How to Write a Walking Bassline


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05-22-2007, 11:09 PM
If you frequent the Bass forums you might have already seen this but I wanted to put it into the lessons.

A walking bassline is one of the most fundamental things that a bass player, that is even slightly into jazz, needs to know. Now, first thing, a walking bass line is a line in which the bass player lays down a chord progression and a tempo. The ultimate goal of a walking line is to combine Harmony, Rhythm, and to an extent Melody.

For the most part a walking line you will create will be in the standard 4/4 swing style so for a rhythmic line you will more than likely be playing quarter notes or the odd eighth note. Your job is to lay down the time so donít go playing some syncopated sixteenth rhythms or you might get some looks from the tenor player up in front of you trying to solo or an odd kick from the drummer. Speaking of the drummer you could help him along witht he rhythm and slighty accent beats 2 and 4 of the bar. Slightly.

The harmonic portion of your line is where some more complications come in. Almost always when playing a walking bass line you want to be playing the root note on any chord change. Actually scratch that, ALWAYS when there is a chord change play the root note. Now, you may ask, what if the chord stretches over two or more bars. This is where *some* leniencies can be made. If you find yourself on the second bar of the chord and you donít want to play the root you at least want to play a chord tone so for example youíre on a C7 chord for two bars on the first bar you first note must be a root but on the second bar it could be maybe an E a G or a Bb. This rule can be overruled which I will talk about later. Now you know what note to start on but what about the other three notes in the bar? Well this is where some creativity can come into play. The second and fourth notes of the bar are known as THE WEAKER HARMONIC BEATS, or THE STRONGER RYTHMIC BEATS.
For the second note you can play virtually any note with a few exceptions. In general, you want to play something scalar or tonic but even so you can play something else. An exception to what you could play would be the minor second of the chord *but* again the same overruling that takes care of the chord tone rule takes care of this. The minor second is just an ugly note and should be avoided like the plague without the ultimate rule. A good thing to try and strive for is a leading tone of some kind to the next beat of your bar like a Upper Chromatic Neighbour Tone or a Lower Chromatic Neighbour Tone or any other kind of Neighbouring Tone.
Now for you third beat youíre going to need a chord tone. This beat and the first beat are known as THE STRONGER HARMONIC BEATS. Few exceptions to this rule. Even the ultimate overruling rule does not usually overrule thisÖ ruleÖ So with this in mind choose your second note carefully you need somehow reach a chord tone on your third beat, always keep this in mind.
For the fourth beat you want to play some kind of leading note into the next chord. This is probably your freest beat to play virtually anything that will get you to the next chord tone. Still preferably tonic but even less so than the second beat. When I say play anything I literally mean play any note you need to lead into the next chord, now obviously this is a slight exaggeration but your ear will more than likely tell you if youíve made too big of a jump or some other kind of blip in the smoothness of the line.

Now the melody is really the simplest and shortest part of your bass line. If you see in the melody any kind of odd note you should more than likely cater to that note. Thatís it basically for the melodic portion of your line.

The Ultimate Rule that Overrules Virtually Any Other Rule in Creating Bass Lines in Jazz.
Linear, logical, and chromatic motion of any kind overrules any kind of rule involved in writing a Jazz Bass Line. Seriously, if youíre making a line, chromaticism is your best friend in the world. Anything concerning chord tones and harmonic beats and rhythm and anything else can all be substituted for good oldí fashioned step-wise motion. It is the ultimate, ultimate override button in all of Walking Bass Line-dom.

Some Other Rules To Remember.

-The fourth (in a major chord), along with the minor second, of the chord is considered dissonant and should be treated as such. Can anyone tell me why? No? Itís because the fourth is a minor second above a chord tone (the third).

-A large jump of any kind should usually be followed by some kind of reverse in motion.

-Probably the most important rule in all of making bass lines jazz or otherwise, let your ear guide you. If you listen to your bass line and something sounds funky, more than likely something in there is wrong so change it.


1) Down the scale
2)Up scale + CPT (Chromatic passing tone)
3)Up scale + UNT (Upper neighbour tone)
4)Ascending arpeggio + CPT
5)Inverted arpeggio + CPT
6)Descending arpeggio + CPT
7)Inverted arpeggio + CPT 2
9)Repeated notes
10)Root & fifth

Here are some Chord progressions to try walking over.

