Down-Home Blues Lines
When in Paris, you'd be well advised to know how to speak French. Likewise, when playing the blues, you'd better know how to speak its musical language. The blues is a place where you'll find bold individuality melded with the most strident use of musical cliché. In other words, there is, simultaneously, a mix of great personal freedom and strict adherence to tradition and conformity.
For the bassist, blues is an idiom where the shuffling, walking bass line is king. Although soloing does occur, blues bassists are not generally required to perform outlandish feats of technical prowess. More likely, a bassist might use his solo to simply play a slightly more interesting version of his walking bass line (with a few cool licks thrown in). At the end of the day, the highly regarded blues bassist is the one who holds down the fort. His most important job is to keep great time through rock solid bass lines.
As you might imagine, there are some important cliché bass lines in the blues. You learned some of these already in Chapters 7, 8, and 9, where blues forms the basis for those genres discussed. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Figure 12-1 shows a walking pattern moving up and down on a dominant seventh chord. Take note of the extensive use of chromatics. This bass line is often used on the I7 chord in a blues progression. This pattern can also be altered so that it transitions into a IV7 chord on beat one of measure five. In order to do this, swap out the last two notes for pitches that, instead, move in the direction of the IV7 chord. For example, you might alter beat four of measure four to E- or C-sharp, then play D on beat one of the fifth bar. In this case, D is the root of the IV7 chord.
Common walking bass line for a I7 chord
There are many small variations on the standard twelve-bar blues. If you include jazz, there are some extensive variations. But leaving jazz aside, one of the most common modifications of the twelve-bar blues form in the Chicago style involves substituting different chords in measures nine and ten. Instead of measures nine and ten using the V7 chord and the IV7 chord, respectively, you can use a ii7 (minor) in measure nine and a V7 chord in measure ten. There are numerous ways to walk between these, but another common blues pattern using chromatics is seen in Figure 12-2, which has both an ascending and descending walking bass line. As always, experiment with alterations to these basic templates. This will help you to find your own voice as a bassist.
Walking between a ii7 and V7 in measures nine and ten of a twelve-bar blues line
There are many other simple blues bass lines that really work. One example is illustrated in Figure 12-3. Here you'll see the use of a one-five-seven bass line where the intervals include the tonic, the fifth, and the dominant seventh. Two versions of this bass line have been notated for you. The first pattern ends on the tonic (measure one). The second ends on the fifth (measure two).
Using a one-five-seven bass line two ways
Lastly, you need to know how to end the blues. Figure 12-4 illustrates two common blues endings: one ascending and one descending. As with all these blues figures, please experiment with rhythmic variation. For example, try them with straight eighths, swing eighths, a quarter-note walking feel, and as hard shuffles.
Two blues endings