Root / Five walking

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Heli Bass, Jun 22, 2003.

  1. I'll try to keep this short & coherant.

    I play URB in a bluegrass band. Several of the songs we do have 4 to 6 bars of the same chord. root/5 gets old fast(I do keep time as the #1 job) I can usually figure a walking line to the next chord if it is a move up, but how do you walk down from a 5 chord to a 4 chord? ie from an 'E' to a 'D'.

    2cd question, if I want to move around within the chord but return to the starting position before the next change. example in a the key of 'A' I will play the 'A' string then the 'E' string (repeat for 5 bars) I have tried Root/5, root/5, root/3, 5/3, root/5, key change. I have tried different notes in the 'A' major scale, ending on either the root or the 5 before the key change. most of it sounds like ok notes being played but not inspired ( for lack of a better word)

    I have muddled my way through the posts on walking bass lines and they have helped, but my newness shows.


  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I have some ideas on this one, but I'd rather wait until a genuine Grasser gets a crack at this, as most of my ideas would be more along the lines of "Jump Swing" rather than grass. Good luck, and if no one in boots volunteers any info, I'll give it a shot.
  3. Add some variety by walking between octaves.

    Also, depending on which genre of 'grass you play, if the bass line is too busy, it takes away from the music. This is particularily true if you play the traditional style. There are times and tunes when we can get a little elaborate but for the most part our job is to provide a strong and rhythmic background. Some walking, tastefully done, really adds to the sound but there can easily be too much of a good thing.

    Just my opinion of course and you know there are lots of cute little metaphors about opinions and body orifices.
  4. Steve & Chris,;
    Nice pickup on the Heli Bass. However, it is a CH-47 Chinook or UH-60 Blackhawk I fly. (gotta have room for all the Bass stuff) :)
    I agree on the tasteful. Not all songs or every verse, but the group I play with likes it to be done at times ( I will admit to attempting to devise a slap bass solo to Remington Ride) The group plays pretty staight up gospel bluegrass. We (I) are trying to expand the acceptable boundries slightly.

    I do keep the three "T's" in mind: Timing, Taste, Tone.

    In walking between the octaves, do you use 1, 3, 5, 7, as an example? Should I be looking at something other than the major scale? Using the ear to see what fits best is always good, but where is a good place to start?

    Thanks for the 5-4 ideas. Some ideas from a swing perspective would be welcome.

  5. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I'm not sure if I qualify as a "genuine 'grasser", but I've played a lot of it. I also play a fair whack of jazz....

    In bluegrass I often try NOT to be as chromatic as when I'm playing jazz. In a situation as in connecting the IV and V in the key of A -- HB's first question -- my instinct would be to use the Eb chromatic passing tone, but I try to squelch those instincts a bit. Too much of that makes for a jazz line, not necessarily a line that is "traditional" for 'grass and country.

    My jazz instincts sometimes get me using the tritone to connect chords whose roots are separated by a fifth (i.e., V-I, VI-II, etc.) but it leads to the same "problem": a jazzy sounding bass line. (Which you WANT sometimes, by the way.)

    You've gotta learn your arpeggios and how to connect them all over the neck. Start on learning them in the lower positions first, then work on connecting (that will take years, by the way.)

    Even though I'm saying "use diatonic tones as much as possible", don't forget about your "blue" notes; they sound great in most 'grass. So, try slurring from a flat III to a III in your walk. Use the flat 7 when you can. The flat 5 isn't quite as welcome, as per the above...

    So, for your first question, try dropping down to the III of the starting V chord and walk back up to the I of the IV chord:

    E G# B C# D

    The same idea, but using a slur on the III of the starting V chord, this time walking up:

    E G/G# B C# D

    Thinking in terms of "connect the arpeggio", and using more than one octave of range, will get you moving away from plain ol' root five.

    Just make sure that every line you play isn't a simple outline of the chord. Anything gets old fast, but always remember that what you hear and what the audience hears are different things. You may be BORED by root five, but they are listening to the singer and the pickers, not you. Make sure whatever you're doing, you're laying down a rock-solid beat for those pickers to screw up. In bluegrass, the bass player is the ryhthm section all on his own. Sure, there will be a flatpicker or a mandolinist "chunking" on 2 and 4, but they can't make a tune feel like it's moving forward that way. The bass player does that with his feel, with the pop he gives beats 1 and 3. Gimme that good riddim feel and you can play root five all you want.

    I think it was in his "target note" writings that Chris Fitzgerald said something very wise. Whenever you're bored with the root five thing, remember all the GREATS who played it before you.
  6. FONDU is full of sound wisdom on moving around the neck and the role of the bass in bluegrass. A really good picker once told me that in bluegrass you never notice a really good bass player but a mediocre or bad one is noticed by everyone.

    I may be off bass but it takes a certain attitude to play the upright in bluegrass. The musician in you wants to show out a little and let everyone hear what you can do. However, our most important job is keeping the spastic fiddle and mandolin players in time and that means smooooth and steady.

    I also think your 1 3 5 7 works pretty well.