Walking bass

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

With walking bass [ wɔːkɪŋ beɪs ] (Engl., "Walking bass") is known in jazz a kind of musical accompaniment in which a bass instrument, most of the bass , the flow of a piece by a rhythmically uniform, yet varied played bass line pretends . Especially in the conventional forms of jazz, the walking bass is a preferred variety of bassists. But he can also be found frequently in blues , rhythm and blues , country music , ska , as well as rock and pop music .

Musical functions

The walking bass primarily fulfills the following tasks:

  • In traditional jazz forms it reproduces the mostly continuous beat , mostly in 4/4 .
  • He tries to clarify as much as possible the harmony sequence , which with good basslines can be heard by the listener and fellow players even without further chordal accompaniment.
  • With an instrumentation without a bass, it allows the bass functions to be represented by another instrument, which also has the additional option of playing harmonies and / or melodies. So has z. For example, a solo pianist using the walking bass technique leaves his right hand free for chords , fill-ins , and solos.
  • In addition, a good and musically perceived bassline can of course complement or contrast the ideas of the other musicians both harmonically and melodically, as well as developing your own ideas that are adapted to the genre in a personal style; d. H. thus also to participate improvisationally .


Walking pattern in blues, boogie listen ? / iAudio file / audio sample
Walking Bass in tenths (Art Tatum: "Is not Misbehavin '" ) in Ragtime Stride listen ? / iAudio file / audio sample

Like so many phenomena in jazz , the origin of the walking bass - sometimes also known as walking a line or four feel - cannot be tied to a specific person or a specific date. The first echoes of a walking bass-like accompaniment technique can already be found in the ragtimes and boogies that were still played by the piano at that time . Simple walking bass lines can already be heard on the earliest recordings from the 1920s. For example, the stride piano style, as in the following example by Art Tatum , uses bass lines made up of decimals, sevenths, octaves and individual bass notes that alternate with chords.

The transition from two beat jazz to four beat jazz

Pioneering work for today's classic style of accompaniment of the walking bass, building on the playing of Duke Ellington bassist Wellman Braud , Walter Page .

The change from two beat jazz to four beat jazz in the so-called Kansas City style was important for the success of the Walking Bass . Ragtime and Dixieland are, regardless of the different emphasis on 1 and 3 or 2 and 4, two-beat rhythms, since the bass drum, as the carrier of the fundamental rhythm , has only two beats per measure . The swing , on the other hand, basically has four beats per clock unit.

But also in bebop , in which the drummer designs his rhythm functions more freely, sets various accents and circles the beat rather than plays it out directly, the walking bass fulfills important balancing tasks that emphasize the basic rhythm.

The literature often points to the relationship between the baroque basso continuo (Italian: "continuous bass") and the walking bass, and in fact the two phenomena are comparable both in their smooth movement and in their harmonic function.


In the following presentation, for the purpose of a better explanation, a distinction is made between a simplistic theoretical presentation that facilitates understanding of the basic principles (as is often found in textbooks) and the real application, expansion and partial override of these rules in musical practice.

Theoretical structure

The basic concept of a walking bass line consists of quarter notes that come from the chord and key material currently being played . The most important tone is the fundamental tone on the first quarter, showing the harmonic relationships . Other important steps of the chord are the fifth , which often appears on the third quarter, and the third . Before a chord change, the root note of the following chord is usually reached by chromatic (chromatic approach) or diatonic approximation on the last quarter of the preceding chord.

Jumps that exceed the interval of a sixth or seventh are - with the exception of octave jumps - rather rare, as they would rather disturb the calm, natural progression of the bass line. But they are a stylistic device for dramatic effects when the stepped line is suddenly continued a ninth or seventh lower or higher.

