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Learning Walking Bass

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by David B Wilson, Aug 13, 2019.

  1. David B Wilson

    David B Wilson

    Nov 15, 2018
    What’s the best way to learn walking bass over jazz standards?
    Open to all ideas and or suggestions.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Hi Bassman!

    Mind if I answer your question with a couple of questions:

    1. What song is your favorite jazz standard?
    2. Who is your favorite jazz bassist, when it comes to walking bass?
  3. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Here's what I found when it comes to walking bass. You don't "learn how to play walking bass". You learn enough music theory that you're ABLE to play walking bass lines, and then you play what sounds/feels good when the song starts. ;)

    I'm actually being serious. You could spend YEARS trying to remember the "correct" passing notes or the "proper" scale tones.

    But if you delved in and wrapped your head around theory, it would all just "make sense" while you're reading the chart and playing off of the rest of the band.

    In my experience there are two kinds of walking bass lines players.

    1) The guy/gal who simply learned the bass lines to famous songs (like Pride and Joy) and simply plays those tried and true walking lines over and over.... having no idea WHY these bass lines work.

    2) The guy/gal who knows theory and is able to simultaneously lead AND follow the band and sounds ridiculously good doing so. His/her lines are musical and tasteful. He/she is able to add to the song while staying in a support role.

    Don't be the first guy. :cool:
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
    Mikey3, LarryBama, T Bassman and 19 others like this.
  4. David B Wilson

    David B Wilson

    Nov 15, 2018
    To the the two questions:
    I like: Under My Skin, Fly Me To The Moon, Ceora, Desafinado, Lady Bird.
    I really don’t have a favorite player- Chuck Isreals maybe just cause I kinda know his family.

    Ive mainly played rock, pop R and B for years. I know the bass neck well and understand chords. I’ve also studied chords tones, Major, minor dom scales.

    I have a bass teacher now who wants to take me back and teach me his walking bass method. Which is learning his vocabulary over the same jazz blues. Different iterations of 1-3-5 patterns with half step above below I’m talking many different variations and fingerings of the same thing. Kinda brutal, Monotonous.
    I Kinda feel like practicing chord tones, half step above and below my favorite standards might be just as effective and save me money each month.
  5. David B Wilson

    David B Wilson

    Nov 15, 2018
  6. Do you like the walking lines your teacher plays?

    Also, have you considered the fact that teachers monotonous routine is just the first step and that foundation will allow you to (eventually) play a walking line pretty much without thinking about it? Grunt work makes everything easier later on. But not wanting to do the work is a personal choice.
  7. David B Wilson

    David B Wilson

    Nov 15, 2018
    Good point
  8. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Okay so my recommendation is to transcribe the walking bass lines that Chuck Israels played on standards like Under My Skin, Fly Me To The Moon, Ceora, Desafinado, or Lady Bird.

    This will probably take you weeks (if not months) but please feel free to check back often and let us know your progress. :)
    Whousedtoplay and David B Wilson like this.
  9. David B Wilson

    David B Wilson

    Nov 15, 2018
    Appreciate it. Thanks for the reply
    It’s always a lot of work. No way around it I guess!!!
    Spin Doctor likes this.
  10. This is the answer. Walking bass note choice has to do with keys and chords, so learn music theory. Then once you have, follow these suggestions:
    • Choices. Don’t walk the same root-to-root the same way twice. You can walk up or down. You can walk like a scale, like a chord, chromatically, or a mixture. So that’s 8 different ways right there.
    • Read ahead. Always be one full chord change ahead. If you’re just now seeing the next chord on the downbeat, it’s already too late.
  11. DrewinHouston

    DrewinHouston Not currently practicing Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2009
    Houston Heights, Texas
    Disclosure: I am not a great bass player
    A good teacher can get you where you want to be quicker and easier than on your own. You have to make sure your goals and the teacher's goals are aligned.
    thabassmon and David B Wilson like this.
  12. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    IMHO you should do both. I.E. learn theory and also transcribe the work of masters. By trascribe I don't necessarily mean to write out. I mean learn to play the part by ear; but you could write it out if you like as well.

