Walking Bass Series Lesson #3
In the previous lesson we looked at a 12-bar blues in the key of C, which in its most basic form will use the notes C, F, and G as the roots of the chords. We constructed a simple bass line using only the roots of these three chords.
While playing only the roots of the chords in quarter notes is a perfectly fine way to accompany a soloist or play with an ensemble, it can quickly become overly repetitive and lack expression. Most, but not all styles of music generally feature a bit more movement in the bass part, walking bass lines are no exception.
One of the first things to do once you can track the roots through a tune is to start adding the 5th of each chord to your bass lines to start getting some movement and variation. If you are not sure how to find the 5th of a given chord, refer to the lesson “finding the fifth” or look at our lesson series on the language of chord symbols. The fifth has a distinct sound when played in conjunction with the root. Practice finding 5ths by ear to sharpen your listening skills.
Be sure to count the 4-beat groups aloud while practicing (1, 2, 3, 4), this will help you keep your place in the form.
“...Some instrumentalists like for you to be like a rocking chair for them… [plays R-5-R-5 etc…]” - Milt Hinton
If you have a combo, or a group to play with, try these bass techniques with a drummer and chord player to hear how the quarter note locks with the ride and hi hat cymbals. Listen to the chordal player for syncopated rhythms and how you might fit either on or between their notes.
Focus on getting a good sound on your bass and locking with the drummer. If you play electric, take measures to emulate the sound of an upright bass by palm muting or playing with your thumb. In all cases, aim to keep your notes fat and full value, almost bleeding into each other.