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Walking Bass

In Chords, Rhythms on February 9, 2011 at 1:25 am

By Matthew Warnock (
In this article we will take a look at a concept that is becoming more and more in
demand these days: combining chord comping with a walking bass line. As
club and restaurant owners are cutting budgets, one way to keep our gig as a guitar
player is to slim down the ensemble to a duo or solo situation. Being able to walk a
bass line and comp the chords to a tune at the same time is an invaluable skill to
have and one that will allow us to work in situations where other guitarists cannot.
Step 1: Playing the Roots
The first step in learning how to walk a bass line is being able to play the roots
to each chord on the lowest two strings, A and E, of the guitar. In eample ! the
roots of each chord on an F blues are written out on the lowest two strings. "eel
free to refer back to eample ! if you get stuck on a fingering later on.

Step 2: Approach ones
In the net step we will add an #approach tone$ to each root. An approach tone is a
note that leads us into the net root by either a half%step &one fret' above or below
the net root.
An eample of this would be if we are going to an "( chord the two approach tones
would be E &below' or ") &above'.
This allows us to add a sense of voice leading to our bass line and immediately
brings it into the *a++ idiom, as chromatic tones are very common in *a++. ,e are
now playing what bass players refer to as #half time$, where the half note is the
rhythmic focus of the line.

-otice that we now have a rhythmic change in the last two bars. Because the chords
move twice as fast in these two bars we have to use .uarter notes when adding our
approach tones. This leads us nicely into step / which will deal with what bass
players refer to as #walking time$, where the .uarter note is now the focus of the
Step !: Walking the Bass
-ow that we have introduced a .uarter note pulse in the last two measures of
eample 0 we can now #walk$ a bass line through the entire blues progression.
,hen adding the etra notes there are two things to keep in mind.
The first is that the last note before a chord change should be our approach tone,
now written as a .uarter note, and the second is that we can use any note from the
scale or arpeggio to fill in the remaining .uarter notes.
1ne thing to notice is the use of the Ab in the first bar over top of the "( chord. This
note can be seen from two angles, the first is that it belongs to the " blues scale and
the second being that it chromatically connects 2 to A, our approach tone. Again we
see an eample where chromatic notes are added to the line to make it more #hip$.

Step ": he #hords
-ow that we can play through a bass line in both half and walking time we are
ready to add some chord voicings on top of our line. The net step then, is to find
some easy to grab voicings that sit on top of the root of each chord. 1f course there
are many voicing3s out there that will fit over these chords but for our purposes we
will look at two basic shapes, the 45/0 and 65/0 string group shapes.

Step $: #ombining Walking and #omping
-ow that we have the bass line and the chords under our fingers it is time to bring
them both together. "or now we will only put the chords on the first beat of each
new chord or new bar. 1nce you get a handle on this concept feel free to add the
voicing3s to any beat and to add inversions and chord substitutions as you see fit.
The voicings will appear on the #and$ of the first beat. This is a common rhythmic
choice for guitarists who walk and comp at the same time, but again once you have
this idea down feel free to put the chord in any part of the bar.

Step %: Adding Approach #hords
The final step is to add chord voicings on top of our approach tones. This will add
some harmonic sophistication to the line while at the same time filling out more of
the sonic space with a voicing. The chords written in parentheses are the names of
each of the approach chords. 7ou will notice that each approach chord is the eact
same voicing as the net chord only one fret lower or higher. This will help out
when fingering these chords.

-ow we are ready to take these same steps and apply them to any *a++ tune, be it a
blues based tune or standard /0 bar tune. 7ou might want to try writing out the
steps, as above, when first applying them to other tunes, and once you are
proficient at writing them out try and walk8comp on the fly.
Being able to create bass lines and fill them in with chords on the spot is a great
skill to have and will definitely make one more desirable in a solo, duo or trio &no
bass' situation.