This week we’re looking at Walking Bass Lines and some aspects of practice that often go neglected.

Walking bass is mostly an improvised art and we can get stuck in the process of creating and developing vocabulary through improvising around musical nuts and bolts like chord tones, scales and chromatics. This is fine and the basis for most walking bass teaching methods.

However, it’s worth looking at a few other aspects of walking bass study such as reading pre composed lines, analysing transcriptions and composing your own complete lines.

Remember to check out the complete Simple Steps To Walking Bass Course HERE!

3 Killer Tips

As many of you may know, we have a dedicated walking course here at Talkingbass and just as with most walking bass methods the course focuses on developing your improvisation of bass lines from a basic two feel through to standard walking in every area of the fretboard.

This is fine because walking bass is generally improvised and the application of chord tones/scales from an improvisational perspective is important. But there are some extra aspects of practice you really want to implement in developing that vocabulary.

The three tips for this lesson are as follows:

  • Read Harmonically Strong Pre-Composed Walking Lines 
  • Conduct Harmonic & Melodic Analysis (chord progressions and the walking line)
  • Write Your Own Lines

Tip #1 – Read Lines

For tip number one we have reading pre composed lines. This is the equivalent of reading the written word when learning a language. By reading well written lines and transcriptions you get to learn how other people create lines and you get to practice in a walking style  without the pressure of coming up with your own stuff.

I’d recommend reading lines without tab, even if you’re currently a non reader.  A lot of walking involves looking ahead, targeting notes and planning out a strategy for getting from one area of the neck to another. You don’t want to be getting to caught up in seeing them as a bunch of fretboard numbers.

Below I’ve provided a written line through the jazz standard ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ complete with backing track.

Practice Track:

Tip #2 – Analyse Harmony & Melody

Harmonic analysis involves working through the chords of a song and breaking down the functions of each in turn. This will provide you with an understanding of the key, the chord tones and scales available for use in creating a walking line.

Breaking down the chords of There Will Never Be Another You, we find the following set of functions and chord scales:

For the melodic analysis we can break down the walking line and look for chord tones, scalar movement and chromatic devices such as chromatic approach and chromatic passing tones etc. Here is a breakdown of the first three staves using simple labelling of arpeggio, scalar and chromatic movement:

Tip #3 – Write Your Own Lines

For this part of your practice you can simply take a standard like ‘There Will Never Be Another You’, grab some manuscript paper and compose your own line using all the resources we’ve looked at.

Work around the chord tones, use diatonic and chromatic passing notes or approach notes to target each chord in turn and aim for a smooth line with a nice flowing arc.

Remember, if you can’t compose your own line then there is no way you’ll be able to improvise a line. When you improvise you’re simply composing a line on the fly. So take your time and write the line out. Again, This is more good practice at learning to read and understand musical notation.

Once you’ve written out a line, be sure to play it along to a backing track. You’ll be able to hear what sounds good and bad in your note choice. Some lines might seem to work in theory and might look ok on paper, but then when you play them over a track they might just sound a little lacking. This is great practice and by steadily amending phrases bit by bit, you’ll eventually come up with something you like.

Then once you’ve written a line for one whole chorus, write another and try to approach the chords in different original ways. You’ll find yourself coming up with more and more lines you’d not thought of. Some might sound awful to you, but some will sound great. It’s all a voyage of discovery.

Try writing 8 different lines over that same tune and you’ll be well on your way to better walking improv.

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