Jazz School: Walking Bass Lines: Introduction

The walking bass line, a staple of jazz playing, is an essential addition to your improvisational bag. A "walking" bass line is a flowing stream of quarter notes in the bass that perform at least four inter-related functions:

It is important to think about bass lines melodically. The best walking bass lines are strong melodies in their own right. The most basic approach for building a walking bass line is to play the root of the chord on the strong beat when each new chord appears and to play melodically-interesting notes on the weak beats in-between. Think of the chord roots as "targets" and the in-between notes as "connectors". The choice of targets and connectors depends on at least three factors:

Note: This is where your mastery of scales and chords really pays off. If you know your scales and chords, you will notice that these bass line are not random sequences of notes. Each one is a pattern -- a very simple pattern based on very simple ideas. Enjoy!