Walking Bass Line Writing Step By Step

Are you looking for a walking bass line tutorial?

It’s a good thing you stopped by.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn an effective approach to playing a walking bass line.

Learning how to write them helps you add interest to your jazz comping.

Let’s get started.

Why Should You Start Your Walking Bass Line With Roots and 5ths

The first step towards learning walking bass is playing the roots and 5ths of each chord.

Let’s say we have our standard ii-V-I-VI in C:

walking bass line

Simply start by playing the chords with the right hand and roots with the left hand as whole notes.

Pretty easy to do, right?

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s add a bit more to it.

Next, think of playing the roots on the first beat and then 5ths on the 3rd beat like this:

walking bass line

As for beats 2 and 4, leave them be as rests for now.

We start learning our walking bass line with the root and 5th because:

  1. They are neutral sounding notes.
  2. The 5th offers a stable transition to set up the next root note.
  3. We can build a foundation for outlining the harmony itself using basic chord tones.

Let’s advance it further by playing in quarter notes like this:

walking bass line

As you can see above, we’re simply playing the roots and the 5ths as quarter notes.

This sounds solid, driving, and stable. In fact, this sort of walking bass line really anchors the music well.

However, it can get old pretty fast. You can make it a lot more interesting.

Let’s take a look at using chromatic approach tones.

How To Make Your Walking Bass Line Flow Smoothly From One Chord To The Next

To spice things up, we’ll replace the note on the 4th beat with a chromatic approach tone that resolves to the root of the next chord.

Let’s check out our ii-V-I-VI again. However, this time we have chromatic approach tones:

When practicing chromatic approach tones, you have two choices:

  • The approach tone a half step above.
  • A chromatic note a half step below.

At this stage, remember to use a chromatic approach tone on the 4th beat.

Let’s now try to write a walking bass line where you can clearly hear the chords.

How To Make Your Walking Bass Line Outline The Chord

To outline the harmony with walking bass lines, here’s an easy approach:

  1. Use the root on the 1st beat.
  2. Play the 3rd on the 2nd beat.
  3. Land the 5th on the 3rd beat.
  4. Play a chromatic approach tone of the root of the next chord on the 4th beat.

When you try and practice this, make sure to have all of your bass notes close to each other. At first, you want to try and keep everything together without having to shift your hand position.

Check out how we do this for our ii-V-I-VI in C:

Now let’s look at another way of playing walking bass lines.

How To Walk Up And Down Chord Progressions

Interestingly, walking up or down along a scale provides great bass lines.

To do this properly, you need to use a chromatic approach tone just before landing the root when you walk up the next chord.

Here’s one example of such a walking bass line:

walking bass line

As you can see above, here’s what you’ll do:

  1. From the Dm7, start at the root and walk up (D-E-F) ending on F# (chromsatic approach tone) just before landing on G.
  2. On G7, walk straight down (G-F-E-D) to approach C.
  3. From the C6/9 chord, play a C major triad arpeggio (C-E-G) and end on G# (leading tone to A)
  4. Lastly, from A7, simply walk down the scale going to D.
  5. Repeat the cycle.

In cases where you have to deal with chord changes every 2 beats, here’s a great way to handle that:

In the above example, what you are doing is:

  • Play root on the 1st beat.
  • Use a chromatic approach tone on the 2nd beat.
  • Play the root of the next chord on the 3rd beat.
  • Proceed to another chromatic approach on the 4th beat.

This is something you can use over really fast chord changes, especially in bebop.

Let’s take a look at how to combine all these techniques together.

How To Combine Chord Outlines and Walk-Up-Walk-Down Techniques

The key to combining what we talked about earlier is using chromatic approach tones.

Chromatic approach tones, as stated a while ago, are notes that can be either a half step lower or higher than the target note.

walking bass line

In the example above, the major 3rd of the current chord (Dm7) you are playing is a chromatic approach tone for the root of the next chord (G7):

Sometimes, the flat 5th of your current chord is the chromatic approach tone leading to the next chord. This creates some more tension but it resolves nicely.

In the same example, over the A7 chord we use an Eb on the 4th beat which resolves nicely to D, the root of the next chord (Dm7).

As you can see, chromatic approach tones create tension and always resolve nicely to a chord tone of the next chord. This is the key to make your walking bass line flow smoothly from one chord to the next.

Now that you’ve discovered some really great techniques for writing walking bass lines, how do you take it further?

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We hope you enjoyed this lesson on writing a walking bass line.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for new lessons, feel free to leave a note below.

Have fun practicing.

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Steve Nixon