Walking bass lines is an essential part of a bass player who wants play jazz. Its name was derived from the quarter note beat produced by a person walking at a normal pace. Walking bass lines are common across different genres such as: rock, ska, R&B, gospel and country music. With that being said, let's talk more about how to play walking bass lines.
As a bassist, it is very important to consider your responsibilities as the band's designated time-keeper and checker of the band's harmony. This is same as true with any type of playing; but with walking bass line, these roles are very much in center stage.
As a designated time-keeper, you may use a steady beat of quarter notes will hold things down together. Milt Hinton's "Old Man Time" had a great piano solo and drum fills, but his steady pulse keeps everything in order.
When doing a walking bass line, you need to use chord tones to construct the lines. Using an arpeggio, you will have a better idea on how to change the chords based on the notes contained within it. For example, if you are walking with the chord of C, you may use the E and G. From there, you can work your way back E or D. If you want a smoother transition from different chord to the other, add a few chromatic passages like ½ notes which are not part of the scale or chord. This is what you call a "leading tone" because you "introduce" your listener's ears to the succeeding note.
Also, a great technique to practice is by learning how to play descending and ascending four-note pattern. Suppose you started with G7 (G-F-D-B) then descend to G dominant seven (G-B-D-F); notice that you played the same notes. To have a memorable set of bass line, try incorporating the stronger chord tones-specifically the root, the thirds and the fifths.
Lastly, walking bass lines requires a consistent practice of rhythm. It is not all about the scale of your melodies or robotically adhering to the chord patterns; sometimes you need to feel what your band mates are doing. A slow but consistent practice using your metronome will give you a steady pulse. Playing in small tempos while keeping a steady timing will help you with mid and faster pacing. Explore about different swings of tempos if you wanted to, just like what Ron Carter did on "Autumn Leaves."
Walking bass line is all about enjoying and exploring the beauty of the bass as a great harmonic and rhythmic instrument. Whether it is an upright bass guitar or the younger electric bass, the principles are all the same. Adhere to them and watch as your bass guitar talents reach for new heights.
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