questions about walking bass in jazz

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Aor82, Apr 15, 2017.

  1. Aor82


    Apr 15, 2017
    Hi all!

    I have several questions about walking bass in jazz:

    1. in jazz standards, when I create a walking over m7 and maj7 chords, should I apply modes over them for the walking purpose? or is it enough to relate a major scale(Ionian) for maj7 chord and minor scale(Aeolian) for m7 chord?
    for example, when I create a walking over gm7 chord in Cm scale, should I apply a phrygian mode over it? or just a minor scale(Aeolian) over it?

    2.regarding dom7 chords in minor scale, Could I use a (normal) mixolydian mode for any dom7 chord even in minor scale? Or should I apply a mixolydian b9 b13 mode or another variation of it for dom7 chords in minor scale?

    3. I attached a document with 2 instructional walking bass choruses with chromatic approach over blues standard. could anyone identify the theory behind them? what are the scales/modes and rules behind them?


    Attached Files:

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  2. Jloch86


    Aug 1, 2016
    Using specific modes to outline chords isn't necessary unless you're playing a modal piece, like this (where each "section" is based on one chord):

    There are scales that match up with certain chords, but if you're just playing standards and walking, sticking to 1-3-5-7 with approach notes here and there will get you hired 100% of the time. Leave the complicated stuff to the soloists.
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  3. Aor82


    Apr 15, 2017
    Thanks, but what about the tension notes? we are supposed to use them in our walking.
    where should I get them from? from the related mode of the chord I play walking on? or can I just use Ionian an Aeolian (major and minor scales?) for maj7 and m7 chords?
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  4. No you don't need to outline the tensions. Leave the tensions for the soloist or piano/guitar. The basic chord tones, and approach notes (chromatic above and below, and tritone) are the meat and potatoes.
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  5. Jloch86


    Aug 1, 2016
    Check out what Schlyder said above. I agree 100%. Oh, and for m7 chords, use Dorian. Save Aeolian for mb6 chords.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
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  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Any chance you could share --with us where this excerpt comes from? It looks like chorus 8 and 9 of a 12-bar blues performance. You didn't include choruses 1-7, and it looks like there is more that comes after, so we don't really have any context to help you analyze this walking bass line. Did YOU write this bass line? Is it a transcription of a famous bass player's performance from an actual recording? Is it from an instructional book? Is it an example of "here is a general purpose walking bass line" or rather "here is an illustration of a particular concept called chromaticism"? Without knowing anything about who wrote this music, or in what context, or why, I am really just taking a shot in the dark. That said, here is my best guess to answer your question:

    To answer your question "what are the scales/modes"? it is obvious to me that the composer of this walking bass line is not thinking primarily about "scales" or "modes." That is not how walking bass lines are written (at least according to the person who wrote your example walking bass line, I suspect).

    The only thing to do is go measure by measure and actually analyze the music. I'll do the first few measures to get you started. You'll have to do the rest of the hard work yourself. ;)

    Measure 1: The chord is F7, and 3 out of 4 notes (F, A, and C) are chord tones of F7. On beat 4 (a "weak beat") the composer uses a chromatic passing tone (B natural) to connect from chord tone C to chord tone Bb in the next measure.

    Measure 2: In my opinion, this is a "chord substitution." The bassist is implying Gmin7-C7-F, the ultra-important "two five one" progression that every jazz musician absolutely MUST know. Looking at it from that perspective, we see that 3 out of 4 notes are chord tones (Bb is the root of Bb7 or the 3rd of Gmin7; C and E are the root and 3rd of C7). On beat 2 (a "weak beat") the composer uses a chromatic passing tone (B natural) to connect from chord tone Bb to chord tone C.

    Measures 3 and 4: Same chord for 2 measures, so I will analyze them together. A common chord substitution would be to play F9 instead of F7. If you think of the chord as two bars of F9, then 6 out of 8 notes (F, G, A, C, F, A) are chord tones of F9. The composer uses 2 chromatic passing tones, both on the "weak beats": F# to connect chord tone F to chord tone G, and G# to connect chord tone G to chord tone A.

    That's all the music theory I have time for on this beautiful Easter Sunday. You'll have to take it from here.

