The Walking Bass


We start with the walking-bass, a style found mainly in jazz music .

As its name suggests, if we make an analogy with someone who walks, it’s a regular bassline played on each beat .

Therefore , it is rhythmically simple (basically you play each quarter note , the first beat of the bar must be the tonic of the chord). But it’s harmonically rather complex .

It will be a mixture of arpeggios, chromaticism, and even bits of improvisation .

Regarding the chromaticism in the walking bass, it is a question of playing ½ tone above or below the fifth, the third or the tonic of the chord, on the weak beats (the second quarter or fourth quarter note of the bar) . When the note is correct, that is perfect. When it is false, it can be considered as a little tension that will be resolved soon after.

I give here some examples to play and listen. There is no real method , you have to understand how it works . Bass lines that I have written contain licks inspired by listening to the great Ron Carter, I advise you to also listen to him , and others (Paul Chambers, Ray Brown ect ...).

Play and play again to absorb these licks, start with the "automatic" walking bass , then try to develop, even on paper , write a bass line of your own. Notice how i play with the contrast between series of high notes and low notes, to get a lively bass line.

In the examples below, the chromatic notes are those in brackets , we do not care whether they are right or wrong, they are there to "fill"!

(doc 1) the Blues ( here, Bag Groove ) :

- In 12 bars, this is a slightly enhanced form of traditional blues

This jazz blues is very active in jazz music , in multitudes of themes

It’s often , as here , in the key of F, but it is also often in Bb, C ...

On the mp3 file, you have the first section "Blues in F part 1", and then the second one "Blues in F part 2" , on the third section , i’m playing to give you an idea of how it should, and finally, it’s your turn to play with the piano and drums!


(doc 2) the “rhythm changes” (here, “Oleo” )

- In 32 bars and AABA, another very common form in jazz music (“I got rhythm” , “Rhythm-a-ning” , “Anthropology”...) . Its difficulty is that it is often played at fast tempos , another being its AABA structure , in which you can be easily lost ...

You will notice that I play sometimes chord’s inversions (bass different from the tonic of chord) to have some consistency phrasing of my walking bass.

On the mp3 file, the first round of the section , there is the written bassline of the Oleo score , then the second and third section , that is me playing to give you some idea how it can sound, and finally, it ‘s your turn !


(doc 3) the minor blues (here, “Mr PC” )

- The blues in minor version, still 12 bars, that will be found in various forms in jazz standards. The interest for us is to work on a walking bass with II / V / I minor.

On the mp3 file, there are two sections with what is written on the score , then 2 sections where I play to give you some idea, then it ‘s your turn !


(doc 4) “So What” by Miles Davis

- This song is particular because we will play a walking bass on 16 bars with only one chord !

The tonic is no longer remembered every bars but 2 , to be not too repetitive .

This kind of pièce requests that you feel the passages of 4, 8 and even 16 bars , and that is not obvious, it comes with hard work and experience.

It is therefore a seemingly effortless piece , because it has few chords, but in fact it 's not.

On the mp3 file, the first section is what is written on the score , then I play the second to give you some idea, then it’ s your turn !


(Doc 5) the automatic walking-bass

- When we absolutely must play a walking and that we do not know how, there is an easy way to play on the chromaticisms (chromatic + tonics and fifths). This is not beautiful walking bass but it can do the job in case of panic...


(Doc 6) “I WISH” by Stevie Wonder

- The walking bass is found in lots of different contexts, not only in the "trad jazz", for example , here’s an old dance hit song by Stevie Wonder.



Remarks about walking bass :

- Often seen in contemporary jazz, bassists do not play walking bass immediatly at the beginning of the tune , to create a contrast effect when the walking begins after several sections . This effect sounds very nice .

- When the tempo is fast , to save your left hand, you can play occasionally 2 times the same notes , to divide in two the hand movements .