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Walking Bass Line Myths Exposed!

Discussion in 'Lessons & Articles' started by TalkBass, Sep 20, 2005.

  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <h1 align="center">Walking Bass Line Myths Exposed! </h1> <p align="center"><strong>By Pete Coco</strong></p> <p>Jazz is an incredibly difficult music to play in many ways. It is technically demanding, harmonically advanced, and extremely interactive. For a young musician just beginning to dive into the art form, it can seem a daunting task. As a young bass player, I can remember having many ideas of what jazz was and was not, especially when it came to walking bass line construction. Many of my misconceptions about walking bass stemmed from a simple lack of harmonic and melodic understanding, as well as what I call an “aural” deficiency, which simply means I had not yet assimilated enough jazz history in the form of recordings. I believe that lots of young bass players share these same misconceptions and that they serve only to stifle musical progress. This article will address some of these myths in an attempt to provide some clarity and direction in constructing walking bass lines.
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    </p> <p>&nbsp; </p> <strong>Myth #1: The more harmonically complicated a bass line is, the better it is. </strong> <p>This is a myth that I believe many players fall prey to. As a young bassist, you see chord charts with symbols like A7(#9), Fm11, E13, and assume that you must incorporate these extensions (the 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths) into your bass line for it to sound hip. It becomes even more convoluted when these extensions become target notes used on the downbeat of the measure. The problem with a bass line like this is that the foundation can be easily lost amongst all the “hipper” notes. Since you are providing the foundation, it is important that the foundation is easily identified (especially when playing with less experienced musicians). The simplest way to do this is by incorporating the stronger chord tones into your bass line, i.e., the root, thirds, and fifths. Another reason why this straightforward way of playing works so well is because the piano or guitar player is already playing the extensions of the chords. Also, the soloist will appreciate that you are not stepping on their toes with your bass line, but instead providing a sure and solid foundation for him or her to blow over. Take a look at <strong>Example 1 </strong>, Paul Chambers' bass line over the bridge of “Stablemates.” On the Fm7 chord, Paul walks up the F minor scale to the fourth. Then he plays a Gb Major triad over the Gb13 chord. In the fourth bar, he will use a descending C Major arpeggio on the C7 chord, without even adding the seventh. </p> <h1><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image001.jpg"></h1> <strong>Myth #2: Never repeat the same note twice.</strong> <p>This particular myth is one that really bothers me, partly because many teachers perpetuate it. Although it is true that too many repeated notes can stifle a walking line, making it feel stagnant, sometimes repeated notes form the strongest bass lines and create drive and forward motion. Check out <strong>Example 2 </strong>, Ray Brown's bass line over the tune “Cool Walks,” a rhythm changes. Here he repeats each note twice throughout a four bar phrase. </p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image002.jpg"></p> <p>In Ray's bass line on “The Days of Wine and Roses,” he often repeats the same note twice in measures with two chords lasting two beats each, as in <strong>Example 3 </strong>. This is an extremely effective tool for establishing a strong sense of harmony.</p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image003.jpg"></p> <p>In <strong>Example 4 </strong>, Milt Hinton also repeats the same note twice on a measure with two chords lasting two beats each. As I said, the reason that lines like these work so well is because the harmony is presented in an extremely clear manner. In other words, there is no ambiguity to what chords are being played.</p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image004.jpg"></p> <p>This is also true when playing at fast tempos. Sometimes the simplest line can work best. Repeated notes also work well to create tension in the harmony. In <strong>Example 5 </strong>, Ray plays the note Bb five times in a row over the IV chord of the F blues “Au Privave,” a big no-no! In this example, repeating the Bb creates a tremendous amount of tension, which Ray releases in the next measure. This is a very effective harmonic tool, but it should be used sparingly. In this particular recording, Ray only uses it once throughout the entire tune.</p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image005.jpg"></p> <p><strong>Myth #3: Never repeat the same pattern twice. </strong></p> <p>It is easy to become lazy as a bass player when you are walking endless choruses on a 32 bar tune or a blues and begin to play the same patterns over and over. I am not condoning this type of playing by any means because using the same bass line chorus after chorus creates boring music for the entire band. What I am saying is that repeating similar or the same ideas or patterns can be done in an interesting and musical way. <strong>Example 6 </strong>is another Ray Brown bass line from “Au Priviave.” This example shows bar 9 of the blues progression. Ray uses these same four notes in the same place (bar 9 of the 12 bar form) three choruses in a row. As with <strong>Myth #2 </strong>, repeating this bass line doesn't make the tune feel stagnant, but instead solidifies the form of the tune.