Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Write a Walking Bass Line

How to Write a Walking Bass Line

The walking bass line is a musical style that establishes a constant beat or pulse and emphasizes continuous movement. It is used in several styles of music and it is most prevalent in jazz.


Choose the appropriate timing for the notes in the bass line.
  • Quarter notes are the most commonly used in constructing walking bass lines in jazz.
  • Walking bass lines are also frequently composed of eighth notes.
  • A variation on the feel of the quarter note walking bass line is created by playing an eighth note on the beat immediately preceded by a sixteenth note of the same tone and followed be a sixteenth rest. The sixteenth notes add a rhythmic element to the movement and the sixteenth rests add staccato feel that punctuates each tone in the walking bass line.

Compose walking bass lines by combining chord tones, non-chord diatonic tones and chromatic tones in various patterns to create varying motion throughout the song.
    • Start by recognizing that your role in the song is to maintain a steady rhythmic foundation, solidly define each chord and provide a sense of movement.
    • Begin with the tones in each chord. This provides solid definition of each chord.
    • Concentrate on the basic triad of the chord (the root, 3rd and 5th) even under the more exotic chords that add a 7th, 9th, 11th or 13th. This creates a more solid foundation under the chord. The additional chord tones are certainly not off limits as passing tones, but don't over emphasis them. You give the chord extensions played on guitar or piano greater power and allow them stand out properly by focusing on the base triad of the chord.
    • Create movement within a chord by moving away from the root in steps and then back toward the root. A step is either a half-step or whole-step interval. Another method you can incorporate is leaping from the chord root and then walking back in steps toward the chord root. A leap is any interval greater than a whole step.
    • Create movement to another chord by playing notes underneath the current chord that bring you to the root of the next chord.
    • Use diatonic or chromatic tones as passing tones. Passing tones step you from where you are to where you're going.
    • Add a different feel with a neighboring tone. This is where the leading tone to the next chord is a step beyond the root. In this way, you walk past the root of the next chord and then step back into it.
    • Combine both of these techniques by using what is called a neighbor group. Simply, you play tones that surround the root of the next chord as you approach it. For instance, using this method to move from C-major to F-major, you could play C-E-G-E leading to the root under the F chord.
    • Repeating the same tone under 1 chord before stepping to the root of the next chord is an effective variation within a walking base line.
    • Stepping through notes under a chord and then leaping to the root of the next chord 
  1. Add rhythmic variations to your walking bass line to give it further interest.
    • Consider replacing the quarter note of the 1-beat with an eighth rest and eighth note or a triplet. This is an effective way to lead to the root note of the chord on the 2-beat.