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The "Slow-Track" method for walking bass

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Mike Goodbar, Jul 27, 2012.

  1. I don’t know about the other teachers on this Board, but I’m often approached by band directors wanting to “fast-track” a bass student for an upcoming festival or contest. They ask something like, “Cody just switched from viola to bass in September. Can you teach him how to play a walking bass line in time for contest in December?”

    I can’t imagine what kind of shortcuts they think I know, but I’d like to show the band director the following, which is how I learned (am still learning) on the slow-track to play a convincing walking bass line. Of course, this phillipic is strictly autobiographical and there's some exaggeration (not much), but it shows that even if you have good teacher, there's a lot of groundwork to lay:


    1. First, learn to play the piano, with emphasis on scales and arpeggios. It will help you with the theory portions mentioned later in this method. This will take at least 3 years.
    2. Find a good teacher to show you the correct technique. Study strictly classical (arco) technique for approximately three years in order to acquire the proper left-hand facility needed to shift smoothly, play in tune and not hurt oneself. Make sure lessons include learning all major, minor and diminished scales and arpeggios. It helps to join your school orchestra and then community symphony to learn to sight-read, play “ensemble” and follow a director.
    3. Learn music theory, including all scales, key signatures, chord qualities (major, minor, augmented, diminished) and cadences. Learn to identify intervals and cadences by ear. Learn how voices within chords lead into the next. Learn to sight-sing melodies and chord progressions. This takes about two years.
    4. Join your high school and college jazz ensembles. In the charts they provide, many of the basslines are written out and have chord symbols above them. Using your music theory knowledge, study how the written-out bassline relates to the chord symbol. When confronted with a chart that has no written-out line, use your music-theory knowledge and experience playing written out lines to help you construct your own walking line. The first ones might be simple arpeggios starting on the tonic, but after a year or two of doing this, you will get a feel for how the line can flow more naturally.
    5. Play with a series of obnoxious but highly skilled and experienced drummers who constantly yell at you first for dragging, then for speeding up, then for playing too far behind the beat, then too far ahead of it. Don’t disagree with them because they know what they’re doing and you don’t really know what they mean, but do pay attention to how they play their ride cymbal. Try to match where you place your notes in relation to the beat with when they hit their ride cymbal. This seems to make them yell less.
    6. Listen to approximately 1,000 jazz recordings, paying attention to what the bass player plays. On your bass, try to copy what and how bass players you like play. Then, try to write the notes they play on music paper, then compare it to the chord progression of the tune in much the same way you did in jazz ensemble. Use some of their ideas when playing your own walking lines.
    7. Carry a Real Book to every gig, and only play tunes from this book because you don’t know that many tunes “by heart.” This will be no problem because most of the guys you play with are in the same boat. Do this for about 10 years. Then get called for a steady gig by a piano player who can’t read music and does not know any tunes from the Real Book. This will force you to start learning more tunes, recognizing common chord progressions, thinking in Roman numerals rather than chord names, and in general, trusting your ears. Start leaving your Real Book at home for all gigs. Do this for about 5 years. After this amount of time, you’ll find that you rarely even think about the chord progression and are starting to “play what you hear.” This will make your walking bass lines start sounding slightly less mechanical.

    After about 30 years using this method, I find that my walking has gotten to a good “jumping-off point.” I’ll use this hard-earned knowledge to get to someday get to the level of a really serious player (if I had the time to practice).
  2. GrowlerBox


    Feb 10, 2010
    Nude Zealand
    Thank you. :)
  3. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    I agree with everything, except...

    Piano is just WAY too big for a 4 year old to play. :eek:

    Depending on the age of the student and size, start on the violin (as small as 1/16 size).

    When my son was 4, he started violin (1/16 size). He just turned 12, and still plays the violin (quite well, 3/4 size). He started on a 1/10 size double bass at age 7, now plays on a 1/2 size.

    He has been in and currently is in a jazz ensemble. He has played with a few different drummers.

    He has a Real Book.

    Lessons, theory, listening to recordings from the earliest possible age is critical.

    He is approaching the end of your Point #7 - playing what he hears.

    You are spot on. I have proof. :D
  4. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Mike, agreed for the most part.

    One simple thing that often gets ignored by people looking for a quick fix is the absolute necessity of being able to play root- five in "two."

    I have had a dozen students who came to me with reasonable control over the instrument who couldn't play in "two" to save their lives.