</p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image006.jpg"></p> <p>In <strong>Example 7 </strong>, Israel Crosby's bass line on “Angel Eyes,” Israel repeats this pattern or a variation many times throughout the tune, using it in the A sections.</p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image007.jpg"></p> <p>Also see <strong>Example 8 </strong>, Ron Carter's bass line from “Yardbird Suite.” Ron repeats this exact pattern twice, and also uses variations on this same basic pattern for many other A sections.</p> <p><img width="576" height="108" src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image008.jpg"></p> <p>In all of these examples, using the same idea more than once or similar ideas does not make the line seem inactive or sluggish, but on the contrary, creates cohesion throughout the form of the tune. Just remember one thing. Sometimes it's the variation of a simple pattern that really makes a great bass line, and keeps it from sounding repetitive. Great bass players can take a simple line and create a seemingly endless amount of variation from it. Again, I'm not saying you should repeat the same pattern over and over in the same place – that would just be plain boring!</p> <p><strong>Myth #4: The more rhythmic variation, the better. </strong></p> <p>Although rhythmic variation can add tension and forward motion to a bass line, it is important to know how and when to use this device. Many times inexperienced players will use a lot of triplets, broken walking lines, and rhythmic drops as a way to mask poor note choice in their bass lines. This not only creates a poor walking line, but it also detracts from the entire band, and the whole musical experience. In Red Mitchell's bass line over “Billy Boy,” Red will walk an entire 32 bars using only quarter notes, except for one beat where he uses two eighth notes. In Milt Hinton's bass line on “Three Little Words,” he also will walk a 32 bar chorus with only one rhythmic variation, again using just two eighth notes. The reason why these bass lines are so effective is because the note choice is so good that Milt and Red don't need to use a lot of rhythmic variation. In other words, the harmony is presented in such a clear manner that the bass lines are enjoyable <em>because </em> of the notes they use, not because of constant changes in the rhythm. A great example of how to use rhythmic variation effectively is Ron Carter's bass line on “No Greater Love,” from the Miles Davis album, <em>The Complete Concert 1964: My Funny Valentine &amp; Four &amp; More. </em> Here, Ron uses rhythmic devices including triplets, eighth notes, and anticipations, but the pulse remains constant and swinging. This is also a great example because Ron walks one chorus alone while Miles solos. It is a true lesson on how to accompany a band as well as how to interact with a soloist. So get it and listen to it! </p> <p><strong>Myth #5: The most important aspect of a walking bass line is note choice.</strong></p> <p>Yes, this is a myth! There are many aspects to walking bass lines, and all of them are important. One of the major hurdles in walking is developing a solid rhythmic/time feel. You might pick all great notes to walk through, but if your time isn't solid as a rock, and if it doesn't feel good to the rest of the band, it really doesn't matter. No one will hire a bass player that they cannot depend on for a solid foundation. Developing a good rhythmic feel is always something young or inexperienced bass players struggle with. In my opinion, there is no cut and dry way to make your bass playing feel good to the rest of the band, and the audience, but I believe there are some ways you can practice that will help. One way is to play along with great jazz records. Take any of the classics, and just play along with the band as if you were the bass player. Another way—perhaps the best way—to practice feel is to play with as many varied bands as possible. Play with big bands, sextets, trios, duos, etc. Make sure you play in some combos that don't include a drummer, because this will force you to keep the pulse steady. As far as developing time feel, the best way is to practice <em>slowly </em>, with a <em>metronome </em>. Play scales and walking bass lines with your metronome set as slow as possible, and concentrate on keeping the time solid. If you are able to play a solid walking line at extremely slow tempos, you will definitely have less problems playing at medium and medium-up tempos.</p> <h1>Conclusion </h1> <p>Constructing a good walking bass line is much more difficult than most non-bass players probably realize. There are so many factors to consider, and one can spend a lifetime learning how to walk. This article only presents a few elements of good walking bass lines. In my opinion, the best way to learn how to walk is by learning from the masters. Check out what Ray Brown played over the blues. Learn Paul Chamber's or Ron Carter's walking lines on a rhythm changes. Assimilate Milt Hinton's bass line on a 32 bar form. Listen to, and transcribe, bassists like Red Mitchell, Israel Crosby, Oscar Pettiford, Sam Jones, Slam Stewart, George Duvivier, Percy Heath, and Wilbur Ware, and I'm sure you will learn the elements of a strong walking bass line, as well as debunk any myths you may have! </p>
    dabassr and John F Hebert like this.
  3. mikjans