The following example shows a bass line as it can be played over a 12 bar blues scheme in C major. In this case, it is characteristic to alternate between bars in which the notes of the chord are played as an arpeggio and those that lead in linear movements to the next bar:

Listen to a free sample of a walking bass ? / iAudio file / audio sample

Measure 1:

1st quarter: root note
2nd quarter: third
3rd quarter: fifth
4th quarter: chromatic approximation tone

Measure 2: scale with chromatic approximation tone.

Measure 3 similar to measure 1 with C6:

Measure 4 on two chromatic approximation and time 4 diatonic although also a semitone.

Bars 5 and 6 use the corresponding chord tones: root, third and fifth.

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen

Bar 7 tones of the tonic and chromatic r approximation tone

In bar 8 no harmonic fifth is made to the following chord, but the typical phrase I - # I ° - II is used, which leads from I to II, # I ° replaces the A7 chord on the VI level :

1st quarter: root note
2nd quarter: second
3rd quarter: third
4th quarter: Chromatically lowered approximation tone third. Reinterpreted for D minor , this is the small ninth.

Bars 9 and 10 are excerpts from the C major scale :

1st quarter: root note
2nd quarter: second
3rd quarter: third
4th quarter: Chromatically raised approaching tone third.
1st quarter: root note
2nd quarter: seventh
3rd quarter: sixth
4th quarter: the fifth as a diatonic approximation tone.

Measures 11 and 12, classic I - IV7 - IIm - V7 turnaround to C. With approximate notes c sharp, a semitone to d from modulated A7, chromatic a flat and fifth jump g to c.

Use bars 2 and 10 e.g. B. the sixth and minor seventh and bar 7 the fourth . Bars 4 and 7 use the fifth on the first quarter instead of the root note.

The transition from bar 10 to 11 and bar 6 to 7 uses the diatonic approximation, while the other bars use the chromatic transition. Measure 4 to 5 and 5 to 6 use the approach from below, while e.g. B. Measure 1-2, or 2-3 etc. practice the approach from above.

It is difficult to explain the second quarter G flat (or F sharp) in the eighth measure. It sounds like an alternating note to g, but the resolution does not take place, instead the third e of the chord Db ° is controlled instead of the fifth g. You can also play an f there, but that doesn't sound so convincing. Finally, the ges can also be viewed as the Lydian fourth of C, but this is constructed; or as an anticipation of the whole-tone semitone scale of the following chord Db °, which explanation was not otherwise used here.

Strictly speaking, at the beginning of bar eight, since a C is heard, it is the II-V sequence Em7 - A7 (b9), for which F sharp simply fits better, precisely because Em7 actually is the b5 (B instead of B) for a minor cadence to Dm would need. You can also play eight Db ° at the beginning of the bar, but that is not so convincing.

Or since bars seven and eight with the tonic in bar nine control the subdominant, or more precisely the subdominant parallel, the f into which the e is supposed to dissolve upwards in semitones cannot of course be anticipated because the tension is released prematurely.

Musical practice

Depending on the routine and inspiration of the bassist, these tones and rhythms are enriched with additional optional tones from the ladder - preferably the minor seventh - chromatic passage tones, whole scale excerpts, or tones completely unrelated to the ladder. The rhythmic variations include enlargements and reductions , triplet formations and shifts in the center of gravity that cannot be fixed in terms of notation , the so-called offbeats .


The rigid, more theoretical orientation towards the keynote and fifth is often abandoned depending on the respective jazz style and the musical ideas of the musicians involved. An interesting walking bass line then strives to achieve the following sound aspects in a varied but harmonious way in the selection of its tones:

  • The representation of the respective scale or scale , the associated chord, or the modality on which the title is based .
  • The play around or encirclement of elementary fixed points or chord tones of the respective title.
    Listen to an example of Double Chromatic Approach ? / iAudio file / audio sample

When deviating from the theoretical scheme of a harmony change by chord, the above-mentioned rules naturally acquire new, creatively usable freedoms.

