The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass Lines

in Bass Lessons/Bass Technique/Hear Bass/Learning Concepts/Musical Vocabulary

Scalar and modal approaches for walking bass requires too much thinking.

There are too many scale choices for each chord. Adding to that, in a single scale there are too many notes and limited time within a measure to create a walking bass line that can fit them all!

All of this thinking gets in the way of your musical freedom for creating good sounding walking bass lines.

Master a streamlined approach for walking bass that allows you to play any chromatic note in a way that will always sound good.

This approach to creating walking bass lines requires minimal thinking, automatically making you play the notes that sound the best, and allowing you to focus more on your feel and groove!

It’s time to harness true melodic freedom with your walking bass lines with The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass!

Exploiting The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass

Here are some examples of walking bass lines that apply The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass.

Example 1 applies The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass by walking a bass line over a II V I chord progression, where each chord duration lasts for a full measure.

II V I Walking Bass Line EXAMPLE 1:

Example 2 applies The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass by walking a bass line over a Rhythm Changes chord progression, where many of the chord durations lasts for half a measure.

Rhythm Changes Walking Bass Line EXAMPLE 2:

Notice that each of these walking bass lines have a sense of implied harmonic direction, without relying on any chordal instrument sounding the actual chord progression.

Create Implied Harmonic Direction With Your Walking Bass Lines

Implied harmonic direction occurs when your ear hears changes in chord tones that are specific to a key.

These changes occur strongest with the core triads of each specific chord in a chord progression.

For example: Dminor changing to Dmajor

In this particular example, your ear will mainly notice the change in the chord’s third.

So, in this example, in order to experience an actual chord change, your ear will care about the F (the third of Dminor) changing to F# (the third of Dmajor).

Notice how your ear hears Dminor changing to Dmajor in this walking bass line.

Dminor to Dmajor Walking Bass Line EXAMPLE 3:

If you want to create walking bass lines that strongly outline the harmony on their own, without relying on a harmonic instrument to play the actual chords, your focus must shift on the chords tones that are specific to each chord, the chord tones that are different from the previously played chord.

The ear needs to hear the changes in chord tones. Thats what really matters when creating solid walking bass lines.

How To Create Walking Bass Lines Using The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass

  1. Determine your chord progression. It helps to first practice using 1 chord per measure.
  2. Write down the core chord tones for each chord. For BASIC practice you will use only core chord tones. These are the basic triads. When you get confortable hearing this concept, you can add 7ths. You can actually accomplish a lot with just basic triads!
  3. Circle the notes that are unique to each chord. What is the note that is different from the previous chord? This is the change your ear must hear.
  4. Emphasize the Root note and the unique notes on the strong beats.
  5. On the weak beats play passing tones (a note that is a step away from your target chord tone).

Here is an example that applies this concept to a basic walking bass line.

  • The chord progression for this walking bass line will be D7 | G7 | Eb7 | F7 |
  • Core chord tones for D7: D, F#, A
  • Core chord tones for G7: G, B, D (G and B are different from the previous chord)
  • Core chord tones for Eb7: Eb, G, Bb (Eb and Bb are different from the previous chord)
  • Core chord tones for F7: F, A, C (F, A, and C are different from the previous chord)
  • Emphasize the Root note and any unique chord tones.
  • Include passing tones.

Your walking bass line for this example may look like this: 

D F# A Ab | G A B E | Eb B Bb Ab | A C F C |

Play this walking bass line on your bass. You will be able to hear the implied harmonic chord progression for D7 | G7 | Eb7 | F7 |.

The Streamlined Method for Walking Bass will work for ANY chord progression, even complicated chord progressions, such as Giant Steps.


If you want to dive into the world of walking bass lines, then you might be interested in this:

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