Walking Bass

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by bassbloke, Feb 5, 2003.

  1. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Apologies in advance, I'm a BGer but figured this question might get a better response in a DB thread.

    Over the last year or year and a half, my main musical goal has been to develop my jazz playing and at the core of that my walking bass technique. I don't have any real problems creating lines I'm happy with if I can sit down and prepare them in advance, the difficulty is creating them in real time.

    I haven't set specific goals on this, but I guess where I'd like to get to in the medium term could be described as something like:

    "I'd like to be able to pick up a chord chart to most jazz standards and be able to walk through them at a reasonable tempo (say medium/medium fast), keeping good time and with a reasonable amount of variation".

    What I've been doing is walking through Band-in-a-Box versions of jazz standards - Blues, Autumn Leaves, The Nearness of You, All The Way, Summertime, Night in Tunisia, Blue in Green, Green Dolphin Street, Love For Sale, Maiden Voyage, Have You Met Miss Jones, Recorda Me, Stella, Moanin' - you get the picture. I start at a slower tempo and increase the tempo as I start to feel I'm getting to know the song.

    My problem is, yes, I'm getting better, but it seems a very, very slow process. I still feel I'm using too many pre-rehearsed phrases; there's still a lack of variety in my playing (I tend to fall back on the same handful of ways of getting through different parts of the sequence and tend to play safe, there is very little genuine improvisation); if I try anything more ambitious (eg trying harder to hit regular 3rds or 7ths instead of root notes) I lose my place or my timing goes awry; I'm still uncomfortable above 150 bpm for most pieces (a couple of the very easy ones I can maybe get up to 200bpm, some of the others I'm still stuck at 120/130 bpm); I still don't think I could play through a new tune on sight, I'd need quite a bit of preparation.

    My questions are:

    1 Does my progress sound too slow, or are my goals more ambitious than I realise?

    2 The obvious one - anything I can do to speed things up?
  2. I would recomend that you work on learning four part chords. Start off by playing the C major scale from root to 7th, in quarter notes, then play the chord 1, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 1 followed by the scale in 8th notes root to 7th. Do this on each degree of the C major scale, go as far up as you can then back to the root.
    I wouldn't worry too much about variety on walking lines, remember, the most important part of a walking line is keeping the time and outlining the harmony of the tune. Once you start hearing better ideas for your walking lines you will get more variety in your walking.
    One more thing, this is a life long study, you will always be looking for a better line to play. Just play what you can and have fun.
    Good Luck,
  3. Hey Bassbloke,
    Walking Bass lines are not near as easy as people think. My Teacher and I have been working on Jazz and the Bow. I can say that "for me" that coming up with lines off the top of your head is very difficult. I have found that the more I practice it is coming...slowly. My teacher DRILLED Major chord changes on 12 bar blues for what I thought was forever but now that I have started playing Jazz standards.."slowly"... I can see E- and know flat the 3rd. I think of everything as if it were Major and change the 3rd or 7th or whatever. I always write the lines down on paper AWAY from the bass so to keep things fresh. I found that if I wrote the lines out with the Bass I would play the same "2 or 3 bar diddys if you will" that I have memorized. Writing away from the bass you think Chord and not fingerboard. BUT...when I`m at my lesson and playing my song I`ve worked on for that week and my Teacher suddenly snaches my written lines off the Stand so all I see is the Chord change of the song I too seem to play it safe and stick with 1 3 5 7 which is not a bad thing. Like Mook said your roll is to hold the Band together. My teacher always tells me the best Bass Players are the ones you dont notice...I really dont much like that but sense I`ve started playing Standards I kinda see what he`s saying. Play THE notes at THE right time and when your time rolls around for a solo then you can get with it. Some people on this Board my not agree and thats cool. But when your learning as I am you have to walk before you can run. All well I`m rambling so I`ll go for now. Have a good day..

  4. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Pardon me:

    (if only the words didn't suck):D
  5. Darth_Linux


    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    one thing that really helped me was learning how the actual chord sounds. I spent a lot of time learning guitar chords, piano chords, and then applied those voicings to the bass as best as possible so for each of the major types of chords (maj7, min7, dom7, half dim7, dim7, altered7) I could plunk out one the bass the basic shape and sound of the chord.