With chords that stay the same over several bars, the explicit emphasis on the chord root on the first beat is of course far less important for the harmonic fixation. Approaches based on the respective scale are increasingly coming to the fore. This can be seen in bars 3 and 4 of the note example above. Since both chords represent C major , there is no need to emphasize the root note in the second bar. The bass brings the note G on the first quarter of bar 4, which without the previous harmonic clarification (i.e. the C major in bar 3) could be interpreted as the root note of G major / G7.

Halbtaktige chord changes in John Coltrane's Title Giant Steps listen ? / iAudio file / audio sample

Shorter time changes or other time signatures such as 3/4 or 5/4 quarter time naturally present the bass player with completely different challenges and are of course not compatible with the above-mentioned model of the emphases on the first and third quarter. Examples of quick, half-measure chord changes are turnarounds , or z. B. John Coltrane's title Giant Steps .

It is also popular to circling a target tone from above and below on a difficult cycle time (double chromatic approach). In the example above, the target notes A and D of bars 3 and 4 are reached via their chromatic neighbors Bb and C #, as well as C # and Eb.

This creates the typical major third above a minor chord, or the major seventh above a dominant seventh chord . The minor seventh occurs frequently in major; the minor sixth for the tonic . And of course there are also small seconds.


Even the quarter note time, which is uniform in its basic form, can be varied by rhythmically dragging notes forward or looking up. (drops etc.). The rhythmic displacement of a preferred note is so short and light that it can hardly be represented in conventional notation. Drops are often played as a descending triplet:

Listen to an example of a dropping bass curve ? / iAudio file / audio sample

The continuous quarter rhythm can, as in the following example, be enriched and broken up by eighth runs and triplet figures without interrupting the natural course of the walking bass.

Listen to an example of a bass curve with quarter notes, eighth notes and eighth note triplets ? / iAudio file / audio sample


The trick is to provide a reliable and transparent rhythmic and harmonic foundation for both the musicians and the audience, without slipping into clichéd and boring lines (see the standard scheme). In particular, it can also be permitted and desired to include impurities that are hardly noticeable rhythmically, as well as slightly different intonation when playing, as well as background noises from the strings. However, these uncleanliness are often annoying. This makes it difficult to jot down really interesting bass lines in every detail.

Experienced bass players (see the audio examples chapter ) usually overcome the presented schemes in their playing and formulate their own melody lines, often characterized by intense chromatics. Ideally, these are less to be interpreted or heard as a simple bass basis, but rather as your own and independent musical thoughts.


The typical instrument for the walking bass is the pizzicato played double bass . The electric bass is closely related to this in terms of playing technique and fingering , so that a player using both instruments can normally practice the art of walking on both basses. The electric bass mostly has frets and thus fixed, tuned pitches. The fretless bass variant of the electric bass sounds much softer and places much higher demands on tone formation and intonation.

Listen to walking bass on guitar ? / iAudio file / audio sample

Walking bass lines on wind instruments such as tuba , sousaphone , bass clarinet or baritone saxophone are less common . This is because the requirement of the constantly flowing or beating pulse places high demands on the player's breathing technique. The more impressive are wind players who can still do this ( Tower of Power , Bob Stewart ). In the brass bands from New Orleans , the tuba or the sousaphone took over the bass part, which was often not a pure walking bass, but often used riffs and linear phrases in the head arrangements .

Of course, walking can also be done on the lower strings of a guitar (rather unusual and therefore more an effect than a standard). By experienced jazz - pianist is also expected that they can play with your left hand sexy bass lines, alternating with intervals or chords. On the pedal of the Hammond organ , Barbara Dennerlein, for example, achieved mastery in walking bass playing. There are swinging recordings of a Hammond bass by Rhoda Scott with Kenny Clarke.

Audio samples

Almost all jazz recordings from the swing and bebop era are suitable as audio samples .