    Surprise. If you're playing the bass, you need to play the root and fifth of the chord....
  5. powerbass

    powerbass Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    Thanks for this post, it reaffirms why I am having such a hard time learning to play jazz on the UB. Recently what I am thinking is, what we are doing with walking lines is creating interactive melodic and rhythmic lines similar to counterpoint in classical music. There is a lot of stuff to know and a lot of creative options open with a walking line. It's pretty complex territory.
  6. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    Oh man, I LOVE this thread. Thank you!
  7. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Oh yeah. There actually is an amazing shortcut.

  8. No, he takes care of that in #3 and #6.
  9. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Sadly it seems transcription these days is reserved for "advanced" players. I dig into it with most students within the first month. You can give someone a walking line and they forget it, and the concept, immediately. Transcribe it, and you get answers that would take a dozen lessons.

    Making transcribing and playing along with transcription a huge priority solves lots of puzzles simultaneously. You get better time, a better sound, honest feedback on pitch, functional vocabulary, and a sharper ear much quicker than working on these components individually, ime. Sort of like watering the root of a plant instead of the individual leaves... :)

    Of course you have to do all the other stuff too, but for getting kids to actually play jazz well in a hurry, transcription is an often overlooked tool.
  10. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    In terms of learning to walk, all of the ideas mentioned above sound good. But if I were to advise a school band teacher, I'd suggest more careful choice of repertoire. There are plenty of school band charts with fully notated bass parts, which would provide a beginner with a bit more gentle learning curve.

    I don't remember seeing large amounts of pure chord notation in school jazz band until the band was ready for slightly more advanced material.

    "There are some who are born walking, some who achieve walking, and some who have walking thrust upon them." I learned to play walking bass by getting roped into the school jazz band after having studied cello for a few years.
  11. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
  12. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    Mike, you cracked me up. Also, you taught me the word "phillipic".
  13. pan1k


    Sep 16, 2011
    Las Vegas, NV
    What are some good tunes / players to begin transcribing?
  14. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Take a Ray Brown blues where he plays the heads in 2. It'll take you about an hour to transcribe if you go note by note. Play along with it every day for a week. Note how much better your feel and sound are after that week.
  15. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I would go simpler.... I love RB - his tickety-tak lines are awesome but can be a little too hard to being with. I got alot out of Houston Person & Ron Carter's "Something in Common" and worked out transcriptions from there. RC is very easy to hear and has lots of examples of broken 2 feel and basic walking that is fairly melodic.

    Mack the Knife or I Thought About You would be a good place to start.

    For Ray Brown, Soular Energy is def an album to get.
  16. pbass888

    pbass888 Supporting Member

    Jul 8, 2009
    New York, NY
    I am not a teacher but these have really helped me, specifically RC and soular energy.
  17. NicholasF

    NicholasF Guest

    Jan 17, 2012
    I like the Ray Brown tune, i dont love the method.

    The most constructive way to transcribe is the same way you learned,or rather, i learned to read.

    We dont read letter by letter, we see a series of letters and sometimes un aware skip over letters going word by word,phrase by phrase.

    Sit down with a med tempo blues. You are going to need something to play a reference note, preferably a piano, but a single not tuner will do. Take a small chunck of the song, and listen to it. Now sing it. Take your reference note and play it while you sing it, you know your reference note, and you're using a basic solfedge to find the other notes, instead of playing and pausing every half second. Is the song too fast? You have 2 options, invest in a program like The Amazing Slower Downer, or pick a different song and come back to it.

    My $0.02

    Post #420 you should feel special OP
  18. powerbass

    powerbass Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    I have yet to transcribe a tune (it is on my list of have to's for this fall) but I have been working on various Ray Brown transcriptions my bass teacher has done. He will talk me through various parts, how Ray works the changes, motifs etc. They are also great technical exercises I've enjoyed working on. I am amazed at Ray's playing, he was truly a virtuoso. He gets such a great sound out of his bass too!
  19. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Ray is the bee's knees, and it isn't hard to find a perfect bassline from the master in "2."

    If you don't know how to analyze it or explain every note, learn some basics on the piano. FWIW, this should be a given as well.

    Take any simple bassline from one of the masters and learn it note for note, by ear. You'll never look back on your time doing so and see it as time wasted.
  20. Jordan S.

    Jordan S.

    Mar 25, 2012
    NSW, Australia
    Blacksheep Effects Pedals
    Sub'd, so I can keep referring to this for the next 30 years.

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