Walking bass: looking for "stay calm and thump on" advice

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bass Momma, Mar 4, 2018.

  1. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    I’ve been playing bass for a bit under 3 years, practicing hard, having weekly lessons with a really good teacher. I practice my scales, we’ve worked on chord/mode/scale theory, we’re on our second pass through the U. Miami Electric Bass vol. 1, which has REALLY taught me my fretboard, studying people like Duck Dunn, Willie Weeks and Chuck Rainey, and I’ve learned to read notation (although I’m still slow). And I just love it. I’m out playing blues jams, having a good time. OK, so here’s the question.

    A couple of months ago, my teacher started me on walking bass. We’re working through Ed Fuqua’s really excellent Walking Bassics, doing a first pass through. I am SO SLOW at picking these pieces up. It’ll take me a week or two of hard work to fluff my way through one of these at about 60-70 bpm. If I take a chord chart (ie, not following bass notation, just me improvising for each chord) I … well… I believe the correct term is that I SUCK! I do a bit better if I’m following a chart on iReal Pro - I don’t get so lost. Similarly, I also write songs, and am very poor at coming up with good basslines to melody-type songs (ie not blues/funk sort of things). The feeling is I'm trying to think my way through it, but you just can't think that fast - the pattern/feel has to be more innate.

    I know, I know, I know that walking bass is a lifetime study, but I can’t shut up the voice in my head that says I just don’t have what it takes. Bottom line, I love what I’m doing, I’m not going to stop, it is what it is, and I am making progress. But WOW it’s so painful being bad!

    Any support along the lines of “stay calm and thump on” would be appreciated!
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2018
    FenderB likes this.
  2. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    Stay calm and thump on.
    swooch, JRA, Dee-man and 11 others like this.
  3. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Do you ever just try to play along with recorded music? Lots of classic blues tunes feature fairly simple walking lines and if you can pick the notes out and find them on your fingerboard by ear, it will help develop your ear and give you another approach to learning. For some, that's the ONLY way they learned walking :). Stay calm, thump on!
    biguglyman, Wasnex, Jborg and 4 others like this.
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    What I'd recommend is not to approach this by "thinking" at all. Have you and your teacher gotten to the chord line exercise yet? That was one exercise that really helped me, it gives you a method to start getting the sound of the harmony of a tune in your ear. Scale work and arpeggio work is helpful in working out physical issues of getting around the geography of the fingerboard, your ear training work (you are doing ear training work, yes?) will help relating the geography to a sound, but creating a walking line is really about hearing a little quarter melody in response to the way you're hearing the harmony of the progression. When you typed out your post, you didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how the words would look together or what other words would maybe be a better word, you just knew what you wanted to communicate and you used the words that came most immediately to mind. Walking bass is like that.
  5. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    By "chord line" exercise, do you mean track #8? The circle of 5ths (well, 4ths) progression? Yes, that really helped. I am doing ear training. Also, when I'm doing those exercises I'm working with the backing track (bass part turned down), to get the chord movements in my head. But it is the problem of "thinking" rather than internally "hearing".

    And again - your book is a really great resource! Thanks!
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    No, this is in the first section of the book, bottom of page 8 with a notated example on the changes of SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN.

    And thank you for the kind words!
  7. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    Got it! Yes I did do that. In fact the pages leading up to that are an amazing toolkit.
  8. Part of art of walking bass is the way to artfully and elegantly transition from one chord to the next in a logical, musical way, rather than just walking a repetitious form. Sometimes just dropping or moving up a semitone puts you on a note contained within the next chord, or ending on the third of one chord can set you up on the root of the next and dictates how you arpeggiate the chord; It doesn't always have to start on the root. Good jazz bassists are masters at this.
    Jborg, Morrighan and DrummerwStrings like this.
  9. saabfender

    saabfender Inactive

    Jan 10, 2018
    I’d like to further delineate this correct answer.

