Chords and Walking Bass Part 1 With Jens Larsen

In this lesson I want to first demonstrate 4 exercises that you can use to gain the necessary vocabulary to solo over a turnaround with chords. I also give three examples of how I would make lines using the exercises (or actually chords in general).

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In this lesson I'll demonstrate how I approach playing walking bass lines and chords at the same time. This is a a way of playing that I use really a lot in situations where there's no bass player, so mostly duo settings with a guitar player, singer or horn player.

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The chords that I am using in this lesson are the shell voicings that I covered in this lesson: Jazz Chord Essentials: Shell Voicings


The way I play this type of accompaniment is to use my right hand fingers and use my thumb for the bass line and the rest for the chords. In that way you have a different sound for the two parts and you split the hand naturally in a way that you can play two independent parts.

For me it the important part is the bass line, so I give that priority over the chords probably because I am always using it to accompany others. When I play the bass line I try to give the 2 and the 4 a slight accent and for the rest just have a legato and not too hard attack. I never spend too much energy on sustaining the chords, to me they are added colors but are not necessary to keep the flow of the music going.

The first 3 examples are a very simple II V I in C major.

In this example I am just playing the chord on the first beat of each bar, so that the combination of the bass and the chord is as simple as possible. The way I construct the bassline of these examples is very simple: The root has to be on the one and the other notes are arpeggio notes except on the 4 where it's a leading note for the new root if you start with this rule set you can make fairly playable and functional walking bass lines.

It is important to remember that bass lines are in fact improvised quarter note lines outlining the harmony.

Examples 2 and 3 are exercises using the same harmony but putting the chord in another place in the bar so that the chord can have more of a function in the groove.

The final example is more of a demonstration of what I might play on a blues in F so for ideas you can analyze it and of course it is also a good etude to get the hang of the sound of this type of playing.

The process for me in learning how to play like this was to sit down and figure out a few songs and then find more solutions for the whole piece so that I could start mixing it up and vary each chorus. This is probably the same way you learned playing chords on a standard too. So the try to analyze the lines that I am playing and try to move to other parts of the neck to play the same thing using the principles I talked about here.

You can download the examples as a pdf here if you want to keep them for studying: Chords and Walking Bass lines - part 1

About the Author:
By Jens Larsen. There are more lessons on his website. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great lesson!. I'm very interested with jazz but I don't know where to start. I'll incorporate this technique to my playing. It's simple but that sound of bass makes the whole thing very catchy. Thanks again.
    You're welcome! You should probably start with chords and learn to play a few standards like that and get used to the sound. From there you can start using the arpeggios of the chords to make solos.
    Thanks, Jens - this lesson is absolutely brilliant! I particularly like the blues study in F as it introduces some nice 'ii/V/I' cadences so as well as practising a walking bassline (technique & theory) I'm also becoming more familiar with the sound and flavour of these different 'ii/V/I' changes (theory & ear training). Your lessons are always interesting and invaluable... especially for guys like me who would love to get to grips with more jazz technique but are maybe a little scared to walk into a jazz lesson with only our Rock/Blues chops to defend us :p Please keep up the good work!
    Thank you! It's great to get positive feedback like that! I'll do my best to keep at it!