So before we get started, be sure to warm up with exercises to avoid causing any injuries as walking bass lines do require some stretching and string skipping.
Take a look at my lesson “Awesome finger strength exercise and warmup for bass” for tips and some useful permutations to get your fingers flexing. Etudes, scales, chords and arpeggios are all great warm up’s too, not to mention they help solidify your harmony and theory knowledge and get them into what we call your “muscle memory.”
This live workshop was streamed on the ninth anniversary of TalkingBass.net! Thank you to all of you who subscribe, watch, listen, buy the courses and generally hang out. I really appreciate you all, and I hope that you find TalkingBass useful for all your bass playing endeavours.
So for this walking bass workshop, I went old school with my Fender Precision strung with old flat wound strings for that proper vintage thudding jazz sound. I also used a backing track of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.”
What to play?
When it comes to walking bass, you’re often told that it’s improvised, but that’s not entirely true. There are rules to follow and you definitely need a basic understanding of music theory. It does have an element of improvisation for sure, but we do need to know something about how to move between the chords and link them to create that ‘walking’ sound we are all so familiar with when it comes to jazz bass.
You need to know the notes on your bass and your chords tones – and by that I mean your arpeggios! The main job of the bass in this instance is to outline the tonality of each chord in the piece. Another thing you need to do, is target the chord tones (which tend to be the strongest notes) in the chord progression.
First of all, try to play through the chord progression by just hitting the root notes. Then move on to a chord tone such as the third or fifth. You also need to look ahead to the next chord and plan your next move as you go. Working through jazz standards is a brilliant practice for navigating a chord progression.