Walking Bass - Part 2: Triads, Passing Tones, & Neighbor Tones

In a combo context, the full harmonic meaning of the music generally comes from a combination of the bass, chordal, and melodic instruments in the ensemble. This is different from solo playing where one musician is playing all of the harmony and melody at once. In a jazz combo setting, the bass player most often focuses on the “lower” parts of the chord, specifically the root, 3rd, and 5th of chords. This is different from how a typical chordal player might approach a jazz tune. 

The example below is a walking line on a basic 12 bar blues in the key of Bb. It uses a mixture of different techniques, some we’ve seen before like leading tones (LT). This example also includes passing tones (PT) and a neighbor tone (NT). These two techniques will be used extensively in future walking lessons. For now, a quick explanation of each will suffice. 

A passing tone (PT) is a non-chord tone which is approached by a half- or whole-step and resolved by a half- or whole-step in the same direction. This means that it connects two chord tones by creating a scale fragment. 

A neighbor tone (NT) is a non-chord tone which is approached by a half- or whole-step and resolves back to the same note. In both cases the surrounding notes should be chord tones. 

Both PTs and NTs should have chord tones on either side. PTs and NTs usually, but not always, occur on beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 time, or unaccented beats in other meters. 

Passing tone, neighbor tone, leading tone, and chord tone are not exclusive note designations. It is possible for a note to be heard as more than one of these at the same time. Be aware that while these terms have been used in Western music analysis for hundreds of years, some texts will define them slightly differently.

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