This is the second lesson in the series devoted to walking bass lines. This lesson is the first look into how we construct the actual lines and starts with a primer on Arpeggios or Chord Tones. Chord Tones should be the first stop on the road to learning how to play walking bass lines.

When we see a chord progression and need to create a walking bass line, the chords are provided so they are the first clue as to what melodic building blocks are available. Scales can be deduced from the progression by knowing a little functional harmony but chords are right there on the chart so it’s imperative that we learn them.

This lesson covers the three most popular chords: Major 7, Dominant 7 and Minor 7. Each chord is shown in basic arpeggio form before moving into more useful fingering patterns that cover every chord tone in each possible position. This is very useful in weaving a walking bass line through a chord progression while holding one position.

This is a long lesson so here’s an index for anyone needing to move to certain areas:

02:00 – Root Note Targeting

06:50 – Major 7, Minor 7 and Dominant 7 Arpeggios

10:09 – Arpeggios through the chord progression

12:34 – The Three Fingering Patterns for each Arpeggio (1st, 2nd, 4th finger)

16:47 – New fingerings through the progression

19:56 – Extending the patterns within a position

34:25 – Constructing the line

Root Note Targeting 

To start this lesson, we first need a chord progression. We will use the same one from the last lesson – a I vi ii V in C major.

CMaj7 | Am7 | Dm7 | G7

Before we create a line, we need to be aware of the basic chord root notes. It may seem simple and easy at first, but playing the progression sticking to the roots will help you later on when we get round to targeting.

We will stay in the first position for now so we don’t have to move around.

Some of our root notes appear more than once in the first position:

Remember to transpose things you learn into other keys. Not only will you improve your fretboard knowledge, but it will force you to learn every exercise more thoroughly. Here is the same progression in F:

Building Chords

We have covered building chords in more detail in other lessons, but here is a quick recap:

  • Chords are built by stacking thirds
  • A basic triad is built from the root, 3rd and 5th of a scale
  • Triads can be extended by adding the 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th

Here is the construction of a few popular chords you will come across frequently:

Major – 1 3 5 – C E G 
Minor – 1 b3 5 – C Eb G 
Diminished – 1 b3 b5 – C Eb Gb
Major 7 – 1 3 5 7 – C E G B
Minor 7 – 1 b3 5 b7 – C Eb G Bb
Dominant 7 – 1 3 5 b7 – C E G Bb
Minor 7b5 – 1 b3 b5 b7 – C Eb Gb Bb

Familiarise yourself with these spellings before you move on. 

Now let’s add the relevant arpeggios to our chord sequence:

Arpeggio Fingering Patterns

The next step in learning arpeggios is to nail the three fingering patterns for each one. Any arpeggio or scale can be played starting from one of three fingers in a kind of ‘upper‘, ‘middle‘ and ‘lower‘ position.

Here are the three fingering patterns for each chord we will be using:

Now we can rearrange our fingering for the original progression so we don’t have to change positions.

Again, don’t forget to transpose it:

Extended Patterns Within A Position

Below are the arpeggios again but each one contains all the notes available in one position.

Constructing A Walking Bass Line

Now we have our chord tones in place, we can move on to creating a walking line through our I vi ii V progression. We already have our root notes to act as waypoints, so we just need three extra notes in each bar to move from one to another.

When creating your line, remember to lead in to the next chord using a tone that is close to your target note to avoid sounding ‘blocky’. Here are some examples of walking bass lines that work through the progression – study these and when you’re ready, come up with your own.

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