join the measures together, use a chromatic passing tone. Previously used notes work well but you can use whatever note you want if it sounds good, so the passing tones are in parenthesis:
C D E (D) | E flat F G (E flat) | D E F (F sharp) |
G (one octave lower) G A (B)
Notice there are two Gís together in one measure for the G7. Typically you donít want to use the same note twice, but they are an octave apart, so my subjective music rule says itís ok. The B is the passing tone back to the original C
This is called Ascending Linear because you may have noticed all of the notes ascend the scale.
So the name Descending Linear should tell you that the next set of lines will descend the scale, however in this case, you have to be aware of the chord quality since you will be starting with the root and descending toward the 7th and 6th of each respective major chord or a flat 7th and 6th of each respective minor chord.
So the Descending linear line will be:
C B A (D) | E flat D flat C (D flat) | D C B (G flat) | G F E (B)
For a song that has two chords per measure, just use either a root and 3rd or a root and 5th. Itís your choice.
So, learn your ascending line down cold, then, learn the descending line cold. Then mix them up. Ascend sometimes and then descend sometimes. Take it all over the place. Just a trick to get you started...
The guiding principles I used to learn doing it improvisationally
were as follows:
* Fragment the music into portions that you can know well--either through previous study, or by very keen ear-power. Know exactly what chord you're currently on at all times, and know or guess what the next chord will be. Start out with short sections and increase the length over time.
* Also Know which mode/scale is implied by each chord. This might require looking at the melody as it passes through notes not in the chords. Sometimes it's a bit ambiguous; pick one of the possibilities. One doesn't always have to guess perfectly.
* Have a conception in your mind of the priority of each scale/chord tone in constructing melodic fragments. One scheme I used was
1st priority: root
2nd priority: third, fifth
3rd priority: thirteenth (sixth), ninth (second)
4th priority: seventh, eleventh (fourth)
5th priority: the remaining 5 chromatic notes not in the given chord/scale
* Try to use the first priority (root) every time the chord changes. There are exceptions, but this is a good starting point.
* Then try progressively adding notes from each priority class, going down the list.
If you add notes of the 2nd priority you'll have arpeggios.
If you add notes from the 3rd priority you'll end up with pentatonic scale fragments.
If you add notes from the 4th priority you'll end up with scale fragments from anywhere in the scale that belongs with the chord.
If you add notes from the 5th priority you'll get chromatic passing tones.
* This exercise should be guided by a desire to create fragments moving up/down stepwise or by thirds.
* Octave jumps can be very useful to reset one's register on the bass, or if there isn't time to stick another scale degree in before the chord changes.
* There's often not much time allowed to sit on each individual chord, so you'll have to choose from many options. But the idea is that stronger chord/scale notes get used more often, and the others are tossed in as decoration and passing notes between stronger notes.
Others have already mentioned stricter rules and methods than this. But this mode of thinking put the idea of improvising walking basslines on the fly within reach. With this much knowledge I was at least able to try lots of options and decide which ones sounded good.
Basically, walking a bass line is construction of a kind of melody. It is a very special purpose kind of melody, in that it needs to focus on the root to hold down the tonality for other band members. But it is a melody of sorts.
Hal Leonard has a book/CD combo called "Building Walking Bass Lines". Worth checking out.
You don't have to walk that song. You can always play it as a two-step, or something similar. Less notes that way, and requires mostly the root and fifth for each chord.
May as well learn it, it's a popular tune, still after so many years.
I think it would sound better with mainly a 2 feel and a little walkin thrown in so it doesn't get too boring.
It's a small thing, but if you're trying to learn walking bass, trying to mentally switch between a key and harmonies that are foreign to that key is a needless addition to the learning process.
My bad. Makes sense
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