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How should I practice walking bass?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by muthagoose, Nov 24, 2005.

  1. muthagoose


    Jan 18, 2004
    Right now I'm trying to learn how to play walking bass, so I bought a book called "Building Walking Bass Lines" by Ed Friedland. I'm not really sure how I should practice, since there are so many different ways to play a walking bass line, even when playing basic stuff.
    So far, the book has covered playing over a blues progression using the root, the fifth and the octave and using either chromatic approach notes or dominant approach notes.
    I wanna be able to play as varied as possible so I'm trying to cover as many variations using the different approach notes as possible, but it is taking quite a lot of time and effort. Right now I'm writing down all the different variations you can do using the root, fifth and octave and the different approach notes in different keys, so that I'll be able to play as varied as possible.

    What is the most effiecent way of practicing this?
    Does anybody have any experience with this book? How long did it take you to work through it?
    I'm new to this jazz and blues ordeal so any advice regarding practice from you jazz cats is appreciated :)

    Thanks in advance!
  2. Tash

    Tash Guest

    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    Honestly the only way to practice walking is to just do it. You need to get to the point that you can look at a chart that says I-iii-vi-V7/ii-ii-V7b9-I in a key and walk it.

    How do you get there? You play, over as many progressions as possible. If you have access to software like Garage Band make a bunch of different progressions and jam on them. I like Garage Band because you can easily set up loops of a progression with and without various accompaniment. If you don't have something like this get a guitar and record yourself comping (that's slowly playing a chord in time) a whole bunch of progressions and walk over them until you develop a feel for it. Make sure you right down what the progressions are.

    The real key to walking is that its spontaneous. You have to devlop enough of feel for the fretboard that you can wander all over a key and not loose the groove. Then you need to develop enough of a feel that you can wander all over ALL the keys and not loose the groove. I've nail the first part but am still working on the second.
  3. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    I bought that book when I started playing bass, it's not bad, but far from complete. Still, if you get lost in a song or forget the changes, going root-passing note-5th- passing note can go a long way. Some people might even compliment you for holding down the harmony so they can go "outside" more.

    The quickest way to learn to walk, is do it. Find a band, get a Real Book, and go to. Some jazz cats can get impatient with you for this, though. The second best method would be to get a sequencer of some sort, program some changes out of the Real Book or other fake book, and play along with that. This makes it easy to practice changing keys for a given tune, swap A and B sections, and other sorts of things that bandleaders like to pull in the heat of a gig, as well.

    While it's slower, the other best way is to sit down with some CDs, find the chord changes to your favorite tunes, transcribe the bass player's lines from those (this is easier if groups involved are fronted by a bass player, they're generally pumped more in the mix) and then play along, either their lines or your own.

    Happy walking!
  4. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    Wellington, NZ
    I use ascending and descending note patterns, and variations of the two.
  5. djcruse

    djcruse Guest

    Jun 3, 2002
    Norwood, MA
    I think Ed's book is as good a place as any to get started.
  6. The book is a good starting point, get an idea of some options for moving between different chords. But its crucial to have the chords playing along with you. Cause some of those options work under some circumstances and not others. Playing a walking line by itself often sounds great, UNTIL you put it up against the chords. That's the only way to tell if the line fits sometimes. Especially when you're learning.

    That also trains your ear so you recognize the sounds of those chords, a very handy trait if you happen to get lost in the song and need to figure out where everyone else is at. Knowing how to go from a II to a V7 is useless if you can't hear when the II comes around. Even just a few "signature" chords in your memory can serve as an anchor to get you back on track if you get lost. The more you have, the better, until you can hear the chords and know what to play as a matter of instinct, not conscious thought and analyzation.

    The most efficient way to learn, IMO, is for instance to think II V7 in the key of G, instead of thinking Am D7. That way you essentially learn II V7 in all 12 keys at once, instead of having to memorize what notes are in II V7 chords in all keys. The fretboard allows you to get away with this in a way keyboard players cannot. You can transpose by playing the same pattern either up or down the neck, or across the neck varying which strings you use. Use the advantage.

  7. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.

    Can't stress enough what a great ability this is to have.
  8. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    Funny but no one mentioned listening. Get ANYTHING with Ray Brown or Ron Carter. These are 2 of the masters. Walking is a very individualistic thing. Some tunes and tempos lend themselves to different approaches - even different sections of the same tune. And, don't always feel that every quarter or eighth note needs to be new or different. Some great stuff can be done with repeated notes.
    Also, holding half notes (or quarters) & skipping (anticipation) to the next beat adds color. The options are infinite.
    Scott Lofaro who's now considered a genius (get any early Bill Evans disk) was famous for NOT playing every subdivision and was a master accompianist (sp?).
    But, the real trick is learning to hear 'the swing' in your head, the stuttered triplet feel needs to come through without being obvious.
    MHO, I've spent over 35 years, and still learning to 'walk'.
  9. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    Just a last thought. I stressed 'feel' in the previous post. Note choice IS important but I have heard (and actually been guilty of it myself) bass players make occasional bad note choices and unless its nasty and on the downbeat it matters MUCH less than blowing the 'feel'. Rushing or dragging are worse offenses in a group setting. When its in your bones and you're playing with a good drummer, you'll actually be able to land your note in front of the beat, behind the beat or right on the money. Each 'feel' has its place with certain tunes. Blues, for example sound great with the drummer on top of the beat and the bass slightly behind. But these are nuances.
  10. Marcus

    Marcus Guest

    Dec 26, 2004
    NYC & Vancouver, BC
    I'm sorry if this is not the response you're looking for, but buy a jazz standards book, grab some of the songs from Itunes, and immerse yourself in the stuff.

