Improving walking bass lines - tips?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Tuur, Mar 26, 2020.

  1. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    Hi all,

    I'm interested in hearing from others how they go about practising their walking bass. I've got a reasonable understanding of constructing lines, chord tones, arpeggios, chromatics etc. and have done a few jam sessions which went pretty well.

    However, I find myself repeating a lot of the same patterns and would like to get a bit more creative with this -e.g. not always starting on the root, building longer lines over several bars. I recently got the Jazz Bass Classics book which I'm hoping to use to learn some vocabulary from the masters.

    Do you have any tips or experiences to share that may be helpful?

    Thank you!
    David Nichols likes this.
  2. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    I've picked this up on the DB side but forgot who to credit (my sincerest apologies if you read this):

    Take 4 bars of any tune. Maybe say the first 4 in Rhythm Changes
    * Focus on where the progression ends and land on the root of bar 4.
    * Starting on the root on beat 1 of the first beat, end on the root beat one of bar 4. Make up a few different lines, each time different from previous.
    * Following the same concept, make bars 1&2 ascend to roots, bars 3&4 descend to roots. Do it a few times, each time trying to make it different than the previous. Can you make 10 different lines as a challenge?
    * Change it up, descend on the first 2 bars, ascend on last two. Rinse and repeat. Up down down up. Up Up Up down. Down Up up Down, etc. etc.

    Then start all over again but target the 5th in any bar except the last (still ending on 1). Then all over again focusing on the 3rd.
    By now how many permutations do we have? I dunno? like 100 different lines?

    Then when you get tired of all that, just play and make walking line melodies.
    Again, why should this be hard? Keep doing it until it becomes somewhat natural.

    Once you've done this for just 4 bars, take the approach to an entire tune. Can you carry a single motive throughout a single chorus? Maybe repeating it a few times and then coming back to it at the end of the chorus? Pretty hard but pretty cool if you can swing it.
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Three words:

    Transcribe Ray Brown
  4. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    The formulas that take you from one chord to the next one are like the words of spoken language. You can start by exploring various options for those "words", and practice them in all keys. Thus you start building up your vocabulary.

    Next, you can combine those "words" to make "sentences", i.e., forming basslines for various chords progressions, typically 2 to 4 bars long progressions. You also need to develop materials for the rests of the chord progressions, i.e., when the progression rests for 2 bars on a (usually tonic) chord. As improvising this in real time is really difficult, you can start this process by writing (composing) your basslines, and play them a lot in many diffrent keys, in order to get them in your ears and under your fingers. Writing (composing) your lines is useful because it gives you the opportunity to explore and discover ideas that you would not get to "on the fly" when improvising. Then those lines can become part of your vocabulary and become usable in improvisation.
  5. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    worrying about note choice is inferior to worrying about feel! ;)
  6. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    Thanks Nashrakh! That is some really helpful practical advice that I will definitely be trying out!
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  7. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    Yes, definitely one of the greats. I transcribed the C Jam Blues on which he played and it was quite an eye opener!
  8. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    Many thanks for the advice, Papageno. Very interesting!
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  9. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    But maybe if you don't have to worry about note choice you can focus more on feel? :)
  10. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    i'm suggesting that if you can cop the feel (per tune) = note choices tend to take care of themselves.

    also: unless the tune calls for it: walking "patterns" aren't really a thing. also: whether you play a root on one is more determined by what the other cats in the band are playing and how 'out' you feel you want to take things. also: many soloists will ask you to place the root on one for them, so there's that.

    before i post any more on the subject (in this thread) maybe you could give some examples/links to what it is you're trying to study. some context may be appropriate for best responses. thanks in advance. ;)
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  11. pappabass

    pappabass Inactive

    May 19, 2006
    Alabama !! Roll Tide
    Be concerned about the note also. You can use the pentatonic scale, but be careful of the 3rd and 7th in the scale.(key of "C" it would be the 'e' and 'b' notes. I did not say don't play it. But sometimes it don't "fit"
    Listen to blues bassists, you will learn all the waking you want!
    Even better black gospel music!
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2020
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  12. IMO the most important thing is to stop asking what the next note should be and start asking why instead. The answer to that question should usually change in different sections of a song, and also from one song to the next.

