What is a Walking Bass Line?

What exactly is a walking a bass line? A walking bass line generally consists of notes of equal duration and intensity (typically 1/4 notes) that create a feeling of forward motion. It is possible to add rhythmic variations, but in general, a walking bassline drives the song forward step by step.

The purpose of a good walking bassline (or any bassline for that matter) is twofold: First, to outline the chord you are playing over, and second, to smoothly approach the next chord. The main point to consider when constructing walking bass lines is how to create a smooth transition between the last note of the current chord, and the first note of the next.

In general, we make this transition smooth by limiting the interval between these two notes to either a half step (semitone), whole step (tone) or a perfect5th. The essence of a walking bass line is created by playing four to the bar, which means playing four 1/4 notes per measure.

In this series of lessons, we’ll take a look at constructing walking basslines over some common chord progressions that we encounter in the blues. The most common chord movement in the blues (not to mention jazz, rock, pop and country)follows the circle of 5ths, where chords descend in intervals of perfect 5ths, for example from D to G to C. I think this chord movement gives the music a feeling of “flowing downhill”.

Walking Bass Line Examples

In Example 1, we approach the F7 chord from below by playing the 3rd of the C7 chord (E).The order of the notes played is shown in the brackets for each example.

Example 1: [1-b7-5-3]

During the bop era of jazz in 1940s and 1950s, many soloists played in a style known as “change running”, where they outlined the quickly moving chord changes much as a bassist would do.One of the most common patterns is shown in Example 2, where we approach the root of the F7 chord from above.

Example 2: [1-2-3-5]

In Example 3, we approach the root of the F7 chord by an interval of a perfect 5th, which results when we return to the root of the C7 chord.

Example 3: [1-3-5-1]

Example 4 walks down the Mixolydian scale from the root of the C7 chord to approach the root of the F7 chord from above.

Example: 4 [1-b7-6-5]

Example 5 uses chromatic movement to approach the root of the F7 chord from below.

Example: 5 [1-2-b3-3]

In the next lesson, we’ll take a look at some of the other intervals we’ll encounter when playing the blues.