    You really have to develop the ability to read chord charts and think usually at least two movements ahead of what you are playing to effectively walk.

    Try to find a feel that is comfortable for you either by ascending or descending given what the chord chart tells you to do, and practice. Practice the same tune five times in a row if need be until you are comfortable walking (no pun intended) all over that tune. Move on to faster tempos or more complex tunes and with time you will get better.

    My suggestion for relatively simple walking tunes are "There Is No Greater Love" and "Straight, No Chaser."

    If you would like the sheet music for those two tunes, let me know and I'll scan it for you.

    Good luck.
  11. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Interesting statements -- I agree, feel is important above the note choice. If you're not familiar with the tune or the group, play it safe and go with simple arpeggios and leave the on-the-spot-reharms and tritone substitutions another time while you focus on the feel.

    I'd reccomend going out and buying the Real Book, 6th Edition. It's chock full of standards from easy to mind-blowing.

    Practicing with SOME sort of piano accompaniment will help immensely, even if you just program the chords into Band-in-a-Box.
  12. No fair, I did mention you have to have the chords playing behind you to hear if what you're doing works or not.

    You cannot learn to walk in a vacuum, not at first. Lots of stuff that sounds great, that you've heard played before, doesn't fit with the chords when you put them together. You may have heard that line played before, but it was against different versions of similar chords... Can't tell that unless you bang your walking lines up against the actual chords to see if they match.

    You cannot learn to walk with only a real book.

  13. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    Sorry! I meant listening to other walking bass players, Brown, Carter, Buster Williams, etc.

    Another thing I still use for practice are the Aebersold play-along books/CD. Great players playing everything from Basie to Monk to Miles to Shorter. Nothing like the best!
  14. Gotcha.. actually, you're absolutely right, gotta listen to lots of that music by the masters to get an idea what to shoot for instead of making stuff up in a vacuum.... No shame in copying from the best, you don't have to "invent it all yourself".

  15. fraublugher


    Nov 19, 2004
    ottawa, ontario, canada
    music school retailer
    mike richmond;s modern walking bass technique is really good too
  16. BargeOn

    BargeOn Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2004
    FWIW my method so far has been this:

    I focus on just one or two easy songs and play along and play them till I'm comfortable.
    (for ex. "night sweats" from Larry Carlton's Saphire Blue,-- simple line, easy to pick out, at a moderate pace with long stretches in a single key that allows you to noodle a bit.)

    Then I move to something a bit more complex, at least for me, but still simple.
    In my case I'm using Jay Hungerford's "Walking Jazz Lines for Bass" -but any decent book with a play-along CD will do, coping the masters lines is the same approach- and I play the transcriptions of 1 or 2 songs note for note until I have them down well and then I go back and try to come up with some similar lines of my own based on ideas in the book.

    All the while I try to review a little of the theory behind the music, learn some new concepts. It's not my starting point, but a way to understand what I think I know.

    My only real point is to focus on two or three songs at a time, played one way, until you are comfortable with them. I drove myself crazy with the incredible variations and the sheer number of "standards" you're supposed to know. What I learn from those one or two songs I can apply to others.

    Speed is an issue for me. All the stuff I do I do at a moderate tempo. I'll speed up later.

    If nothing else, I've come away with increased respect for (and envy of) the masters.

  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I don't think it's funny at all!!

    The question asked was how do you practice...now of course listening is very important, but it is not practicing!!
  18. Howard K

    Howard K Guest

    Feb 14, 2002
    I think listening is a very valid form of pratice on the basis that the ears probably require more training than the finger muscles.

    I learn a lot by just listening to jazz in the car, and I do think of it as practice. Of course it's not physical, fingers on fretboard, nail those scales, good ol' fashioned woodsheddin, but doing things like repeating the phrases in solos by singing them, singing the melodies of tunes I'm learning, and hearing intervals and fragments of scales IS practice.

    Actually, I think singing along with records is equally, if not more, valid as a form of practice than reading the melody from the sheet.

    If you cant hear a phrase then you cant respond to it, no amount of physical practice can make up for a lack of time spent listening.
  19. Howard K

    Howard K Guest

    Feb 14, 2002
    I've been down this route too and I've found that it didnt help me to pick tunes with large numbers of bars on one chord.
    Two chords per bar seem really daunting at first, but it makes it much easier to give your bassline forward momentum by just outlining the chords. To fill 16 bars of A Aeolian you need ideas!

    'I Thought About You' is a good example where by just using chord tones you can play a great line in a two feel or in four to the bar that moves the song forward, there are loads of basslines that are pretty much written for you in the changes.
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well - I think it's terminology - of course I agree that listening is important, vital and essential for an understanding of Jazz - but I think I was just saying that people consider practicing to be playing/woodshedding etc. and if you don't put the time into doing that - then it doesn't matter how much listening you do....?

    I meet people every week at Brighton Jazz club who are big fans and can hum or sing you bits of every Charlie Parker solo - but they can't actually play a note on any instrument!! ;)

    Anyway my point was that people will answer the question asked...

    So if it had been - "how can I improve my walking bass lines" or "how can I get an idea of playing better bass lines" etc. - then I think people would have said - listen to as many recordings as you can etc..

    But as soon as the question was how should you practice - then people are going to focus on the practical playing side and I was saying it didn't suprise me!

    The thing is always - ask the right question and you will get the right answer!! ;)