Walking Bass Lines

Walking bass lines are used very effectively in blues music. For example, you will hear them in boogie-woogie, jump, jazz blues, and modern electric blues. On piano, walking bass lines simulate an acoustic or electric bass player. These days, some jazz combos will omit the bass player altogether. In this situation, keyboardists will often “split” the sounds on their digital pianos, so that the lower register uses a bass sample and the middle and upper registers use a piano sample. (See Chapter 16 for information on equipment and samples.) Needless to say, pianists who play in group settings without a bass player must be proficient with walking bass.

In FIGURE 9-12, you see the classic walking bass pattern used in the blues. Notice how the flatted or dominant seventh (blue note) is used on the I, IV, and V chords.

FIGURE 9-12: Classic Walking Bass Line

Once you feel comfortable playing the left hand alone, try adding some chords in the right hand. FIGURE 9-13 shows one way to add some chords. With the exception of the V chord, this figure utilizes triads. If you're feeling adventurous, try adding dominant sevenths to all of the chords.

FIGURE 9-13: Classic Walking Bass Line with Chords Added


In FIGURE 9-14, you will see a variation on the classic walking bass line.

This variation simply uses swing eighth notes. In other words, this figure combines the shuffle rhythms learned in FIGURE 9-8 with a walking bass line.

FIGURE 9-14: Walking Bass Line with a Shuffle

Only the I chord is outlined here, but you should be able to easily adapt this rhythm to the IV and V chords. This figure is also similar in feel and style to the boogie-woogie pattern you learned in FIGURE 9-10.

Another popular twist on the classic walking bass line includes use of octaves. Octaves will give you a big, rounded sound. For FIGURE 9-15, you will use your first and fifth fingers exclusively. Again, try using this idea on a full twelve-bar blues.

FIGURE 9-15: Walking Bass Line in Octaves

In jazz blues, pianists will use variations on the blues scale in combination with passing chromatics to create colorful walking bass lines. However, unlike the other patterns learned in this chapter, these walking bass lines are rarely used as ostinatos. Instead, the jazz pianist will continually change or alter the path of the bass line. This keeps it fresh and attention-grabbing.

FIGURE 9-16 is an example of a jazz walking bass pattern. Think of this as a starting point. There are many options to choose from, and you should try coming up with your own lines. When walking over a blues, remember that passing chromatics must be used on beats two and four only. The strong beats — one and three — must always contain notes from the mixolydian scale (see Chapter 5). One additional warning: When walking, avoid the fourth scale degree or natural eleventh on strong beats; this applies to I, IV, and V chords.

FIGURE 9-16: Jazz Blues Bass Line


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