Working on Walking Bass?
Creating an interesting walking bass line over changes is one part art, one part science (music theory) and a whole lot of feel .
Well, how can we turn this somewhat cryptic recipe into a useful recommendation for walking chord changes to give your own lines an instant lift?
Walking bass lines live by:
- Tonal material that
- outlines the chords and
- creates a counter melody
- Great swing feel
- Awesome phrasing
- A solid pulse with cool variations
Let’s briefly take a look at each of these:
- A lot of time is typically spent worrying about the first item, choosing the right notes. It is easy to teach – typically involves quite a bit of theory (chord analysis, arpeggiation, scalar patterns, approach notes) and (hopefully) recommendations on how to create certain effects by using the range of the bass and creating a contrapuntal melody while supporting what is happening in the rest of the band.
- Great swing feel, however, is equally (if not more!) important than the correct roots, thirds and fifths. Here is an episode that talks a bit about that.
- Phrasing – good phrasing can make or break any playing. Be it walking bass, rock, pop, funk, you name it. Good technique is the foundation for ensuring your tone sounds even and you have control over your note length.
- And then: Rhythm! Once you have worked on your swinging quarter notes and have a great pulse going legato style as well as portato style, and have added skips (or, as we call them, “burps”!) you can expand your palette of rhythmic variations to include triplets! A solid pulse with cool variations – I have an episode of Talking Technique for you today on tackling triplets. Drops, triple burps, whatever you wanna call them, check out how they can triple (ha!) a line’s effect.
Always use with taste and keep in mind that the systematic exercises that I recommend are designed to help you build your palette. Practicing in the rehearsal room doing triplets on an assigned regimen of beats will give you freedom and flexibility so that on the bandstand you can place them creatively and effortlessly when they fit.
Here is the episode on Talking Technique.
Music Theory for the Bass PLayer – the course – dedicates two “Styles Labs” to walking bass lines. Applying the theory we learned throughout the course in grooves makes it all easy to remember and applicable and helps you get more freedom and confidence on the fretboard. Music Theory for the Bass Player.
This instructional material is excellent; well thought out and methodical and clearly presented.
David C, Course Ninja
Strings by Dean Markley
Bass by Marleaux Bass Guitars