Walking bass lines made simple

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by sondich, Dec 25, 2013.


  1. sondich

    sondich Supporting Member

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    Below is a 4-step guide to creating walking bass lines. It is as straightforward an explanation as I've read.

    Link to page here

    "Creating a walking bass line is one of the more elusive art forms in the bass world, but if you understand how to put it together, step by step (pun intended), it won't seem so frightening. The formula for a successful walking bass line is simple:

    Beat One: Determine the chord tonality (major, minor, dominant, or half-diminished) and play the root of that chord.

    Beat Two: Play any chord tone of the chord, or any note in the scale related to that chord.

    Beat Three: Play any chord tone or scale tone of the chord.

    Yep — same as Step 2, but try to pick a different note.

    Beat Four: Play a leading tone to the next root.

    A leading tone leads from one chord to the next. The leading tone prepares the listener’s ear for the sound of the new chord. The most important point to understand about a leading tone is that it aims for the following chord’s root. For example, if you’re going from a C chord to an F chord, your leading tone leads to F (never mind the C)."
  2. Don Sibley

    Don Sibley Supporting Member

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    This is how I teach my students but I would like a method that forces them to use their ear.
  3. Shakin-Slim

    Shakin-Slim

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    This is a good way for beginners to start walking, but it's only a fraction of the possibilities and, like Don said, it doesn't require the ear so much as a formula.
  4. Nashrakh

    Nashrakh

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    Yeah, very formulaic and quickly loses its appeal as it won't sound very great in your actual playing as a one size fits all concept. Will work to introduce students to the concept who never heard a walking bass before, though.

    If this was the content of a single lesson, I'd add other concepts like voice leading, chord tone enclosures etc too in the following lessons to build on that (as it is, the resulting bass line will sound too tidy, predictable, 'inside' etc). It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I'd also try to get them away from root on 1 asap.
  5. punkjazzben

    punkjazzben

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    I started off building walking lines in a similar way. There was a set of online lessons that took you through various common one bar patterns and approaches. So a simple one might be 1-3-5- and then a half-step chromatic approach to the next 1. Or 1-1-5-1/2 approach. Or whatever. The aim was to build a repertoire of patterns that you could connect and combine, and to learn different chordal, scalar, and chromatic elements of walking. The overall aim was to begin doing it (i.e. walking) without thinking in terms of formulas.

    I disagree that you won't find a use for these 'formulas' in actual practice/playing. Analyse any good bass player's lines and a number of recurring patterns will emerge, which are either common across many bassists or reflective of the idiosyncrasies of the particular player. We use patterns of scale and chord tones, and chromatics, all the time - whether we mean to or not.
  6. Jbassrockboy

    Jbassrockboy

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    3rds 5ths 7ths on strong harmonic beats 1 & 3

    Any other chord tone or passing tone on beats 2 & 4

    Just for starting out

    It is no doubt more creative in the hands of accomplished players and with countless possibilities

    Rossa
  7. Geni758

    Geni758 Supporting Member

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    I find it hard to believe that there are students who have never heard a walking bass line before. Maybe they didn't know what it was called, but certainly they've heard it unless they are from a non-western country.
  8. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa

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    you can but not at every chord change
  9. salsaslas

    salsaslas

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    The formula doesn't cover two chords in one bar situation, though its a common case.
  10. punkjazzben

    punkjazzben

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    It doesn't take much thinking to adjust. E.g. 1-5-1-5, or 1-3-1-5, or 1-1/2-1-1/2 (where 1/2 is a chromatic approach to the 1). Something like a 1-3-5-3 would even still work across many two chord bars; you don't need to play the 1 every change.
  11. Frohman

    Frohman

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    Nov 24, 2009
    My way would be:

    1) Any chord tone of the basic chord, 1, 3 or 5 of the chord. (avoid alterations, with some exceptions depending on what's going on in the band at the given moment.
    2) Any leading note (5ths, 2nds, upper or lower chromatics) or guide notes of super imposed triads leading to the next 1, 3 or 5 of the chord. (if the chord is Gmaj7, F# would be a guide note to D as this is the third of a D chord) This note is very dependent on what note I am playing before and what my target note is. The goal is to make the leaps as small as possible. For larger leaps I usually add a syncopation, if the music allows it.
    3) See 1
    4) See 2

