Walking Bass Line Tutorial in 3 Steps (with Bass Tab)

Step 1: Know Your Chord Progression and Chord Tones

We're defining a very simple 3-step process for playing an awesome walking bass line under ANY chord progression.  An awesome bass line requires a few essential characteristics:

  • Stability
  • Motion (energy)
  • Animation (enhancing harmony and melody)

[bctt tweet="Great bass players make sure they're using the notes in the current chord at all times." username="music_protest"]

So, the first thing we have to do is identify our chord progression.  This is where you start, so you can determine the appropriate chord tones (a.k.a. arpeggio) for each chord. Let's take a chord progression like this:

Walking Bass Line Tab Step 1: Know Your Chord Progression

Now What?

Of course, you always want to play an amazing and flexible bass line. But, how?  When we know our chords, we can identify our arpeggio.  Once we have that figured out, all we need to do is make sure our bass line relies on the 4 notes in our arpeggio for each chord. The 4 notes in an arpeggio would typically be:

  • (R) the root note
  • (3rd) the third - which would typically be major or minor
  • (5th) the fifth
  • (7th) the seventh - which would ALSO typically be major or minor

Note: We want to consider the 7th even if the chord progression is not specifying 7th chords. We want to do this because the 7th plays in important role in constructing any kind of bass line.  You should assume that the 7th is implied even if it isn't actually being played (this is one of those amazing psychoacoustic phenomenon that you want to be aware of)!

Anatomy of an Arpeggio

Keep in mind that its ideal to know your chord tones ASAP.  That way, you can improvise and be expressive on bass, in realtime.  In other words, you want to be able to translate a chord into an arpeggio within a couple of seconds (if not faster).  That kind of familiarity will make it easier to play and create at the same time - which is really, really fun!

Take a look at the table below and the "anatomy of an arpeggio" on the right.  Both will help explain the exact notes in our arpeggio for each of the 4 chords in our progression.  These represent the pool of notes you'll want to be playing.  Also, these are the notes you want to be able to identify almost immediately, so that you can improvise and compose better walking bass lines.  This isn't really optional, so just do the work to memorize chords and arpeggios.  You'll be very, very glad you did!

Just to review, below is a table showing the chord tones for each chord in our chord progression:

[table id="1" /]

Next, we want to separate out a very special kind of tone from our chord tones - we want the "common tones".  We're going to see how common tones help us next.

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