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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Walking bass lines

Nothing has helped me improvise as much as learning to write (and improvise) walking bass lines. When you think about it, these lines have everything you need:

*They outline the chord tones of the chords in any particular set of chord changes. 

*They are melodic. They can go up and down the scale, hitting the chord tones, or can be arpeggiated.  So they are scales + arpeggios. 

*They have chromatic (non-scale) tones as leading tones to the scale tones. They can have "enclosures" (a word I learned today!), in other words, approaches to the target notes from chromatic leading tones above and below in the same phrase.  

If you can improvise a bass line on a set of chord changes, you can improvise a melodic line as well, because you are already doing it. The differences:

*The walking bass line is almost all quarter notes. The improvised melodic line will be mostly eighth notes and triplets, with a much more irregular rhythm, and including pauses between phrases. 

*The bass line tends to hit the chord root on the first beat of the measure, or beat 3 if the chord changes there. You can begin a chord on a note other than the root, but while learning I tend to just use the root every time. The treble melodic line emphasizes all the other chord tones except for the root

I'm developing the technique of playing a bass line and then improvising above it with a melodic line. It isn't easy for me. The treble lines come out very stiff sounding, stiffer than if I am simply playing block chords in the left hand. My ideas sound more limited than when I have other kinds of accompaniments.   

I learned bass lines for the first section of "Autumn Leaves" in all twelve keys this summer. This meant learning 2-5-1 progressions in both major and minor in every key, cycling downward through the circle of fifths. I have also improvised many hours over "Bemsha Swing," but just in one key. I can't get a good bass line for this song, since the movement of the chords is already so chromatic it doesn't seem to leave much space.  I guess I'll have to look at one from a record to see some of the possibilities here.  

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