    Rinse and repeat.
  12. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

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    Leading tone on beat 4 is good, but you can also move to the new downbeat by 5th above, 4th below, whole tone above, half tone above (usually there in a b5 or b9 chord). Don't be afraid to move out of the chord from time to time, and never start a new measure with the same note as the last note of the previous measure..... yea, even if its the same chord.
  13. Lownote38

    Lownote38

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    This is a great way to play a simple walking bass line. There's nothing simple about playing walking bass the way that pro jazz players play them. Starting on the root note on beat one of every chord makes you sound somewhat like an idiot when it comes to jazz. Fluidity is lost and the result will sound very linear (which walking lines are not).
  14. Jbassrockboy

    Jbassrockboy

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    I did forget to add the word root. ...
  15. wrench45us

    wrench45us

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    Aug 26, 2011
    walking bass theory is pretty simple with one chord per measure (really even simpler with 2 chords per measure) and that's how most of the teaching tools start out because it's essential to learn that theory and practice

    but most songs, including standards, have chords extended over more than one bar, two is pretty common, four on occasion. And eventually you get into the whole modal thing and have to play over the same chord for a very long while.

    Then what do you do? As noted it doesn't sound so great if you start every measure on the root. It's like the theory only takes you so far in this and at some point you have to get musical.

    For those like me who stubbornly don't want to take in person lessons, I'd recommend a couple of books that build a foundation to be able to walk with > one chord per bar changes
    Ed Fuqua's 'Walking Bassics'
    Jay Hungerford's 'Walking Jazz Lines for Bass'

    Mr Hungerford doesn't cover much of any theory and offers a great many 'patterns' that work across common chord progressions that suggests a kind of cut and paste approach, BUT that is only a bridge. Some of the filled in examples to standards are musical, melodic, long flowing balanced lines.
    Mr Fuqua's book is equally effective in a different style with a different emphasis on what to provide. I find the two together provide a veery nice balance.

    The next gap to bridge is to quit reading these examples from books and create these kind of lines on the fly. That will take some time and a lot of internal work.
  16. salsaslas

    salsaslas

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    Jan 6, 2010
    Couldn't you give some hints of how to handle that situation. How do you and the authors, mentioned above, think about the same chord over two or more bars, in a walking bass concept?
  17. Frohman

    Frohman

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    Nov 24, 2009
    Jazz is all about tension and release. Paul Chambers give quite a good show of how it's done on a little record called "A Kind of Blue", listen to and learn his lines and get familiar with the chords. You'll see him walking more in a scalar manner, going outside of the chord to create harmonic tension while the soloist typically creates rythmic tension.
  18. wrench45us

    wrench45us

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    Aug 26, 2011
    Jay Hungerford's 'patterns' for 2 bar sequences generally set the root on 1 of the 1st bar and the 5 on the 1 of the second bar. It's a simple device, but opens things up substantially. The 5 on the one of the second bar is treated like a target note just like the 1. All the walking bass 'theory' that applies to bar 1 applies to bar two -- the same scale notes apply, etc. The method extends to a longer line and stringing different two bar patterns works better than one might think for 4 bar patterns. Peaks, valley and all that.
    The theory appeals to me for a lot of reason, but it's not like building with legos. Mr Hungerford and others are providing a tool, not a static construction set.
  19. Jbassrockboy

    Jbassrockboy

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    Cool and thanks for the insight, it is a simple device to play bar two starting on the 5th but like many simple things it takes another person to point that out

    Rossa
  20. AndrewFord

    AndrewFord

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    In putting together material for an entry level jazz bass course one of the things I did was randomly choose a song that featured the legendary Ray Brown on bass, walking. Amazingly, what I found was that almost 90%! of his walking line began on the root of the chord. Granted, this is a small sample size of his great body of work, but it certainly suggested that you can still create a great bass line and groove almost exclusively starting with roots. He certainly made use of those other chord tones, extensions and chromatics but the foundation was without question rock solid.

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