Kirk Lorange

Walking Bass Line

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The TAB, GuitarPro file, midi files and notation that come with this lesson are now only available as part of the "Fingerstyle Lesson Pack" Details here.
Here is a fun one to get your fingers and brain around. It's a sort of shuffle feel blues/jazz vibe with a walking bass line firmly attached to a simple set of chords ... the I -IV - V of the key of E. It's reminiscent of Guitar Boogie, but that bass line has been around a lot longer than Guitar Boogie. It's almost the 'default' bass line of this type of music. I guess the term 'walking bass line' refers to its steady one-note-per-beat line, stepping its way through the chord changes. This one uses chord tones (1-3-5-7) and throws a 6 in to walk its way through. The bass line uses the on-beats, the chord fragments that fit themselves between use the off beats, and because it's a shuffle feel, there's a syncopation going on there as well. This example I've done in a very deliberate manner to get the point across, but this feel can be subtled down a few notches to become a great blues feel, one Stevie Ray Vaughn used to use so effectively.

The chord progression I've kept to a simple pass through the I-IV-V, so, in E: E to A to B, back to E for a finish. I threw a neat little bendy ending lick, just to re-affirm the bluesiness.

The trick to getting your hands around this is to concentrate on the bass line. Listen to it, let the chords work themselves out. You have to really maintain a steady as she goes, but slightly swinging lilt to the bass line. You really have to feel that triplet thing going on throughout. If you were to count it, you wouldn't go "1 and 2 and 3 and 4", you'd go "1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4". You're fitting three beats into the space of two, hence the term 'triplet'.

Once you can get you picking hand to lock into that feel (I suggest you just stay playing the first two measures of E until you do that) you can add some dynamics. In my version, I keep all notes and chords clipped and compact. You can experiment with letting them ring, them mix 'em up: clipped and ringing. There are a million details you can look into once you have the basic form of it under control.

You can see in the movie, blurred as it is, how each chord shape stays put, and the bass line wraps itself around that shape. I start with an E shape and my pinky grabs notes not actually in the shape. Apart from having to stretch a little bit, there's nothing too tricky. The little double stop (chord fragment) I play between bass notes is always on the next two strings up, up in pitch. So when the thumb moves up a string, the double stop also moves up a string. Because the whole chord is being held down, you always wind up playing the correct double stop. The E's bass line is pure chord tones -- 1-3-5 -- and one 6.

When the chord changes to A, everything just continues on. Now the bass line starts on the A string, and moves to a 7 at one stage, but it's all the same feel going on. The chord I use is the plain old A open A chord, which I barre with my index. Just make sure to choke off that high E string to prevent that F# note under the barre to ring out. That would create an A6th chord, which wouldn't sound too appropriate here.

The B7 starts on the well known 'open' B7 shape, but quickly switches to the next position up, which is just like the previous A chord, only this time barred two frets higher. The switch in positions is purely to accommodate the bass line underneath. You'll see how I slide a bass note up to bring my hand up to the next position.

The ending is a very open sounding vamp on the E chord for two bars, followed by a fairly standard sounding bluesy ending, the first beat of which is a bent double stop, achieved by holding one note of the double stop down firmly, while the other is approached from the semitone below and bent up to the note. In this case, I'm holding the 5 of a D chord nice and steady, and on the string below, I'm bending a flat 3 up to the 3. It all happens very quickly, but that sound is so distinctive, you can't miss it. The double stop is followed by a line that meanders through an E7 chord, using chord tones and semitones. I end on an unusual voicing for an E chord: two 1's and a 3.

The essence of this lesson is not so much the notes and positions and moves, but the feel of it ... how it shuffles its way through time. You should experiment with other progressions, some minor blues perhaps? This walking bass line/chord fragments pattern can be used in many ways.


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