    Dec 17, 2003
    Uppsala, Sweden
    Aaaaah-men!! Walking is about getting someplace, not about the movement of limbs.

  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    PREACH IT, brother Coco!
  5. Porkphatgrooves


    Nov 18, 2005
    This is such a good post to consider Mr. Coco. Thank you for righting it. I especially like the point you made in your conclusion where you said, "Constructing a good walking bass line is much more difficult than most non-bass players probably realize." This is true even of bass players new and old. Until just recently I had the opinion that walking the bass was easy and any monkey could do. Now I'm thinking that monkeys are smarter then me.
    The lesson I am learning now is this. A person can be an efficient technical bassist but if you haven't created at least a foundation in walking the bass you will be deficient as a bassist and musician. To remedy this have joined a blues band and it is harder then I thought to making a supportive, free flowing groove. This is good counsel for me and any one else who has had the same flawed opinion.
  6. anonymous8547j7d7b

    anonymous8547j7d7b Guest

    Jul 1, 2005
    Bummer! Us DB jazzers were enjoying the air of mystery up 'til now :( !!!! Seriously though, cool stuff - exactly what I needed to hear when I started out (and spent a couple of very confusing years until I did).
  7. Amen to this, Its so challenging Im 21, and ive been playing two years, i initially played guitar, but became a convert to the way of The Low End. I had been in Good shap for awhile, then my applied major requirement was Walking The Bass. I felt it was simple enough, so i started with Playing the Melody, then i sang the melody and played the rooots, then played the melody and sang the roots, then i did 2beat and it all was a breeze. Then came the time to walk, in all my years of being a musician, student, ahthlete, i had never done anything that made me feel this inadequite, it made me want to quit playing. I decide in order to familiarize myself with the music, i would listen to as much Jazz with walking lines as possible, and Then write a Walking Line to 12 Bar blues to see different patterns of walking, i came to find out that going 1,2,3,4 is a pretty standard pattern in walking and playing non chord tones on the down beat is pretty damn nasty. I still cant improv walk all that well, i can but im not even close to where i want to be, Walking Over Alot of Changes that arent repeated is a problem, and hearing the tri tone substitutions when play with a band is also a problem but im getting there.

    BTW, ive been reading Talkbass for awhile, and i had to register just to praise you for this wonderful article.
  8. Pcocobass


    Jun 16, 2005
    New York
    Hey guys,

    Thanks for all the kind words! I'm glad that this article has been a positive influence on your bass playing!

  9. LoFrequency519

    LoFrequency519 Guest

    Jan 5, 2006
    Burlington, VT
    Good call!
    This article has really helped me out. I'm just starting to get serious about playing bass in Jazz music and this has cleared a few things up for me.

    Thanks! :bassist:
  10. topbassman

    topbassman Banned

    Mar 3, 2005
    the number one rule to walking bass and jazz in general is use your ear
  11. I'm kinda late find this thread but I'd have to say its one of the best I've seen on here.. This man speaks the truth and I agree with everything 100%. Especially the part about chord extensions. I've even encounted teachers stress that it is "hip" to hit the extensions when walked a line. I think thats total BS and in some cases, some of the extensions degrade the walking line..

    When I walk lines, I'm always thinking "what note would be best to transition into this next chord". I dont like to make big jumps between chords.. I like to "work my way" into them. The only extension I like to use frequently in the b5. For instance, say I have a Cb5 - F7.. Ill simply play C C Gb Gb : F A C F (off the top of my head). This makes for a great transition, outlines the chord great, and even uses the dreaded (OH NO!!) repeating a note.. :)

    And, to touch on the repeating the notes thing, are some type of jazz, its VERY appropriate to repeat notes. Take, for instace, Count Basie style playing.. When the guitarist is "chunking" on all 4. This is the perfect style to repeat notes when walking a line.

