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How wide is the chasm between mere “arpeggiating” and producing good walking bass lines?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by ntphd, Dec 28, 2016.

  1. ntphd


    Mar 12, 2016
    Let me start with my bottom line question, and then provide a bit of explanation: How long does it take before a “typical” bass player feels comfortable *improvising* good walking bass lines?

    I started playing bass (electric) seven or eight months ago with the express purpose of learning how to play jazz and blues. I was in band for a few years as a kid (oboe), but never learned any music theory. There is some great instruction on this forum, and I love Fuqua’s _Walking Bassics_; I’ve benefited a lot from both. When I’m able to practice, which is not every day due to work and family responsibilities, I don’t mind spending most of my time on scales, arpeggios, circle of fourths/fifths exercises, etc. Even though I still have tons to learn, I understand the basic ideas behind constructing good walking lines. When I sit down to play, however, I find myself unable to create them on the fly. I just wind up doing arpeggios and maybe throwing in a passing note here and there. (I’ve also tried writing out lines. It’s painful and time-consuming, but I’ll go that route if that’s what it takes.)

    I know it’s impossible to say how long it will take a given individual to learn something or pick up a certain skill. I guess what I’m asking is how long it took others, so I can put my frustration in perspective.

    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  2. Do you understand the construction of chords?
    Gospel Bass Player and Amano like this.
  3. ntphd


    Mar 12, 2016
    I may be misunderstanding your question. I understand the root, third, fifth, seventh sort of thing. If I see a chord listed on a piece of music, I know (mostly by position) how to play the chord tones. I'm working in memorizing the notes in the various chords. Is that what you mean?
    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  4. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    If you play 3 chord tones and then a note a half step away from the root of the next chord it will always sound good and like a walking bass line so if that's what you're doing then keep it up. It took me a while to feel like I was actually improvising bass lines that I hear in my head. It doesn't suddenly appear but rather in bits and pieces over time and for me not all of the time. Sometimes I hear the lines and sometimes I don't and have to rely on knowledge.
  5. There really isn't any difference in playing chord tones and arpeggios as long as the line makes sense. So if you go from D7 (the V) to G7 (the tonic) you could walk the notes D F# A Ab G or D E F F# G. Think about how one chord can flow into the other smoothly. Basically think about your starting point and what notes are in that chord and think about where you're heading... for now just land on the root of the next chord.
    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  6. Jloch86


    Aug 1, 2016
    New Jersey
    It's about tension and release; creating a feeling of forward motion (walking). That's the basic essence of all music, creating interest by ebbing back and forth between tension and resolution.

    Try playing chord tones on beats one and three, and dissonant/approach notes on beats two and four. The dissonant notes create the tension and the chord tones release that tension. Thats my basic starting point. There's no real formula for creating a "perfect" walking bass line.

    You'll know a bass line is good when you're listening to a tune and for some reason you can't wait for the next instrument to take a solo. That's when a rhythm section is good.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2016
  7. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
    I recommend learning your favorite walking bass lines by ear. Even better, transcribe them to help you analyze why the line works in the context of the chords. I think the difference between arpeggios and great bass lines is musicality. A great bass line often combines arpeggios, chromatic ideas, root-fives, approach tones, and scale tones. You want to be able to hear a line in your head before you play it. If you're hearing the line in your head, it's usually musical. If you always use arpeggios, you risk sounding like a computer.
    As a starting point, I recommend Ray Brown's bass line on Natalie Cole's cover of Route 66. There's a transcription here on TB, but you'd get more out of it by doing it yourself. The point isn't to play Ray's lines note for note, but to hear and understand what he's doing so that you can the arrows to your quiver.
  8. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Yes there is a difference between chords and walking bass. One is vertical the other horizontal. Walking bass lines are melodies, arpeggios are the harmonic material that supports western music. How long it takes to bridge the gap is dependent on you and your abilities musically and your desire to get it.

