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Walking Bass Line Basics

June 1, 2011

Jazz pianists are always on the lookout for good bass players. Theyre always in demand and can
therefore be difficult to find. Fortunately, thanks to the nature of keyboard instruments, if all else fails, we
can take matters into our own handsour left hands, to be exact.
All great bass players have two things in common: They walk great bass lines, and they create great grooves.
Additional components of convincing bass lines are note choice and forward motion. The bass provides the
rhythmic and harmonic foundation for the rest of the band, so its imperative that theres no hesitation when
walking a bass line. In jazz, the quarter-note pulse generated by the bassist is mirrored by the drummers ride
cymbal. The subtle accents and anticipations in the bass line are the glue that holds the groove together.
Here are some exercises to help you get your bass lines together. You can practice each one in four ways,
ascending in complexity. To start, play the left hand alone as all quarter-notes, without the grace notes and
anticipations. Second, play the left hand alone with grace notes and anticipations. From there, advance to
playing the left hand as quarternotes only, but add the right hand chords. Finally, play the left hand including
all embellishments, along with the right hand chords.
Click thumbnails to enlarge sheet music examples. Scroll down for audio examples.
1. Roots and Chromatic Approach Notes
Ex. 1a builds bass lines with roots and chromatic approach notes only, and is a good way to ease into bass
lines. This technique works well with a harmonic rhythm of two chords per measure (in 4/4 time). Were
using chromatic approach notes from a half-step below the root of the next chord.

Ex. 1b is similar, but uses chromatic approach notes a half-step above the root of the next chord.

In Ex. 1c, we build bass lines with a combination of roots and approach notes a half-step above and a halfstep below the root of the next chord.

2. Roots, Fifths, and Scalar Tricks

When faced with longer harmonic rhythms, the use of roots and fifths goes a long way. First play Ex. 2a as
quarter-notes only, omitting grace notes and eighth-note triplets. (Play the first note of the eighth-note
triplet as a quarter-note.) Notice the chromatic approach notes (upper and lower), along with repeated notes.
Next, add the grace notes and triplet.

Ex. 2b adds scalar or stepwise motion to the mix. Here we walk up diatonically, but with the addition of
chromatic tones. Use the same procedure as previously, playing left-hand quarter-notes only, then adding
grace notes and anticipations along with the right hand chords.

Ex. 2c adds stepwise descending and ascending motion.

3. I Got Bass Line!

Ex. 3 is built over chord changes based on George Gershwins jazz standard I Got Rhythm, incorporating
many of the devices from the previous examples. Rhythm Changes, as theyre often called, make a great
practice platform, as they employ varying harmonic rhythms and common chord progressions. Notice the
use of octave displacement: going up or down the octave as the chords change. Try breaking this exercise up
into smaller ones, and make sure to practice with a metronome. You can also accent the second and fourth
beats of each measure for varying dynamic effect.

Pianist, composer, and longtime Keyboard contributor Andy LaVerne has played and recorded with such
renowned artists as Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz, and Chick Corea. A Professor of Jazz Piano at the Hartt School
of Music at the University of Hartford, his latest CD is titled Live From NY!Visit him at
-- Jon Regen
Scroll down for audio examples.

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