Tag Archives: walking bass guitar

5 Levels of Walking Bass And Chords – A Great Comping Approach

Ever since I heard Joe Pass play walking bass and chords behind Ella Fitzgerald, I was completely sold and found that to be the ultimate way to comp in a duo. Something that I then also spent a lot of time practicing and later putting to use on gigs.

Comping like that with several layers happening at the same time can be a bit tricky, so in this video, I am going to show you how to develop it, what to pay attention to and how to practice this type of playing and even take it one step further.

Level 1 – Walking Bass Fundamentals

The best place to start is by first constructing a bassline and then add chords under it.

The way I learned this was by transcribing walking bass off albums, but you can actually construct them pretty easily using a few guidelines.

Keep in mind that working on this is actually also very useful for your soloing, because like a great solo line, then a strong walking bass is moving forward and has momentum towards the next chord.

When you play walking lines on the guitar then you are only using the two lowest strings, E and A, which is also going to make it easier to add chords later since that is where you generally place bass notes when you play Shell voicings, Drop2 or Drop3 voicings, and you have plenty of string to add the chord while you play the bassline.

For this video I am going to use a basic progression, just to have a few different things to work with so I am using: Cmaj7 Em7 A7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

It is just a slightly embellished I VI II V so Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7 C

Learn To Compose Basslines

Before you start just improvising basslines then it is useful to know how to compose them, and that is pretty easy to do.

For now, you can focus on having a walking bass that moves from root note to root note, so let’s add those and then use that to construct the rest:

For the bass line to really connect with the chords and be clear then I have the root note on the first beat and for the chords that last one bar I have also already put a chord tone on beat 3, for Cmaj7 G, Dm7: A and G7: D. That is an easy way to get a bass line that really sounds like the chords. You can also use the 3rd on beat 3, it just has to be a strong basic chord tone.

For now, I am only using chord tones and diatonic notes to go from one chord to the next, and mostly I will use chord tones, again this is because you want a bassline that really sounds like the chord.

For the Cmaj7 bar, here I can easily go from C to G by adding the E in between, and to go from G to E on Em7 then F is an obvious diatonic passing note, just walking down the scale.

On Em7 then B is a great option for a chord tone to take us to A on A7. You could have used G as well, but B is closer and easier to play. In a similar way the 3rd, C#, works to takes us from A to Dm7.

With Dm7, I need to move down to A, and the 7th, C is a good option there. Moving to G is done by just going down the arpeggio to the low 3rd: F.

The G7 is using the triad, and here you can reuse the 3rd, B, as a leading note to C

Example Level 1

Level 2 – Adding Chords

Adding chords to a bass line like this is pretty simple. I am going to start with some easy shell-voicings and just add them around each chord change:

Example Level 2

Before we start adding chromatic passing notes and chromatic chords, then let’s just have a look at what is going on: All I do here is to add the rest of the chord whenever the chord changes, so

On the G7 you have a delayed chord which adds some more syncopation and energy to what is going on and this is something you want to explore as well and that you will see a lot more of later in the video.

Learn Shell-voicings (and be a Happy Jazz Guitarist)

As you will see then most of the chords in this video are either directly shell-voicings or derived from shell-voicings, and if you want to see how much you can create starting from this easy and basic structure then check out this video.

Level 3 – Chromatic Passing Notes

Until now the bassline was using either chord tones or diatonic notes, but since the point of a walking bass is to keep the music moving then adding some tension with chromatic passing notes is a great thing to do as well. So let’s add that and also some variation in the rhythm:

Example Level 3

So this is roughly the same bassline, but now, there are a few chromatic notes in there as well:

I have added a D# as an 8th note to lead to E on Em7 so that is both an extra leading note and a more active rhythm. In the next bar, you also have the Bb and the Eb leading notes.

As you can see then I add the leading notes before the chord change to add some extra forward motion, that extra tension that is then resolved when you get the root of the next chord.

On the Dm7 then the Ab is now taking us to G which is actually easier to play than the F. The G7 bassline has a Db on beat 4, and here this is also harmonized with a chromatic passing chord: Db7 which then resolves to Cmaj7.

As you can hear then you can also add complete chords as ways of making things move more or be more exciting. Let’s add a lot more of those and also add some more color to the chords.

Level 4 – Chromatic Chords

Example Level 4

(highlight dom7th chords with extensions in sheet music)

Here I am adding notes to most of the chords, giving the dominants 9ths and 13ths, and really just adding color to the sound.

I also harmonize some of the leading notes. Since the point of a leading note is to create tension that is resolved then harmonizing it with a dominant chord is often a very good idea as you can see on the Cmaj7 bar where I am harmonizing the F bass note with an F7 that then resolves to Em7, or turning the Ab bass noted turning into an Ab7 that resolves to G7.

