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Jazz Bass Lessons: Walking Bass Line Construction

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Now we come to walking bass lines.
This is an art.
It's a high art in music.
I suggest that you do
a lot of listening here.
Listen to the great bass players.
Again, Ray Brown,
Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford.
Paul Chambers.
Look these guys up,
look for records they're on.
And, you know, I can make suggestions too,
but I want you to do some homework here.
Search these guys out,
listen to them all the time.
It's important to realize that now, we've
come to a critical juncture, because,
this is where the compositional aspect
of bass playing gets bumped up a notch.
WE are outlining these chords with quarter
notes, so we don't really have much
time to pause and think like when we were
doing the two beat or the half notes.
Now we have to construct
a line that sounds beautiful,
that outlines the chords, and
has a forward motion that goes somewhere,
that comes with tension and
release and up and down the bass.
All these different things.
There's certain elements that
make a great walking line.
One, you can use the notes
in the arpeggio.
So one, three, five, seven of the scale,
that makes an arpeggio.
So, in this case let's just take a for
And we're going to do the sequence here,
that you have a written out
bass line in all 12 keys.
There's no real fills on it.
It's just walking lines and quarter notes.
That's the first thing
I want you to learn.
Because how I learned it first was
by copying the masters like Ray and
Ron, and that was really important for
me, Paul Chambers.
So you get a sense of line from them.
The way the lines rise and fall,
the way they connect to the other chords.
They do it in several ways.
So, say, E minor.
Remember one, flat three, five, seven.
I mean, seven.
One, flat three, five, seven octave.
And sometimes, it's very simple.
Maybe it's just one,
flat three, five, octave.
But anyway, they can use the triad,
which was the one, three,
five, and the octave, or
one, three, five, seven.
That's using arpeggio tones only.
Then, you can also use scale tones,
so E minor,
the simple natural minor.
Those tones work to outline the E minor.
Sometimes you can use Dorian, too.
we can use a combination of
the arpeggio's and the scales.
This is part of making
up a good walking line.
And then also,
you can use chromatic notes.
The notes that are in-between.
That are not in the scale.
So in E minor.
Say, the chromatic notes.
If you start from E.
Usually you would play an F sharp,
a G, A, B, C, D, E, right?
Now you can use E, F, F sharp, G, A flat,
A, B flat, B, C, C sharp, D, E flat, E.
Now obviously,
you have to get practice at composing so
that you can use these notes to make
a line that sounds good to your ear.
The line that I've written out here is,
you'll notice that it's very solid,
it's foundational.
The line rises and falls in a natural way.
I'm using arpeggios and scales.
And not, in this one in particular,
there's not a lot of chromatic notes yet,
because I want you to really create a good
line without having to resort to using
the chromatic notes to connect your lines.
So, here's all 12 keys.
Again, we're gonna use
the two five progression.
Remember, the two chord is
the second chord in every major key.
So if you're talking about, in this case,
the first one is E minor seven.
E is the second note of a D major scale.
So the E is, that's the two chord off
the second degree of the scale.
It's a minor.
And the five chord, which is in D major.
One two three four five.
That's an A, so it's an A seven.
A dominant chord, we talked about this in
the theory before, and we'll refresh that.
So, E minor to A seven is the first sound.
And then it goes through all the keys,
like before.
We've been using the sheet to
do two beat slow and fast.
So now we're gonna do
in the lower positions,
the 12 keys, two five with basic walking.
I've written a line out for
you to study and learn.
This is the first chorus.
And then the second chorus will come
around, and I'll make up another line.
And I want you to learn that as well, but
I'm not gonna give you the written part.
You're gonna have to learn it by ear,
and watch and learn it.
I want to try to get you to think
like the masters that I learned from.
I didn't invent the art of walking bass,
I just tried to really understand
it based on the heroes that I had.
Ron Carter, again Ray Brown,
Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers,
Percy Heath, Israel Crosby.
Great bass players.
Names that I want you to
become familiar with and
learn, cuz this is very important.
This culture of jazz
that we're dealing with.
We have iconic figures that really
shaped the music from the bottom up.
So here we go.
Here's your written line, and
I'm gonna play it for you one time,
then I'm gonna improvise another line, the
second course that I want you to learn.
Now, we're going to walk a little
faster tempo, same progression.
And notice how the line is going to change
color a little bit at a different tempo.
We're first going to play that written
line again that we worked on before,
and then I'm going to
play some other stuff.
The tempo will dictate different choices.
It'll inspire me to play differently.
At first, I'm gonna try to stay down in
the lower positions to show you that you
can be really creative sometimes if you
put yourself in a little box down here.
And it really tells you whether you know
the notes on your neck because if you
can't just lean on having to go somewhere
else on the neck to get the notes.
If you know everything in this little box,
it sometimes makes me more creative.
Sometimes I play games with myself.
If I get tired of my walking lines,
I'll walk in this little box.
In fact, people like Ron Carter
give their students lessons,
exercises where they have to play
whole blues just right in here,
only we're using this much of the neck.
So, here we're gonna do that
same line that I wrote for
you, which does stay down there.
It stays way down in the bottom.
Then I'm gonna try to stay down there for
awhile, then I'm gonna venture up
towards the end of the second time.
For that line, too,
the one that I invent for the second
course, again, I want you to study that.
And what you need to do too is,
I want you to write over each note what
pitch that is in relation to the chord.
Like in the first bar of this written
part, we have E, and a B, and a D,
and an E.
So the E you would put root.
You could use the letter R.
The B is the fifth of an E minor.
And the D is the seventh.
You put seven over that and
then put octave for
the octave at the top which is the same
at the root eight notes higher.
>> One, two, three, four, five, six,
seven, eight.
For E minor, right?
Then you do it, and
the next chord is an A7.
There's an A on the downbeat.
That's the root, then there's a G.
We know that that's the seventh.
Then there's an E, that's the fifth, and
then there's an A again, that's the root.
This kind of thing,
those are little cells, and
we're gonna get into that in the next
lesson, we're gonna get into cells and
how you can memorize cells and
learn the little patterns.
That's how I learned how to walk,
by hearing these little patterns that
the masters like again, Ray Brown,
Ron Carr, all these guys, they use these
little cells to outline the chords.
And then,
they connect them in different ways.
So let's work on this now.
It's a little faster.
First, I'm going to play the same
line that we played before, but
a little brighter, and
then I'm gonna invent something.
I stay down here a little bit,
and then I move up the neck.
Here we go.