    People get too concerned with jumping around the fingerboard rather that playing a fluid line.. Our job is to be solid and provide a solid basis for chordal progression. If you have a Am to D, there is nothing wrong at all walking up the Am scale to the D. And, actually, I find that the other musicians appreciate it WAY more when I do things like this and make the changes obvious rather than trying to be "hip".

    Also, one thing that wasnt mentioned but is a GREAT tool is "pedaling".. I notice myself doing this, but people when walk a bass line we think that we always have to be moving notes.. Wrong... Take for instace "Impressions". Dm to Eb. There is nothing wrong with just hanging on to the D for a few bars.. Heck, I'll hang on to it for 8 bars.. It builds great musical tension and opens it up for the sax or lead player to just scream..

    Just my $0.02.. Again, great article!!
  12. fcleff


    Apr 22, 2005
    Austin, Texas
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I just came across this thread, too. I have to agree with everything here. I try and teach this to my students and it amazes me how hard it is for them to get. They some how feel that they have to play all of their 'licks' in 4 bars. And they don't even have that many licks to boot! When we start transcribing basslines, only then do they start to get it. But for some odd reason they don't hang on to it. I think the only way to really let it sink in is to find guys to play with and try it out. Eventually you mature enough to make it happen.

    I also agree with pedal tones. While it is easy to over-use them, they are great tension builders. Thanks for that bobbykokinos!! I am going to make ALL of my students read this. ESPECIALLY that Ray Brown quote. Man, I love that quote! :cool:
  13. rylche


    Oct 27, 2005
    great article! thanks for the tremendous help this has been for me. :)
  14. buddyro57

    buddyro57 me and PJ (living with the angels now)

    Apr 14, 2006
    Cedar Falls Iowa
    Great article, one thing I would like to add is the idea of tonal direction. If one looks at the overall shape of Rufus Reid's lines in "The Evolving Bssist", one discovers some common attributes:
    1. there is always an ascent or a descent which reaches an apex (or climax note) at either the bottom or top.
    2. After reaching this point the direction reverses
    3. On the way to this climax tone, Rufus uses mostly scaler motion- not always using the root on downbeats- but almost always a member of the triad
    4. These arches he contructs give a very musical ebb and flow of tension and release- and sense of motion to the music
    5. He breaks these arches up with passages of more-static lines as in examples 7 & 17 above (usually arpeggiations or ostinatto-based- or pedals as Bobby pointed out)

    I think an awful lot can be gained from studying the way these and other lines by the masters LOOK. It is not lost on me the idea that Rufus' lines follow the basic ideals for creating a cantus firmus in 16th-century counterpoint....see , some of the laws of muisc are immutable- JS
  15. dabassr

    dabassr Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2002
    Great post, it's very helpful.
  16. yeah! beers on me brother, keep it up!
    all thumbs up!
    raise ther rooffff.....
  17. radmin

    radmin Supporting Member

    Jun 23, 2006
    Columbus, Oh
    That was great. I have played in a big band reading charts for 10 years. When that gig ended I had a great feel for walking but was having a hard time without a chart in front of me.

    I never realized how much of an art it was to create such lines.

    I HIGHLY reccommend this aslo.

    Thanks again!
  18. I am not a jazzer myself, I play mainly blues and rock. That said my brother in law played jazz, and when I started playing, two bass lines that he wanted me to learn for walking were Paul McCartney lines. All My Loving (With The Beatles) and You Never Give Me Your Money (Abbey Road). I cannot count the number of Jaco fans that want to tell me McCartney is so basic, who's jaws drop after hearing these two songs. The chords are not lost, he creativly gets from point A to point B, and drives the song. Everything a great walking line should do. Wish I could come up with something like this. Great lesson.
  19. basically, varied rhythm licks, like triplets, eight notes, and string rakes, are to be used at times when the soloist leaves some space or breathes, or plays the parts that does not need to be emphasized, and never to be overused to the piont of "stepping over" the melody, just to share my opinion.
  20. frodo_Bassman


    Jul 25, 2006
    Before:help and know :bassist: so I am:)

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