    Then I learned what scales go with each of those chords so when I ring out the chord, I can then play a scale and see how each individual note lays out on the fingerboard AND sounds in relation to the chord as a whole.

    then you can start doing this with simple chord progressions in any key you want - ii V7 I, vi ii V7 I, iii vi ii V7 I and so on.

    You can also do the same things using borrowed chords from the relative minor or do tritone substitions on the vi and V7. Take the time to find a chord voicing, play the scale over the chord, and then find the best 4 notes to go from one chord to the next.

    If you use leading tones a lot that means you can almost get by with only coming with 2 or 3 notes for each chord - beat 1 = root, beats 2 & 3 = any chord tone, beat 4 = leading tone to the next root i.e. half step above or below.

    Once you do this for a bunch of different progressions and experiment by combining all of the above suggestions, you should start to hear some good ideas in your head that will come out of fingers.

    The key to the whole thing? KNOW how the chords SOUND inside and out, so you can recognize any type of chord when a pianist/guitarist plays it. You'll know exactly what notes/scales/patterns to choose from when you have that level of familiarity.

  6. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    As a practical follow-up to what Dave said, you can download a small eartrainer at the following link:
    let's have a nice round of aplause to Ricci Adams.

    ... and enjoy thoroughly every day ! ;)
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I'm in the same situation as you and having been trying to play Jazz on BG for the last 5 years - I just think it is a slow process and there are no shortcuts. The more time you put in, the better you get and I think this is why DB players who can improvise great walking lines are so respected - they must have put the time in.

    You don't say though - exactly how much time you are putting into this - are you doing music full-time? Do you practice every day?

    Each week I go along to my local Jazz club and hear DB players who can improvise convincing and interesting walking lines - but I know they do that all the time - it's their full-time job!
  8. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Thanks to all - some helpful suggestions.

    Bruce my background is I played guitar (self taught) in various rock/pop bands throughout my 20s. I gave up playing for 10 years or so and took up bass in my early 40s. I own and manage a business, so time is restricted, but I usually manage to practice an hour or two most days. I do work on other things (ear-training, reading, learning parts off records for (non-jazz) projects I'm involved in. For the last 15 months or so half my practice time is spent working on walking parts. I was rehearsing with a jazz project for a few months but I got disillusioned (sax player was a lovely guy but could not play in tune). There is a very small jazz scene where I live and as a first jazz goal I'd like to get to the standard where I can sit in for a few tunes without having to insist they pick them from the short list of tunes I know, or that they play them at 120 bpm or less.
  9. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    My advice would be to not practice playing with band-in-a-box all the time but working on stuff seperately. Dig up your metronome and put it on 2 and 4 at a slow tempo and make those 4ths happening. Play a scale or whatever up and down and pay attention to your groove. As you progress you can put the 'nome on 4 which is a bit harder.

    Then maybe map out a walking line on paper like... write out a line that really defines the changes...play it through with the nome... then write a line that defines the melody...and write a line that is "outside" the chord changes... etc.

    Writing lines is really useful, especially if you can do it witout the bass ... could make you break out of patterns.

    You could set BIAB to repeat like 4 or 8 bars and just try diffrent ideas over those changes, then progress to the next bars etc.

    Good luck,

    PS. Working on ear training and theory is obviously very useful as well
  10. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire

    I teach many students and your question is one of the most common questions I hear.

    You know the statement "freedom through discipline"? It applies hear in a very specific way.

    It is important to think of music as a language. Your patterns (groups of notes) you use to play on a specif chord change are like words in you musical language. It is important to practice each word so much that it becomes usable in conversation.

    You know those desk calendars you can buy that have a "new word" for each day of the year? At the end of one year you are supposed to have 365 new words in your vocabulary. WRONG! The problem with this process is that it takes much more time than one day to learn a word well enough to use it in your every day speaking.

    When you learn your patterns well enough you will actually be able to improvise with them. Just like when speaking, it is not the words, but the message you convey that communicates your ideas. When we speak we use the same words over and over again but our ability to organize them spontaneously allows us to not sound repetitious.

    Try this: On a given standard tune play on each
    chord / measure:

    Root, 5th, Root, 1/2 step approach above
    Root, 5th, Root, 1/2 step approach below
    Root, 3rd, Root, 1/2 step approach above
    Root, 3rd, Root, 1/2 step approach below
    Root, 7th, Root, 1/2 step approach above
    Root, 7th, Root, 1/2 step approach below

    Then put the 3rd on beat one. (3rd, Root,Root,1/2)
    Then put the 5th on beat one.
    Then put the 7th on beat one.