F blues- F7 Bb7 F7 F7 Bb7 Bb7 F7 D7 gm7 C7 F7-D7 gm7-C7

Autumn Leaves- am7 D7 GM7 CM7 F#m7b5 B7 Em Em am7 D7 GM7 CM7 F#m7b5 B7 Em7 Em7 F#m7b5 B7b9 Em Em Am7 D7 GM7 GM7 F#m7b5 B7b9 Em7-Eb7 Dm7-Db7 CM7 B7b9 Em Em (Yes I realize F#m7b5 is the same as F# half diminished but I don't know how to do the circle with a slash)

Rhythm Changes- BbMA7-Gmi7 cmi7-F7 BbMA7-gmi7 cmi7-F7 BbMA7-Bb7 EbMA7-ebmi7 dmi7-G7 cmi7-F7 BbMA7-gmi7 cmi7-F7 BbMA7-gmi7 cmi7-F7 BbMA7-Bb7 EbMA7-ebmi7 cmi7-F7 BbMA7 D7 D7 G7 G7 gmi7 G7 cmi7 F7

All The Things You Are- fmi7 Bbmi7 Eb7 AbMA7 DbMA7 dmi7-G7 CMA7 CMA7 cmi7 fmi7 Bb7 EbMA7 AbMA7 ami7-D7 GMA7 GMA7 ami7 D7 GMA7 GMA7 F#mi7b5 B7 EMA7 C7(#5) fmi7 Bbmi7 Eb7 AbMA7 DbMA7 Gb13 cmi7 B diminished Bbmi7 Eb7 Ab6 Gmi7(b5)-C7

(- between chords means two beats per bar. A space just means one chord per bar.)

05-23-2007, 02:31 AM
I'd say that the fourth is an avoid note only in major chords, unless it's a _11 chord, it actually sounds quite nice played in minor chords. You also might want to put something in about a pedal line, so if you have a chord sequence which share a note between them the bass would play that and would be a bit freer on the rhythm.

For example in Autumn Leaves you have: Gmaj7 Cmaj7 F#Ý B7 Em
All those chords share B as a note, so hang on B and they do something adventurous like play in 3 over a 4 beat from the rest of the band.

I remember this thread and it's good stuff to put as a lesson. :cheers:

EDIT:I'd also something about a slight accent every now and again on the 2 and or 4 of the beat to keep the piece swinging, if you do it every bar it sounds wrong.

EDIT2:Might want to post an example for one if you can, it should then give people the right idea.

05-23-2007, 08:11 AM
^Thanks for the tips, but I was wondering how to post in and example I guess tab would work but it's way easier to see notes and their relation in sheet music... What do you think. Oh and about your pedal tone idea I have this: at another time I'll probably do a more advanced lesson to Walking lines this is a pretty general overview and with more precise ideas and how to's I could probably make a whole new lesson.

05-23-2007, 10:05 AM
My best idea is to do one for Autumn Leaves seeing you've given the chord sequence and do it in Guitar pro and screenshot it. I can do one on another program where i can save it straight to image and then just link it in like any other image.


One walking line for Autumn Leaves.

05-23-2007, 01:14 PM
^Is that finale? If so how do you do that. Also great idea.

05-23-2007, 01:31 PM
I use Sibelius because that's what we have at school and I'm used to how the program works. I've also got finale but it seems more complicated to use for me. In Sibelius there is an export option might be the same in Finale and one fo the choices is graphic so it produces a tiff or bmp of what you've done.

I'd also say something like if people want more practice at walking lines get a real book, so they learn jazz standards and have a load of chord sequences to practice from.

EDIT: Another idea I've just had maybe for the more advanced walking but if the melody is ascending you might want a descending walking bass to give a bit of contrast.

05-23-2007, 01:59 PM
Ok maybe I'll try it out on finale. Oh and thanks for all the tips I might be having to do the advance walking basslines sooner than I thought...

05-25-2007, 06:11 PM
If you need any help with that just PM me because I've been doing a lot of practice with my teacher and a coupla jazz groups at school.

05-25-2007, 06:27 PM
I'll definitely drop you a line for that.

08-17-2007, 03:53 PM
i read it
im confused...
im not 'trained' in music theory or any of that
i know basics of the bass and i want to expand my playing
my friend who is really good on the bass and got me to join told me that walking basslines are very good to know
i would ask him to teach me but hes moving to cali in a few days so thats not going to happen
any way you can simplify this lesson?