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Lesson 33: Playing Bass Lines

Technique

  • Play with your thumb
  • Use the bottom three ( the wound) strings

How to Create a Bass Line

  • Use the root or the fifth of the chord on strong beats = beats 1 and 3
  • A new chord can be approached from a half step or a scale step above or below
  • Fill the gaps with notes from the scale the chords belong to
  • The main goal is to create a melodical, singable bass line AND to keep the groove going - to swing!

Latin Bass

The basic way of playing latin bass is to alternate between the root and the fifth:

Swing Style Bass

Swing can be played two-beat or four-beat style:

  • Two-Beat Style: the bass plays on 1 and 3 of every bar
  • Four-Beat Style: the bass "walks" on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4 of every bar, this style is commonly referred to as walking bass
  • Backbeat Style: the bass plays on 2 and 4 of every bar
The two-beat style is sometimes used during the head of a tune. During the solo choruses the walking bass style is the most common - but you can go back and forth between the two for effect...

Walking Bass

Try to create a melodical line that covers the entire form of a tune. Write a few choruses, learn to play them by heart and go on from there.

Let's look at the II-V(-I) progression. It can be handled in the following ways:

Now, let's look at the I-VI-II-V progression. It can be handled in the following ways:

Another important thing to learn is static patterns for "treading water":

Also check out So What/ Impressions walking bass for static patterns on a tonic minor 7th chord.

Four Levels of Playing Bass

There are four levels of playing bass:

  • Level 1: The bass grooves/ swings
  • Level 2: The bass grooves/ swings AND the bass line fits/ outlines the progression
  • Level 3: The bass grooves/ swings AND the bass line fits/ outlines the progression AND the bass line constitutes a melodic line in itself
  • Level 4: The bass grooves/ swings AND the bass line fits/ outlines the progression AND the bass line constitutes a melodic line in itself AND the bass interacts with what's going on elsewhere in the group musically and enhances and reacts to that

Strive to reach at least level 3, but without ever risking losing level 1: the groove/ the swing!

Written Example Bass Lines

Check out my written example bass lines

What to Do

  • Listen to bass players
  • Learn and/ or transcribe their bass lines

What to Practice

  • II-V(-I) progressions
  • I-VI-II-V progressions
  • Chord substitutions
  • Turn-Arounds
  • Songs, songs and songs - jazz standards

2004 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.