    Let's imagine though that for some very strange reason, you had to learn to play walking bass, using ONLY these 4 bars as your instructional materials. What "rules" can we come up with using ONLY the first 4 bars of this mysterious, author-unknown blues line as our textbook?
    1. Play approximately 75% chord tones, especially on the strong beats 1 and 3.
    2. Chromatic notes are a useful tool to pass from one chord tone to another, especially on the weak beats 2 and 4.
    3. Chords may be substituted in keeping with the harmonic vocabulary of jazz. For example, you could add a 9th to a dominant 7th chord, or imply a ii-V-I progression.
    4. Concepts like "scales" and "modes" are not necessary to understand this type of bass line.
  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I eschew Modes or scales for composing walking bass lines.
    The hierarchy of note choices is:
    1. roots
    2. chord tones
    3. other tones
    1 & 2 come form the chord changes, 3 comes from your ears (just know enough not to clash with the melody /extensions)
    applying Modes and scales to it is unneeded complication IMHO.
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  8. What I think I hear from your questions is the act of harmonizing with the melody notes (using a full R-3-5-7 set of chord tones) and moving to the next chord is one process. I see this as being a two step venture. Harmony and movement are two specific items.

    I assume you are talking about a melody solo and not a bass line. Aeolian is said to produce a sad mood, I really do not hear sad, I hear minor. Phrygian does have a Middle Eastern mood. So if you want a Middle Eastern mood over the sad mood, be my guest. But, what are you going to play over some of the other chords? Most songs have one mood. Play a different mood over each chord, well, there is a better way of going about this. Namely pick one mood and use that over the entire song. We also need to get into or past walking before we go too far into any other discussion. If you would omit walking over Gm7 and just say playing over Gm7 most of what I say below could be omitted.

    When I create a walking bass line between two chords I use the chord tones of the chord I'm playing over -- and then something to tie the two chords together -- that something is where the walk comes in. Two things in play here 1.) harmony from the chord's tones then 2) something to tie the two chords together. OK what is used to walk into the next chord? A chromatic note above or below the next root note, or the next chord's dominant note because that note wants to move to it's parent's tonic note. Then there are a zillion other things that can be used to move from one chord to the next. Books have been written on this subject. But, like most things if we keep it simple it seems to work out best when we are learning how to walk. The ole Country walk of missing the next root by three frets, then walk to it one fret at a time is a no brainer and normally what I do if I'm walking.

    Sometime walking bass lines are looked upon as being any full set of chord tones, i.e. if you have R-3-5-7 in the bass line you are using a walking bass line. I do not see it that way. I see that R-3-5-7 as being every other note in the scale which makes it a shoe in as a great harmonizing chord, but, we have done nothing about walking to the next chord. And it's here you start asking about modes, etc --- So I'm going to take for granted your question deals more with modal than walking.

    Your question asks about what to play over a dom7 chord --- To answer your question about using mixolydian over a minor dom 7 chord. I do not play different modes over different chords. Why? I think I've already mentioned that each mode has a mood. If I switch moods three or four times in a song -- normally songs do not change moods that often and is one of the pit falls with newbys to modes. Pick one modal mood, work up a modal vamp that fits that mood and go that way. And with doing that I'm playing either major or minor stuff. If I'm playing minor I use the minor modes, Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygian and Locrian. If I'm playing major I use the major modes, Ionian, Lydian or Mixolydian.

    Here is a modal backing track using modal vamps for you to play a mode over.
    The one thing we need to understand here is those modal vamps are usually no more than two chords, the tonic and one more chord that has the signature note of the mode, i.e. natural 6 for Dorian, #4 for Lydian, b7 for Mixolydian, b2 for Phrygian and b2 and b5 for Locrian. The vamp drones that signature note - there is no V-I resolution so your modal melody can develop into a modal mood.

    I'm going to leave #3 alone and refer you to the following post on how to use modes. Modal Harmony

    Save some time - leave modes to the solo instruments - guitar guys get off on modes, I'm never asked to lay down a modal vamp. It's all tonal - I-IV-V with some ii, iii and vi thrown in. My Country is all major and I-IV-V7, now Praise will use all seven of the chords in a lot of the songs. But, again both of them are tonal there is no modal in anything I do in public. Jazz is played in Dallas and Shreveport, but, not in my neck of the woods.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2017
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  9. Aor82


    Apr 15, 2017
    Thanks for this great analysis!!!!
    These choruses was taken from instructional book by Jhon Goldsby I once got from my teacher. The choruses before were just chord tones, approach tones and scale tones. Nothing mysterious.
  10. Aor82


    Apr 15, 2017
    In case I want to connect chord tones (which appear in 1+3 beats in a measure) with scale notes, in order to do things right, I need to know whether the scale notes I choose to connect chord tones with are chromatic or not. this is what I've learnt. There is where my questions were came from.
  11. I'll try and answer it this way. First, what are the chord tones we normally use? Answer the R-3-5-7 or every other one in the chord's name scale. Why? Any chord is made by taking the chord's name scale C, D, what ever and then skipping notes in that scale. R-3-5-7.