    In my experience it takes an extended time for the theory to sink in well enough where you can interpret a chord chart and play a walking bass line on the fly. During the interim transcribing recordings can be very useful.

    When I was in high school I played in a university jazz band for a couple of years. I knew how to read music notation, but I didn't have any experience with chord notation or any real foundation in music theory.

    The director gave me the music and recordings of all the tunes, and I learned to play the parts by ear while following along in the chord charts. Some of the charts were up to seven pages long and we stopped and rehearsed like any other University band. Obviously there is no way I could keep the note for note patterns straight in my head as we jumped around the charts during rehearsal. Instead I learned the patterns well enough that I could play them out of order over the chords, which for the most part just repeated from section to section.

    Decades later, after majoring in music and performing as a touring pro, there are times when I still need to study a progression in order to know the key centers If I really want to nail all of the non-chord tones, and often the key centers in jazz are ambiguous and up for interpretation. When I am performing, I shift in and out of different thought processes. Sometime I approach the music more from a theoretical standpoint and sometimes I play more by ear. I believe any music program at an accredited college or university will require you to study both music theory and ear training.
  13. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Two "songs" to put first on your list:
    Blues and variations
    Rhythm Changes

    between those two are 85% of the chord changes you are likely to encounter in Jazz.
  14. nilorius


    Oct 27, 2016
    Riga - Latvia
    Exactly.....there is no one jazz walking standart, when you play it by chords up or down fast, it just sounds like a standart line. Actualy it can be built very different.
  15. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011

    The process of learning to walk is incremental. If you already know your key signatures and chords shapes it's just a matter of slowing down and working through it. Unfortunately you have learned to run before you can walk, so it will be a bit frustrating for you do the necessary remedial work to find your place so you can progress.

    I took classical theory from a musical program at a junior college and it taught me my 7 chords, but it did not teach me to read jazz chord notation. I bought the Real Book 5th Edition out of some guys car trunk and started learning to read chord notation and how to walk while reading a lead sheet. By this time I had already played with a university big band and transcribed quite a few swing record lifts, so I had a good ear for the style.

    If you know your chord shapes and how to read chord notation, the next basic thing is the be able to play all of your chord shapes in all of the inversions. If you only play chord tones you don't have to even think about the key center because the chord tones are all spelled out in the notation. But this sort of arpeggiated walking line is somewhat rudimentary and gets boring if you don't shake it up with some none chord tones every know and then.

    When you are first learning to walk you will want to focus mainly on diatonic non chord tones, so you need to keep you key center in mind. Also keep in mind the bass's role is largely to provide a foundation for the rest of the music, so it's not a good idea to play too many non chord tones or play them in the wrong place. At this stage of your development try playing three chord tones and one non-chord tone. Also there is nothing wrong with playing the root on every downbeat until you get more advanced.

    When I am walking, I think of lines as being more arpeggiated or more linear. Arpeggiated lines stick very closely to the outlines of the chords with just a few non chord tones. Linear lines are more scalular in form, so you tend to have more non chord tones.

    Down the road you will also think about the difference between harmonic and rhythmic emphasis. I would tend to put more cord tones on 1 and 3, but swing puts a rhythmic emphasis on 2 and 4.

    In country music you will hear the terms walk up and walk down. These are a useful concepts in swing as well. The idea is the notes you choose should lead to the downbeat of the next bar. For example if you have A|D (I|IV) you might play AABC#|D/// or AG#F#E|D///

    Here's PDF on non-chord tones that you may find useful:
  16. Some good advice here. It's a long road but there are short cuts. The good news is that many jazz tunes share common sets of chords. Eg you can spend an afternoon exploring different ways of walking VI / II / V / I which will come into play in a huge number of tunes.
  17. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    i'd start with the blues ... i like SRV , stevie ray vaughn ...

    it's direction , ... keeping your Start and Finishing point in mind ...
  18. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    The important thing is to listen to what's happening around you and play to where it is going. As for developing walking skills, Mambo4 is spot on. Start with the basics. Blues and I Got Rhythm is the bedrock of jazz. Work through those changes and their common substitutes, and you'll be equipped for most of what you'll face

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