The Walking Bass Line: Creating a Walking Bass With Only a Scale

We've all heard the walking bass line in jazz and blues music. It's associated with a relaxed atmosphere and often plays as an accompaniment to a soloist or group of soloists. The basic structure uses a scale to create a foundation and movement through a piece. Combined with the percussion section, the walking bass line allows a performer to help accent the fundamental note and give the piece depth. Often the double-bass player comps the bass line based on a chord progression or notated music. Using a relaxed pizzicato technique, the bass guitar or upright bass players pluck out the lowest line to add definition and structure to a composition.


Before you start writing a bass line, you must know the intervallic relationship of half-steps and whole-steps in both major and minor scale. In a major scale, the intervals spacing adheres to the following schematic: whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. In this example, a C-major scale has the following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Start a half step lower and you get the notes C-flat, D-sharp, E-flat, F-flat, G-flat, A-flat, and B-flat. The first note of the scale is used to identify the name of the scale. If you don't yet know some basic music theory, you should study major and minor scales and key signatures. Then, move on to other scales such as the blues scale and pentatonic scales. A first-semester course in college music theory provides you with the basic information necessary to continue.


Think about the basic rhythm you want to use in your walking bass line. The rhythm in a walking bass line usually repeats every two measures. This standard convention makes it easier for the performers to know when a chord change is going to occur. One very common rhythm uses two eighth-notes followed by seven quarter-notes, for a total of eight beats. Once you have your rhythm you need to write the rhythm on staff paper above the staff lines. After writing the rhythm, draw a barline every four beats. Remember that walking bass lines don't move very quickly and the most common rhythms used are eighth notes and quarter notes. Remember that each quarter note holds for one beat; eighth notes hold half a beat.


Take your rhythm and replace each note of the rhythm with the notes of the major scale. Most likely, you'll be writing in the bass clef. This is, after all, a walking "bass" line. Once you've entered in the notes for the rhythm, erase the rhythm "placeholder" you've written above the staff. Go over the rhythm several times and make any changes to make it more fluid. Consider moving some of the pitches around to make the walking bass line a little less predictable. Writing a bass line should involve a bit of creativity. While this basic tutorial can help you create the initial line when you are at a loss for ideas, you should attempt to edit the line when finished.


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