    Depending on the song this can be just one root note at the chord change and nothing else, or a root note on the first beat and the third beat. Dirt simple drum patterns can and do have the kick drum happening on the first and third beat with the other things in the drum kit being used on the 2 and 4 beat.... That's a pretty good guide - root first and then the next most important note on the 3rd beat. For example R--R-- or R--b3-- or R--5--, etc.

    Your question that I've put in bold - I'm not sure what you are stating or asking here, sorry.

    Chromatic notes are notes that have no skips in them, i.e. C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F# or if your next root happened on the 4th string 8th fret a chromatic walk could start on the 4th string 5th fret and advance one fret per beat.... Not sure that answers your question.

    Chord tones aka the 1-3-5-7 for bass lines.
    Notes of the scale for melody. And some like melodic bass lines. If you are one of them throw in some 2, 4, 6 and 8 notes into your bass line.

    More on walking. On the C chord now and the F is coming up. Walking to the F using chromatic notes can be done this way -- leave early and miss the F by one, two or three frets. Then walk to the F one fret per beat and be on it for the chord change. You have to time the leaving early part so you are on the F for the chord change. That is a chromatic walk to the next chord.

    If you are walking to the next chord your walk note or notes could look like this:
    R-3-5-X with X being one chromatic note from the next root. Or...
    R-3-X-X if you were doing a two note walk. Or...
    R-X-X-X if you were doing a three note walk.

    The three note chromatic walk has been used in Country for ever. When ever the guys hear that 3 note walk they know a change is coming and they listen for what note ends the walk. That note is the next chord's root.

    Hope I got close to what you are asking. Someone else may hit it.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
  12. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    The "theory" behind chromaticism is very simple: chromatic notes build tension and chord tones release tension.
    It appears in most music as one of two things:
    1. approaching roots/ chord tones from a half-step above or below.
    2. approaching roots/ chord tones from a string of half-steps.
    Rhythmic placement is what makes it work.
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  13. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Inactive

    Nov 20, 2000
    Harrison Mills
    A lot of people tend make this more complex than it needs to be.

    Most of the standard jazz literature is based on chords not modes or scales. Yes there are exceptions like Miles but lines built on chord notes are the primary foundation of jazz walking bass. Within a particular key you can (and need to be able to) associate a scale with a chord but when composing bass lines do not get bogged down in thinking about what scale goes "over" what chord. It doesn't matter, jazz standards are chord based and the chord notes are the money notes. People like Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Lorenz Hart, Dorthy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein etc. who wrote many of the most played tin pan alley/show tune jazz "standards" were not thinking in terms of scale progressions they were thinking in terms of chord progressions. So were the bassists who made jazz recordings of their songs like Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, Oscar Pettiford, Butch Warren, Charles Mingus, George Duvivier etc.....and so should any bass player who wants to sound authentic playing this music. Understanding the tradition and respecting the intent of the composer is essential.

    It's not that complex but it is a lot of work. The first goal is to play great walking lines using chord notes ONLY. The function of a walking jazz bass line is to clearly state the chord changes melodically. It takes years. Stop a moment to wrap your mind around that.

    (no, really. stop and let that sink in)

    HERE is an outstanding method posted by Talkbass gem Ed Fuqua (buy his book) that gives good perspective on the time frame involved. Not weeks or months. Years...decades....a lifetime. A serious mofo like Rufus Reid who in his late fifties was taking lessons with Rabbath and is still working and practicing well into his seventies a good example. Most of us don't, won't or can't go that deep into it. Don't let that stop you but get rid of any illusions of arriving anywhere fast enough to know you've arrived. Just do the work and see where it takes you.

    I don't think in terms of non-chord tones being notes of a scale or mode. I understand they can be but playing an obvious A over a Cmaj chord I'm thinking about that chord becoming a Cmaj6 rather than having played VI of a C major scale. Superimposing scales over chord based standards is a clunky convoluted approach. That said you still need to practice scales A LOT. Not to be able to use them "over" chord changes but because they give you the sound of a key and the ability to navigate the instrument. And don't just run the scales up and back down. Practice them in intervallic patterns 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths etc. Practice them starting from the highest note down and back up and any other way you can think of. It needs to be a fluid evolving process that's musical every time you pick up the instrument. Avoid unmusical robotic drudgery at all costs.

    The only scale you need to think about actually using is the chromatic scale and you cannot practice it enough. Running the scale up and down the instrument is of limited value but playing patterns and licks chromatically will open doors you didn't know were there. It's the sound of passing notes; how diatonic notes relate to non-diatonic notes. Super important stuff.

