Watch the Walking Bass Secrets online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp
In the world of jazz, it's often flamboyant soloists who garner the most attention. But it's the rhythm section the bass and drums who make things really swing. On gigs where there are no bass and drums, the guitarist is expected to be the virtual rhythm section. One cool way to make the groove happen is to strum fourchords-to-the-bar, a la Freddie Green. But to get things seriously cooking, you'll need to lay down bass lines yourself, and add rhythmic punctuation with well-placed chordal and melodic counterpoint. n How can one player do the physical and creative work of two? With practice and persistence, it ispossible to simulate a miniensemble. In this lesson, we'll work through the basic basic steps of building a hardy bassand-chords groove. First, we'll isolate the essential skills, and then we'll merge these elements to create a solid, swinging accompaniment.
Let's start with a simple, twomeasure chord progression G7- C7 and the most elementary bass line that will get us from the root of the first chord (G) to the root of the second (C) using scalewise motion. Jazz bass lines are typically rendered in steady quarter-notes, so if we walk an upward line from one root to the other (beat one, bar 1 to beat one, bar 2), we'll have to account for five notes: G, x, x, x, C. Stepping up through the appropriate scale for G7 GMixolydian we only have four notes (G, A, B, C). This means we'll either have to repeat a note (Examples 1a and 1b) or add a chromatic passing tone (Examples 1c and 1d). Any of these solutions is fair play.
Walking downward from G is simpler, because there are just enough scale tones to fit G, F, E, D, C. But you can still add chromaticism if you like, as shown in Examples 2a and 2b.
The next step is to add harmony. Here, the job is to outline a progression's essential harmonic content. Of course, on any given beat, one fretting-hand finger will be tied up with a bass note, so your chord palette will be limited to two- and three-note voicings. Given such restrictions, the best bet is to play a chord's 3 and 7, which are its definitive tones. On G7, for example, laying down F and B (the b7 and 3) above the G bass gives our ears enough information to infer G7 (Ex. 3). For other chord types, use the appropriate 3 and 7 (see table, Definitive Chord Tones).
Now, we could simply let the chord's 3 and 7 ring out as wholenotes, but half the fun lies in adding syncopated chordal punches to create a swinging feel. The simplest way to do that is to include one eighth-note punch per measure. To practice this, repeat a one-measure phrase using G7, and place a chord punch on the first eighth-note of the measure (Ex. 4a). Note: Treat all eighth-note rhythms in this lesson as "swing" eighth-notes.
Next, shift the punch to the second eighth-note of the measure (Ex. 4b), then the third eighth-note of the measure (Ex. 4c), and so on, until the punch is on the eighth eighth-note (the and of beat four). Make sure to work on this punchover-bass concept at a variety of tempos, from 72 bpm to 200 bpm. You can make this exercise even more interesting by repeating a two-measure phrase, which gives you eight more possibilities for the eighth-note punch.
Once the basic one-punchper-bar groove starts feeling good, it's time to tackle more complex rhythms. Examples 5a and 5b put two common jazz-comping rhythms to work.
Once you've made nice with the previous examples, it's time to move on to the final step putting it all together. The bluesy, eightmeasure etude (Ex. 6) combines all the points we've discussed, and offers a few extra goodies. Pay close attention to the left-hand fingerings, as some of the chords particularly C9 in bars 5 and 6 are nearly impossible to sustain for their full value without using the suggested fingerings.
Notice how the rhythmic chordal phrasing in bars 3 and 4 mimics the phrase in bars 1 and 2. Such symmetry makes comping musical, and not just a series of random eighth-note punches. Use this concept as you develop your own bass-and-chord moves.
Work the etude up to speed gradually, keeping time with a metronome or beat box. If you can't make your bass line and chords swing at a slow, sultry pace, you won't be able to make them swing at medium or fast tempos. You may find it helpful to practice the bass line (downstemmed notes) and the chord punches (upstemmed notes) separately before attempting to play them all together.
To really get into the swing of things, try setting your time keeper at half the actual tempo, using its clicks as beats two and four. As awkward as this may feel at first, it's a tried-and-true method for improving swing feel by de-emphasizing beats one and three, which are more favorably accented in rock than in jazz. Make sure that your two parts (bass and chords) are balanced musically. To get the clearest perspective, record yourself and listen to the results. Remember, you're trying to create an aural illusion, so the bass line should have the timbre of an upright, and the chord punches should sound like guitar. Whichever instrument you try to emulate, keep your chords timbrally distinct from the bass.
Okay, so you've got the basic moves under your fingers. Now what? For walking practice, work on 12-bar blues progressions at various tempos in several different keys including keys that could easily make use of open-string bass notes (such as E, A, D, G, and C), as well as those that are less likely to include open strings (such as B b, E b, and A b). When you're comfortable walking and comping through blues progressions, take a stab at a few simple jazz standards, such as "Take the A Train" or "All of Me." With a little effort, you'll soon be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.