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A lesson on walking bass

Constructing a walking bass line is kind of an art form, however even in art you still have to work by guidelines.

My guidelines for a walking bass line are:

  • provide a rhythmic pulse to solidify the chosen tempo. In the style of Jazz this is achieved by using mostly all quarter notes.
  • outline the harmony ( chord changes ) of the tune, to provide the soloist a platform on which to build ideas.

As for the pulse of the line this is something that comes with practice, I can't really teach you to swing, it's just something that comes after years of playing. (sometimes it never comes)

Let's work on how to outline the chord changes in a tune.
A simple rule to follow is: Always play a chord tone on beats 1 and 3 of the bar.
What is a chord tone?

Here is a line for a standard Jazz Blues:

Jass Blues Bass Line

On bass guitar learning chords, as in how to play them like a guitar player I don't think is very important. However, understanding the structure of chords is very important for coming up with lines that fit the music.

Let's break it down bar by bar so you can see the notes in each chord.

Basic Bass Guitar Chords
F7 chord Bflat7 chord B diminished chord
D7 chord Gminor7 chord C7 chord

Notice that in the line above (except for one instance) beats 1 and 3 are always notes in the chord of that particular bar.

Also the note on beat 1 is preferably the root, but in the line above sometimes the 5th or the 3rd is used.

As for beats 2 and 4, notice that these notes are usually one or two steps away from the notes that follow. This is what gives the bass line a fluid feel.

Now, try to construct your own bass line, using the same blues pattern as above.

More lessons

A more simple walking bass line

Learn a bass warm up

Plucking bass strings (right hand technique excersize)


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