Walking bass lines do not have to be complicated. In fact, complicating them too much when first learning, can lead to too much focus on what note to play next and not enough focus on the groove and feel of the music being played. This lesson will cover a step-by-step process to start using leading tones as part of your walking bass lines.
This lesson assumes some knowledge of the note names in 1st and 1/2 position on the bass.
The term “leading tone” can refer to a few different things related to harmony and melody. When we talk about a leading tone in the context of a walking bass line, we are referring to a note which is a half-step above or below a target chord tone, and resolves immediately to the chord tone. In other words, a leading tone is played just before its target note.
Our next examples will move to key of Bb as it’s a more common key for jazz blues and sits more comfortably on bass.
In the example below, the D is acting as a leading tone to the Eb root, while the B natural is the leading tone to the Bb root. The D resolves upward, the B natural resolves down. In both cases, the new chord root occurs on beat 1. The leading tone occurs on beat 4, leading into beat 1.
This next example uses leading tones, as well as 5ths to create a little more variety over a 12 bar blues. Notice that in some places the 5th and the leading tone create a series of half-step movements. This is a common technique that is explained further in later lessons.
Learning the bass line below, as well as the previous bass lines in this series will help you hear the function of a 12 bar blues walking line, and just as importantly, will ingrain the hand movements and intonation needed to improvise your own bass lines in the future. Use a Bb blues backing track or recording of a Bb Blues in your practice to keep yourself engaged and in-time.