How to Play a Walking Bass Line

One challenging aspect of learning the bass guitar is creating a walking bass line. Many styles of music, including jazz, blues, and rock call for this style of bass accompaniment.

A walking bass line can be simply described as a continuous line of quarter notes that adds movement to a song. In this article, you will learn the process of creating a walking bass line, which has been broken down into 4 steps.

When creating a walking bass line, it is ideal to play the root of the chord on beat 1, in order to establish the harmony of the moment. Also keep in mind that a good knowledge of chord and scale construction is very helpful.

If you want to play bass guitar, knowing how to play a walking bass line is essential. Here’s how!

What is a Walking Bassline?

What is a walking bass line in music? A walking bass line:

  • Is a set of notes of equal intensity and duration (usually ¼) notes that create a driving, forward motion
  • Sometimes has rhythmic variations but usually just serves to drive the song forward
  • Lets you outline the chord you are playing over
  • Allows you to smoothly approach the next chord
  • Makes transitions smoother

Still confused? Here’s a video to help clear up some of the basics for you:

What Notes are Contained in a Walking Bassline?

walking bass line

If you’re going to play walking basslines, the best thing you can do is to take bass guitar lessons so you know exactly what to do.

Otherwise, know that a walking bassline can contain virtually any notes that you might ever play. However, these walking bass line notes It should be of equal intensity and duration, usually ¼ notes, to create the feel and rhythmic flow that you’re looking for.

For all of these steps outlined below, I will include an example bass line for the following chord progression: Cmaj Fmaj Gmaj.

How Do You Play a Walking Bass Guitar?

walking bass line

Ready to learn how to play a walking bassline on guitar? Here’s how to play a simple walking bass line so that you can master this essential flow.

1) Roots and Fifths

The most simple walking bass line can be entirely made up of roots and fifths. This type is most often heard in country and bluegrass music, but can be found in many other styles as well. Feel free to use the octave above the root as well.

CG c GFCFCGDGDC

2) Arpeggios

In addition to the roots and fifths, you can also include the 3rd and 7th of a particular chord in your music. At this point, you are essentially playing an arpeggio of the harmony of the moment.

CEGEFA c AGB d B c

3) Scalar

Now that you are utilizing all of the chord tones in your walking bass line, you can start to include the notes in between those chord tones. This step is referred to as “scalar” because you are simply starting to use portions of scales as a walking bass line. Including these non-chord tones in your line gives it a more linear and connective sound.

CDEGFGAFGAB dc

4) Chromatic

Chromatic notes are a great addition. They give it a characteristically “jazzy” sound. These chromatic notes are best used on beats 2 and 4, and will have the strongest effect if they are one half step above or below the note they are approaching. This step includes two examples.

CD Eb EFGA Ab GA Bb B c

CF# GF# FBCF# GDG Db C

Famous Walking Bass Lines

walking bass line

There are lots of ways you can learn how to play walking bass lines.

Watching YouTube videos of walking bass lines can help, as can looking at an easy walking bass line tab, like this.

Of course, rehearsing some of the most famous walking bass lines from the musical greats is an excellent way to get started with mastering these essentials, too.

Some of the most famous walking bass lines can be found in popular songs like:

  • “In the Mood” – Glenn Miller
  • “Maxwell Murder” – Rancid
  • “Aeroplane” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Do some experimenting with these songs and listen to some of your favorite songs over again to see if you can detect a hint of a walking bass line in them!

How Do You Make a Walking Bassline?

walking bass line

If you want to make a basic walking bass line, consider the tips above. This should help you get started as you learn how to play the bass guitar. Of course, taking bass guitar lessons never hurt, either!

Following these 4 steps will help you create your own lines. Feel free to depart from these steps as you become more comfortable creating your own lines.

Most importantly, follow your ears! If you would like to learn more about creating bass lines, listening to jazz, blues, country, and bluegrass music is a great resource.

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