The basic principle is really just to harmonize the bass notes, and you can take it even further and then put a chord under all the bass notes, which gives you a harmonized bassline.

Level 5 – Harmonized Bassline

Example Level 5

Here you are harmonizing every bass note with a chord and using inversions and other voicings to connect the whole thing. Most of the time I simplified the chords a little because it gets a bit busy if they are all 4-note chords with a lot of notes and complicated sounds.

You can find some great examples of Jim Hall playing like this, and Joe Pass also does this in some places when he is playing with Ella. Often when you do this you also use more chromatic passing chords simply because that is practical instead of changing voicings all the time, but that also depends on the tempo.

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Walking Bass Jazz Guitar Lesson on All The Things You Are

Playing Walking Bass Jazz Guitar Comping is really a great full way to comp in a duo setting. The walking bass really helps you lay down the groove and you can add the chords to make the harmony clear but also as accents in the rhythm. All The Things You Are is a great jazz standard to check this out on and you probably are already familiar with the song.

Playing these two layers at the same time is challenging in this lesson I am going to discuss some of the things that you want to check out like playing bass lines over several bars of one chord. Adding variation in the bass line rhythms and dealing with higher tempos.

All The Things You Are – Walking Bass Jazz Guitar

This example is a little faster than what I usually do. It demonstrates how I reuse bigger parts of lines on similar progressions very well. It also shows how I use changing positions when playing on the same chord for several bars. 

The First A part – Arpeggio basslines and sliding leading notes

The bassline and chords are clearly displaying that I mostly add the chords on the 1& except on the strong parts of the form like in the first bar. Having the chord on the 1& is technically quite easy and just adds a little extra color and an accent.

The basslines in the first 6 bars are really all constructed from arpeggio notes adding a chromatic leading notes on beat 4 when necessary. This makes the lines very clear and easy to relate to the chords.

On the G7 in bar 6 I have an extra leading note that I slide into the resolution on the Cmaj7. This a great way to embellish the basslines and it will work even at higher tempos where for example 8th note triplets might not be that practical.

On the Cmaj7 the first bar is in the position around the 3rd fret and then moves up to the 8th fret for the second bar. This is one way to deal with several bars of Cmaj7.

Second A – Shifting position and keeping the groove going

The 2nd A also has basslines consisting of arpeggio notes and the occoasional leading tone. Except for the first chord Cm7, which has a more scalar bass melody.

The Transition from Bb7 to Ebmaj7 is aided with an extra sliding leading note from D to Eb.

On the Gmaj7 the bass line is again shifting from 3rd to 10th position and in this case I don’t include a chord on the 2nd bar of the Gmaj7.  To me the most important part of playing like this is to keep the bass moving and therefore it is not always essential to have a chord in there.

The Bridge – Walk yourself out of a tight spot

The first part of the bridge is a II V I in G major. The bass and chords are actually playing the exact same movement as in Bars 2-4 This is a good example of a large chunk being “re-cycled” in another key.

This time the Gmaj7 bassline does not shift position in the second bar. this is because I want to stay in the same region for the II V I in E that follows.

In the II V I to E major the F#m is again an arpeggio but this time the arpeggio is shifting up along the 6th string.  This makes the B7 in the 7th fret is easy to reach. Playing bass lines like this can be very useful to not “walk yourself into a corner”. Having the B7 up there makes it possible to avoid the Emaj7 which is not so easy to have in there with the low open E string.

The C7 is approached with an slide extra and the bassline is a straight C major triad. 

The Last A part

I have an extra leading note on the C7 at the end of the bridge, but in this case the transition to the Fm7 is using a hammer-on instead of a slide to move from E to F.

The Bbm7, Eb7 and Abmaj7 are very similar to the first A.

The descending IV IVm progression

The final 8 bars of the song is IV IVm, III, bIIIdim to a II V I.

The First Dbmaj7 is played in the 4th position but then moves up to play Dbm6 in the 9th position. From here it descends to th 8th for Cm7 and the 7th for the Bdim chord.

The final II V I cadence is again using the same bass line as bars 2-3. This time the final Ab chord is placed on the beat mark the ending of the song. The last bars are a II V back to F incase you want to loop the chorus.

Walking bass etudes and making your own

I hope you can use the exercises and the example to get started making your own Walking bass and chords comping examples. Of course my example can serve as a good etude. You should also used it as a source of inspiration for your own walking bass ideas.

Get Started Soloing on All The Things You Are

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Walking Bass – All The Things You Are

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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