    For example, if you listen to Moondance by Van Morrison, what appears to be primarily a rhythm part on bass is actually more of a harmony part during the verses. The guitar and piano are really holding down the rhythm role while the bass harmonizes with the vocal.

    If you play a straight, simple blues walking pattern, the harmony disappears. If you move it down an octave, the harmony is intact, but not as effective. Move it up an octave and the harmony is fine, but the bottom end disappears.

    For the chorus, the bass shifts gears to move with the other instruments. Instead of harmonizing with the vocal, it creates movement underneath it, which also helps delineate one section from another.

    Look around for resources on walking jazz bass lines. An actual teacher is best, but there are some excellent books, as well as a lot of videos and webpages on the subject. Even if you never play a note of jazz, the concepts you learn, particularly about functional playing, will apply to any kind of music.

    Also, Ray Brown. You could listen to him for the rest of your life and never stop learning.
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  13. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    I'm trying to practise jazz standards that are commonly called at jams. Some examples of tunes I've been working on are Autumn Leaves, All the Things You Are, Beautiful Love, C Jam Blues. I feel I can find my way through them and play to an adequate standard to support the rest of the band, but not sure where to take it from here. It would be great to find some ways of practising at home to improve my lines, make them a bit more interesting and explore other possibilities. Does that make sense?
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  14. Tuur


    Aug 9, 2018
    Many thanks for your response, Rich. Another interesting perspective. I don't actually know Moondance so I'll have a listen.

    Definitely agree with your suggestion of Ray Brown. One of my favourites!
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  15. The Deep

    The Deep

    Jul 21, 2017
    Here’s a few solid ideas

  16. The thing that helped me the most with note choice, was music theory. Most specifically, knowledge of chords, keys, and progressions. It’s too much to go into, so I’m going to assume the reader has a handle on those. If you don’t, it is time well spent.

    When it comes to variety, remember:
    • There are four ways to walk. Like a scale, like a chord, chromatically, or a mixture.
    • There are two directions to walk. Up or down.
    So with four types, and two directions, that gives you 8 choices per chord change. That’s good variety.

    Regarding non-root starts, don't do this arbitrarily. There’s only a few progressions, and a few special circumstances (pedals, ostinato, suspensions) that support it. If you don’t know why to do it, best to avoid it—sure, it’s fun acrobatics for bassists, but the listener still prefers the predictable stability of linear, root-to-root motion.
  17. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    OP, dreamadream99 just gave you the keys to the kingdom! good luck with your walking! :thumbsup:
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  18. That has got to be the most simple but informative guide I've seen on walking bass lines. If you follow his directions, even a NOOB could have a great sounding walking bass line.:thumbsup:
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  19. MichelD


    May 19, 2014

    The Art of Walking Bass: Master Class Series Paperback – Sep 1 1999

    by Bob Magnusson (Composer)

    4.6 out of 5 stars 19 ratings

    See all 5 formats and editions

    (Musicians Institute Press). This comprehensive source for learning to build melodic walking bass lines in all styles pulls together lessons from MI elective courses. The online audio includes 31 full-band tracks and demonstrates the exercises in the book. Topics covered include: intervals, chord symbols, and key centers; passing tones, chromatic tones, surround tones, sequences, and bypassing changes; blues, rhythm changes, II-V-I progressions, and other common progressions. In standard notation and TAB.

    I have the same problem, always falling back on the same muscle memory patterns. I've been studying this book. I can't transcribe. I can't tell what notes are what from listening to solos.
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  20. MichelD


    May 19, 2014
    I jam on these things on Youtube all the time.

    Pick a tune. It's probably there.
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