    It sounds as though you are getting bogged down in the notes. Cut that out. They just aren’t that important, especially in a jazz context. You are there to thump. That’s why the upright is the preferred bass - it thumps good. It’s like a big bass drum that has four strings on it. A jazz drummer isn’t providing any thump.

    Think about this. A Hammond player communicates a walking bass line within about an octave. You should try to do the same at first. This isn’t rocket science. It’s barely science.
  10. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Lotsa good advice, above.

    Lemme add one thing: once you start to really hear what's so good about seriously good bass playing (IOW, you start to grok the difference between mediocrity and excellence), it's pretty easy to become hypercritical of your own playing.

    Cut yourself some slack. Be patient, Weedhopper. Know that hearing the difference is the crucial step in your development, and you've done that.
    DrummerwStrings, Mili and Bass Momma like this.
  11. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    Do you listen to music with walking bass lines? (i.e. jazz)
  12. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    That’s definitely part of it. You listen to the best, and then to yourself. Ouch ; ). Ron Carter’s playing with Houston Person on Good Morning Heartache.... wah! So you aim at the stars.
  13. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    Oh yes! A lot. Mainly jazz. And hoping it seeps in.
  14. You will never stop learning and finding new ways to create walking bass lines, that is the fun and challenge of playing jazz tunes.
    Nothing is set in stone and the solutions with one group of musicians will not work with another, ie playing with piano player is different playing with a guitar.
    Be aware of both root movement, melodic movement, tension tones, register that the melody is played in.
    Bass Momma likes this.
  15. Whil57


    Aug 7, 2013
    Long Island
    Ever try writing some lines down. Just a suggestion. But pick a song or two, get some staff paper or music program, whatever works for you, and try and connect the changes. Dont use the same changes twice. Sometimes it helps lock in some licks that you came up with.
    saabfender and Bass Momma like this.
  16. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.

    There are 3 ways to walk from one root to the next: chromatically, like a scale, like an arpeggio, or a combination. Also you can walk up or down. That’s already 8 different variations, right there.

    Now for the biggest secret of all: you have to know where you’re going a full bar before you get there, so you have to read ahead. After that it’s just math: “I’m on a D minor. I need to get to a G7. I have 4 beats to do it, and I’m in the key of C major...”
    Tbsx, Corbusier, gbass1 and 3 others like this.
  17. MrLenny1

    MrLenny1 Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    Listen to tunes with walking bass lines, get a chord chart to them
    and memorize the chords then start walkin.
    Record the issues you have.
  18. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    Yes! For the most part I'm reading in real time... that is, I don't have that bar up my sleeve. I'm hoping that will come with better reading fluency.
  19. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    I've done this with 12 bars, with and without quick changes, and have a handful of "go to" ways of getting around. Needs extending....
  20. squidtastic

    squidtastic Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2013
    Exactly. After a certain tempo, no one can truly improvise every individual note on a walking line. I recall seeing this experienced upright player at a jazz camp play with some hotshot sax guy who loved to play uptempo. The sax player called out "Cherokee", which isn't really difficult in terms of changes, but he took it at an almost absurdly fast tempo -- faster than this rendition. The bassist just kept this placid look on his face as he tried to keep up. He was on the verge of being behind throughout most of the song, but never lost it. Myself and other bassists were all agape and laughing out of near joy at his ability to hang in there (I'd have had to play half time feel). But I digress...

    Spend time listening to the greats. That'll help with vocabulary and feel. What helped me when I started learning to walk was the realization that even when it sounds random, you really are playing a lot of patterns. You could do an experiment and try picking actual random, disconnected notes that are still in key, and you'll hear that it doesn't sound good. I remember spending hours listening to Paul Chambers on Giant Steps -- I literally thought, "I'll never be able to play that!" But as I listened, the patterns started emerging, and I realized that he was repeating certain approaches.

    Sounds like you're more into blues than jazz, but the idea is the same. When it's new to you, listening is at least as valuable as playing.
    saabfender, DrummerwStrings and MVE like this.
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