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

Review Your Chord Tones/Arpeggios

On the previous page, we identified our chord progression and we talked about using chord tones (a.k.a. arpeggios) to build out the skeleton of our walking bass line.  Below, you can see an example of the skeleton of our eventual walking bass line tab.  Notice that we are starting with ascending arpeggios for each chord.  This is too simple to pass for a bass line, but it is still where we want to start.

Walking Bass Line Tab Step 1: Chord Tones (a.k.a. Arpeggios)

Step 2: Know Your Common Tones

Now, we need to introduce the idea of common tones. We've already identified our chord tones and we'll use these as scaffolding for our walking bass line.  But, if we look again at our chord tones (see the table below), we'll find a lot of tones in "common" between the chords.  For example, the tone "A" is the root of our A chord (V), the 5th of our D chord (I) and the *implied* 7th of our Bm chord.  I've tried to make this really clear by identifying all our common tones in the table below (matching colors indicate matching common tones).

[table id="2" /]

Common Tones and Motion

Remember back when we were talking about stability and motion?  Common tones make it easier to build stability and motion into your bass guitar lines. A common tone is simply a tone that exists in 2 adjacent chords. For example, as we move through our chord progression starting on D and we moved to A, the common tone would be the note "A".  The note A is the 5th of D, while it is the root (R) of A.

We want to use this to our advantage, so that chord motion/transitions can be "glued" together, so to speak.  So, we want to organize our note choices using common tones to maintain stability during chord transitions.

[bctt tweet="Common tones make it easier to build stability and motion into your bass guitar lines." username="music_protest"]

Check out the modified bass tab below.  Here, we can see common tones in use (with the same color-coding as the table above).

Walking Bass Line Tab Step 2: Common Tones

Elegance and Stability

Notice how the transitions from the D > A7 and from Bm > G both pivot quickly around common tones.  The bass tab shows we're using an A (fret 7 on the D string) in the measure that is using the D major chord.  Then, on the A7, we start the measure on this exact same note.  It makes for an elegant and stable transition between D > A7 because they share a common tone!  Plus, its all the better that the common tone is the root of the A7 chord...

We saw how chord tones provide stability.  Now, we can see how common tones maintain that stability and add motion.  It is especially effective to use common tones during chord transitions.  Next, we're going to see how we can create even more motion.

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