    (wow, this post got waaaaay longer and more ranty than i'd intended so i'll shut the hell up now)
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  14. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    careful with the wording there!
    playing a spew of all 12 notes without context is of little value.
    There are no inherent guideposts for tension and release.
    (Though I'm sure that's not what Jeff truly means.)

    rather than thinking of or practicing the chromatic scale in its own right,
    I'd suggest adopting a mindset of practicing using chromatic notes and phrases against actual chord progressions.
    that is the context in which the chromatic scale can thrive.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
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  15. inanimate_carb


    Aug 11, 2016
    Most walking threads don't mention transcription and actively listening to and studying the masters of the style. It helps a lot to examine how they handle and navigate chord changes. I just don't hear those guys using scales or scale-type thinking. It's knowing the crap out of your chords in all their inversions and being able to react to them in the moment.

    The usual suspects can and do create amazing lines with only chord tones, or embellish with the aforementioned chromatic information. Chromatic information could present itself as approach tones, upper and lower neighbors, or encapsulations and not just a chromatic scale.
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  16. TedH


    Dec 6, 2014
    Westchester, NY
    Berklee method by Jim Stinnett and Dave Clark (condensed):
    1- Chord tones/scales
    2- Chromatic approach notes from above and below
    3- Focus on the money notes; the R, 1, 2, 3, 5; root doesn't always have to be on the chord change beat.
    4- When you think it's time to hit the 9, 13, etc, see points 1,2,3 above

    Improv comes after mastering the above, and quite frankly, Stinnett proved the above with an awesome solo only using steps 1-3 within a full octave. Mastery of the above will make you a great walking bassist.
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  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Inactive

    Nov 20, 2000
    Harrison Mills
    Holy feck guys don't take one part of my post that isn't clear and try to understand it out of context. When I said the chromatic scale was the only scale you need I should have just said practicing chromaticism is very important. In any case the comment was purely within the context of creating diatonic walking lines and needs to be read that way.

    Don't worry about where to start and stop because that's not how you use scales to make music. Think of scales as a sonic pallet to draw from not a formula to apply. Please entertain the possibility I'm not full of crap and that you might have to work to understand the importance of chromaticism in walking lines. It's annoying to have to quote myself but again:

    "playing patterns and licks chromatically will open doors you didn't know were there. It's the sound of passing notes; how diatonic notes relate to non-diatonic notes."

    Doors you didn't know were there....
    It's not about formulas it's about expanding how you are able to hear this kind of music. Exploring chromaticism will do that.

    Is that the only way you practice scales just running them up and down the instrument? You do need to be able to play scales up and down and around the instrument but that's relatively easily mastered and of limited musical value....unless you're trying to get your lines to sound like scales that is. Get Ray Brown's Bass Method and learn his clear simple method of working diatonic scales though intervals. Then do as he intended and experiment and expand on it.

    Chromaticism as used by players like Ray Brown to create walking lines has little to do with fundamentally altering the harmony of a tune. It's one concept of navigating through a set of diatonic chord changes. What I'm saying isn't original. Chromaticism is everywhere in jazz. You aren't required to understand this but dismissing it without understanding it is foolish. Advising others to dismiss what you don't understand is irresponsible.

    There are plenty of guideposts for playing chromatically on a diatonic chord progression: the notes of the chords.

    Quoting myself again:
    "Running the scale up and down the instrument is of limited value but playing patterns and licks chromatically will open doors you didn't know were there.

    Working through Patterns For Jazz by Jerry Coker will make a lot of what I'm on about here more obvious. Horn players tend to practice stuff like this a lot so in addition to showing you a good way of practicing chromatic patterns it has the side benefit of giving perspective on how horn players approach soloing. This will directly help to play better supporting walking bass lines with them.

    Although understanding notes outside the chord through chromaticism is a simple direct time honored approach worth exploring it's not the end-all be-all or something to overuse. It's just one sound among many (albeit an important one in a lot of jazz). Don't forget that I said the first thing to do is learn to play walking lines using only chord tones. Truth is working hard at that and listening a lot to great players will make much of the chromatic passing note stuff and the need to work on it pretty obvious.
  18. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I'm pretty sure I understood Jeff's context.
    I just wanted to make clear to beginner following the thread
    that "practice the chromatic scale" is not to be taken literally.

    May experienced players will say "there's really only one scale, the chromatic scale"
    and that's one of those bits of wisdom that are very true yet unenlightening to a beginner.
    Much like"if it sounds good, it is good"
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  19. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    what they mean by "there's really only one scale, the chromatic scale"
    is that they consider any of the 12 notes as an available choice at any point.
    don't be a slave to the key or scale or chord for your choices.

    of course as an experienced player, they are not going to simply spew random chromatic notes, they will be aware of harmony and the sound they are after
    (be a slave to your ears)
  20. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    "I've only read 1 book, the Dictionary. Cause, all the other books are in there."
    (Borrowed/Stolen from comedian Steven Wright.)
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