    The fastest way to get there is to 1.) play with other musicians. 2.) Listen to music that is a good example of what you want to be playing. 3.) Get an app like "Band In A Box" or "iReal Pro" and play along. 4.) You're already in good hands with Ed Fuqua's material. Check out other books and learning tools like Ed Friedland's books and Hal Leonard stuff.
  9. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Fort Worth, Texas
    find all the blues recordings you can then listen and play along.
  10. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    That's the big question, when you say "sit down to play", what and who are you playing with? BinaB and other playalongs are tools that are useful for certain things, but developing the wherewithal to "create them on the fly" should include real world application, as BassChuck says. The richer the aural environment you surround yourself with, the more you are challenged to respond with a more nuanced voice. Remember, it's a conversation, and those are easier to have with people than with robots or recordings.
  11. lfmn16

    lfmn16 SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    I don't think there is an answer to this other than you will learn MUCH faster with a good teacher. There is nothing wrong with books and online tutorials, but you'll learn much quicker with feedback.
    SLO Surfer, LeeNunn and Coolhandjjl like this.
  12. I'd say you are well on your way. I bet in another 6 months, maybe less, you'll be walking some swinging basslines. I will say it's better to swing than worry a whole bunch about notes. The chord progression also dictates a lot of what is available. Practice on simple 12-bar Blues forms will help solidify many of these ideas.
  13. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    It was years (and years) ago, but when I learning and found that "got" what's going on in bass line to Stormy Monday, that was a pretty good day. Pick that line, or something like it and look at it in terms of 1, 3, 5, flat 5, etc, not the notes, but the notes in relation to one another. When you get that, it's a pattern, and it's portable, meaning, you can take it to different spots on the neck. So, yea, do that and you're pretty much improvising....
    jmattbassplaya and Plectrum72 like this.
  14. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    listen, learn , play along with lots of SRV & Double Trouble ... Tommy Shannon

    i really agree with direction ... walking from 1 chord to the next , seamlessly ... don't arrive early or late !!
  15. Play....play,play,play. Make mistakes, lots of them. Don't be afraid of them. In time, you'll remember them and omit them. Learning to "swing" and the rythemic possibilities are what makes great walking lines. Throw in slides and hammer ons. It's woodshed time! Have fun with it, Don't worry about"greatness" yet.
    Groove Doctor and Wfrance3 like this.
  16. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    The answer to the original question depends...

    Doing a walking bass line to "Rudolph the red nose reindeer:"can be done a lot sooner than a line for some intricate jazz tune with a lot of strange chords. I've been capable of doing the first well for decades. Not so good at the second yet.
    vishalicious and Pdaddy1978 like this.
  17. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    Walking bass is a lifelong study. There are an infinite number of ways to connect the dots. Start with blues then II V I turnarounds, etc. etc. I've been trying to learn this for 45 yrs and still can learn a lot. Don't be afraid to play non chord tones on 2 & 4.
    DeltaTango likes this.
  18. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    There's a series of videos by Chris Fitzgerald on YouTube that are really good. You might want check them out. First one on walking bass lines can be found here.
    DeltaTango likes this.
  19. Antisyzygy


    Dec 8, 2014
    Ive been trying to learn how to do this appropriately as well.

    Most of the time I just fill in notes between roots for what sounds good, then practice it to memorize it, but it would be nice to have some patterns I have memorized that I can use. I guess more of a theoretical approach for what notes sound good where.

    I'm familiar with diatonics, modes, chord construction, (I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii) etc. I just don't have them memorized. I have to sit there and play the scale to figure it all out, and then I don't know immediately that some leading note is going to work like it does in an old Motown record or something.
  20. Montana Matt

    Montana Matt

    Sep 15, 2015
    I don't like commercials
    My instructor gave me this formula in regards to creating walking basslines.
    1st beat: Chord tone (1,3,5,7)
    2nd beat: Scale tone (2,4,6)
    3rd beat: Chord tone (1,3,5,7)
    4th beat: Leading tone (1/2 step, full step, 4th, or 5th above or below your next chord tone)
    I have found the leading tones are the most important thing in a good walking line.

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