One of the bassists of the older generation who, in view of the increasing emancipation of the bass as a soloist, professed to be a simple but skilful walking bass, was long-time Oscar Peterson companion Ray Brown :

“Some of the boys who play bass like a guitar are amazing. But I still love to play time: rhythm with a good sound that can never be replaced by anything else. It's like a heartbeat. "

A practical example is the title sushi . Brown revives here the walking bass with Offbeatphrasierungen, punctures , triplet Drops in measure 3, a switch to half note values in clock 5 and 6 as well as a guided over two octaves downward movement in Sekundschritten.

Listen to Ray Brown's bassline from Sushi ? / iAudio file / audio sample
Listen to Charlie Mingus' bass line from the track Pork Pie ? / iAudio file / audio sample

Charlie Mingus plays in the track Goodbye Pork Pie Has the following slow, heavily dotted bass line:

Other walking bass masters were and are, for example, Walter Page , Oscar Pettiford , Mike Richmond , Jimmy Blanton , Ron Carter , Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Miroslav Vitouš . Jazz pedagogy also emphasizes Steve Gilmore's bass lines .

Many recordings prove that the method of walking bass playing also asserts its place in jazz in the context of bebop and to this day. In Charlie Parker's title Now's the Time, the following solid walking bass sounds : ( listen ? / I ). McCoy Tyner bassist Avery Sharpe used during the recording of Thelonious Monk -Klassikers In Walked Bud also a classic walking bass from the year 1991st Audio file / audio sample

Overall, however, the bebop revolution freed every instrument from the rigid role assigned to it, which for the bass means that purely melodic or purely rhythmic tasks can replace predominantly harmonic-metrical tasks.

Outside of jazz

Many bass lines that are played in rock 'n' roll and rockabilly stand on the border between boogie-like ostinato figures and the walking bass. The walking bass figures in rock and pop as well as in blues schemes ( listen ? / I ) are often based on repetitive, constant 1-4 bar patterns with a high recognition value (see Paul McCartney's bass line from the Beatles' title Penny Lane ). Audio file / audio sample

On the other hand, there are also swing numbers whose bass lines would fit just as well into a rock 'n' roll number. A classic and well-known example of this is In the Mood by Glenn Miller , in which simple arpeggios are played on the theme , while the bass acts much more freely in the solo parts.

The walking bass is occasionally used to add a jazzy touch to a piece that would actually be outside of jazz, in addition to the related instruments.

Bass from Queen's track Crazy Little Thing Called Love (
listen ? / I )Audio file / audio sample

An example of this is the title Crazy Little Thing Called Love by the rock band Queen from their album "The Game" from 1980, which musically only represents a triplet variation of well-known blues schemes. Another example is Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed by Matt Bianco on "Whose Side Are You On?" From 1984.

Also played Emerson, Lake & Palmer sometimes original style jazz. In the title Take a Pebble , Greg Lake delivered the following walking bass to stylish 16th-note hi-hat figures by Palmer .

Greg Lakes Bass in the song "Take a Pebble" (
listen ? / I )Audio file / audio sample

Simple repetitive walking bass models are also common in ska . A uniform bass model made up of quarters and eighth notes contrasts here with choppy-sounding guitar chords that have been dragged off-beat to one eighth note.

Bass and guitar typical Ska music (
listen to ? / I )Audio file / audio sample

Walking bass lines are sometimes used by pop musicians who flirt with jazz such as Sting , David Bowie , Simply Red , Carmel McCourt , or the singer Sade .


