Walking bass lines. We’ve all heard about them, but what exactly is a Walking Bass Line, and how do we play them? Today we’re going to explore what walking bass lines are, and how to play them.
This lesson is intended for bass players with a basic understanding of scales and chord construction. If you don’t know much about music theory we strongly suggest that you first read the articles linked. By understanding the basics of music theory, you will be able to understand a walking bassline in no time.
What is a Walking Bassline?
Walking bass lines are primarily associated with Jazz, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them in your preferred style. After all, some of the best music ever written takes inspiration from a variety of influences.
In simple terms, a walking bassline is a bassline played of notes of equal duration and intensity, usually played in 1/4 notes, that moves a song along.
Walking basslines are an excellent way to outline the chord that is being played, and provides a smooth transition from one chord to the next.
To fully understand a walking bassline, listen to “Fly Me to the Moon” in the video below. Do you hear how the bass is moving the song along? Notice how each note is identical in attack, length, and emphasis. That’s what we’re striving to achieve
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How to play a Walking Bassline
When you play a walking bassline, think about the rhythm of your stride when physically walking. Assuming you are not physically limited, your stride should be even, with each step taking as long as the step before it.
At this point we feel we should point out a caveat: Different bass players have unique ways of “walking’. So while we’re focusing on certain elements, that doesn’t mean you can’t change things up a little to suit your style. Think of this like a basic pizza recipe – we’ll teach you how to make the bass (yes, that was an intentional pun, we’re sorry), but what toppings you add is up to you.
As mentioned earlier, the core concept for a walking bass line is playing four to the bar, which means playing four 1/4 notes per measure. Simple right?
Let’s break the bar into four beats, and see what to play on each beat.
The first beat of each bar should highlight the chord that is being played. The best way to do this is to play the root note of the chord. What could be easier?
Second and Third Beat
Time to get a little more creative. Here you have two options. First, play any note from the chord except the root. That can get a little stale though, so if you want to add some tonal complexity, you can play any note from the scale the chord is related to.
Now would be an excellent time to go over your bass modes. Don’t know the modes? Don’t worry, we’ve already written a lesson on the bass modes. Check it out now and then come back.
Fourth Beat – Leading Note
By now you should have a full grasp of scales, chords, and your bass modes. For the final note in the bar, your knowledge of theory will be put to the test.
The final note of a walking bassline should be a leading note to the next chord. As an example, if you’re moving from G to C, your leading tone leads to C. So in G we might play something like:
G chord: G > A > B > D (leads into C)
C chord: C > D > E > G