    Enough of this type of practice and you will become much better at "improvising " a good line.

    If you can honestly do this with any tune at any tempo you are ready for the next lesson.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This sounds very similar to me - except I was actually playing bass in my 20s to 30s in rock/pop bands and then had a 8-9 year break where I was commuting to London, but tried to get back into bass when I started working from home more and also hit on a small local Jazz scene.

    Obviously great advice from Jim and others, but I found there was nothing like actually doing it as much as you can - that is, getting out and playing as much as you can with other people. I was like you for the first year or so, but found the more actual playing I did with other people, the faster I progressed and was more able to play anything that was put in front of me - but I'm still unhappy with my walking lines and feel they could improve vastly.;)

    You might like to do something like I do each year - Jazz Summerschool - take a week's (or two) holiday and play Jazz full-time. There's nothing like playing every day and learning from some great Jazz pros!! :)
  12. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Thank again to all. Bruce we do seem to have a bit in common (including as it happens the same first name!). I do want to get out and play I'm just a little wary of going along and saying "look if you guys nurse me through this I might just about make it".

    Olivier I have tried a few ear-training downloads. I had not come across the one you suggested before - it's definitely the best free one I've seen though I paid (a modest amount) for a shareware one that's possibley slightly better called The Music Box from Carner Enterprises.

    Jim I will start working on that excercise straight away, your logic makes perfect sense. Without undervaluing the good advice I've had from others or, I hope, sounding too ingratiating I have your book of PC transcriptions and it is a real privilege to have your input.
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - the Jazz Summerschool would be a good introduction or start - some of the people I've met have never played Jazz before at all!

    I suppose it would be dificult in your local situation if they are all fairly experienced - but usually it seems that drummers and bassist are in short supply - loads of sax and piano players - but usually people are happy if they get a full rhythm section, no matter how inexperienced! ;)
  14. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    A long way from us in Britain, no doubt - but looks good!

    I like the Jazz Summerschool as you are put in a small band for the whole week with other students and at least one tutor. There are bits with the bass tutors - usually two whole afternoons - but I always enjoy the parts most, where you are playing and getting to work with a "real band". So last summer was typical and the "small band" was drums,bass(me), piano, guitar(student from Italy!!), tenor sax,alto sax and flute.

    So we rehearsed together every day and played 3 short sets in the evening Jazz Club - which runs each night in the student union bar, with an audience of students from all the courses running - about 150 -200 people.

    Ther wer other activities - like big band, percussion classes, jam session etc etc - a busy week or two weeks!!
  16. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire

    I think it's only about 6 or 7 hours from your place to mine.

    Come on down!
  17. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Hmm sounds great but persuading my wife that this would be a good way to spend our annual holiday might pose problems.

    Jim, re your exercises, where chords change twice in the bar do you envisage speeding up to 8th notes and playing the same pattern or root/approach/root approach?
  18. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire
    Bass Bloke,

    No, when there are two chords per measure the Root and 1/2 step approach are played as quarters.

    Mrs. Bass Bloke, New Hampshire (New England) is a popular vacation area in the US.
  19. Bruce linfield is right, you need to play with people, not Band in a Box, becuase you will find yourself doing things that you did'nt know you could do. It's not a case of "will you nurse me along", it's a case of "damn right I'm a bass player", even if inwardly you dont feel that confidant. There is NO practice you can do that will benefit you as much as being thrown in the deep end, playing with maybe a jazz trio or quartet. They call a tune you've never heard before, you open your Real Book, and the leader is countimg it off as you're trying to ascertain where the repeats and coda are. You play the first head REAL simple, usually in 2, so as not to stuff up, and also to get an idea of the tune into your head. The next time through you kick into a walking line using all the standard lines you've rehearsed, and by the time you've gone through the chart six or seven times you'll suddenly realise that you are instinctively changing things, maybe even playing lines you never played before. This happens because you automatically feed off the stuff that's going on around you. Your turn to solo? Oh hell, what am I gonna do? These guys have been wailing.
    If all else fails, just play your walking lines and maybe embellish them a little. It's a bit lame, but it'll get you through, and the more ya do it, the better you get. You're not really expected to be able to solo like a sax player, because his job is to solo, it's his reason for being there. Your job is to walk the changes, and maybe do a passable solo.