  • Ed Friedland: Expanding Walking Bass Lines. Hal Leonard, Milwaukee 1996, ISBN 0-7935-4586-2 .
  • Bob Magnusson : The Art of Walking Bass. A Method for Acoustic or Electric Bass with CD. Musicians Institute Press, Los Angeles 1999, ISBN 0-7935-8042-0 .
  • John E. Lawrence: Mel Bay Presents Walking Bass Solos. Mel Bay Publishing, Pacific 2001, ISBN 0-7866-3531-2 .
  • Jean-Marc Pillard: Mel Bay Presents Walking Bass Lines for Guitar. Mel Bay Publishing, Pacific 2003, ISBN 0-7866-5906-8 .
  • Eddi Andreas: Guaranteed to learn walking bass. With CD. Jazz harmonics explained in an easily understandable and practical way. Alfred Publishing , Los Angeles 2005, ISBN 3-933136-30-X .
  • Riccardo Scivales: Jazz piano. The left hand. Ekay Music, Bedford Hills 2005, ISBN 1-929009-54-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Walking Bass  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ed Friedland: Building Walking Bass Lines , Hal Leonard, 1995, ISBN 0-7935-4204-9 , p. 4
  2. Mike Schoenmehl: Modern Jazz Piano - The Musical Basics in Theory and Practice; Schott, 1992, ED 7827, page 131 ff.
  3. Markus Lonardini: Popular Music Theory - Pop, Rock, Jazz , Reclam, Stuttgart, 1996, ISBN 3-15-009604-9 , pages 277 to 266
  4. ^ David Baker: Jazz Improvisation - A comprehensive method for all instruments , Veronika Gruber GmbH, 1988, ISBN is not in the book, page 141
  5. "Tatum's bass lines are more adventurous, frequently using walking left-hand intervalls and chords with tenths as the outside intervall." From: Jed Distler: Jazz Masters - Art Tatum , Amsco Publications, 1986, ISBN 0-8256-4085-7
  6. ^ Joachim Ernst Berendt : Das Jazzbuch , Wolfgang Krüger Verlag, Frankfurt a. Main, 1989, ISBN 3-8105-0230-8 , pages 32 and 33, pages 250 and 251
  7. One of many references: “A walking bass is a melody line played in quarters that is as close as possible to the given harmonies. Its baroque counterpart (and perhaps its origin) is the 'Basso Continuo'. Back then, too, people played and improvised via changes (chord changes) - via the figured thoroughbass. "(Philipp Moehrke: Das Groove Piano Buch . Advance Music, Rottenburg 1995, p. 60.)
  8. Mike Schoenmehl: Modern Jazz Piano - The Musical Basics in Theory and Practice ; Schott, 1992, BSS 47193, page 131
  9. David Baker: Jazz Improvisation - A comprehensive method for all instruments , Veronika Gruber GmbH, 1988, ISBN is not in the book, pages 141 and 142
  10. After Toots Thielemans Bluesette ; according to: Mike Schoenmehl: Modern Jazz Piano - The musical basics in theory and practice ; Schott, 1992, BSS 47193, page 133
  11. ^ David Baker: Jazz Improvisation - A comprehensive method for all instruments , Veronika Gruber GmbH, 1988, ISBN is not in the book, page 145
  12. ^ Hans-Jürgen (Jäcki) Reznicek: I'm Walking - Jazz Bass , AMA, 2001, ISBN 3-932587-57-X ; Pages 34 and 81 ff
  13. Recorded and notated from: Bernd Frank: Blues Piano, AMA Verlag GmbH, 1993, ISBN 3-927190-18-7 , page 72 ff.
  14. ^ Joachim-Ernst Berendt: Das Jazzbuch, Wolfgang Krüger Verlag, Frankfurt a. Main, 1989, ISBN 3-8105-0230-8 , page 425
  15. Oscar Peterson Trio: Live at the Blue Note , 1990.
  16. Hans-Jürgen Schaal (Ed.): Jazz standards. The encyclopedia. Bärenreiter, Kassel u. a. 2001, ISBN 3-7618-1414-3 , pp. 34 and 90.
  17. ^ Joachim-Ernst Berendt: Das Jazzbuch, Wolfgang Krüger Verlag, Frankfurt a. Main, 1989, ISBN 3-8105-0230-8 , page 410 ff.
  18. See also: Jazz Bassists
  19. Jump up to: McCoy Tyner: Remembering John , 1991.
  20. Thread from alex - How are Ska basslines built ?! (2009) [1] at musiker-board.de