by Adam Levy
This guitar lesson is a preview of what’s to come in Adam Levy‘s 50 Low-Down Rhythm Licks. Stay tuned for more to come and an announcement of the full course soon. Be sure to subscribe to stay tuned!
One of my favorite kinds of grooves to play on the guitar is a mid-tempo jazz blues with a walking bass line and simple chord forms to punctuate the harmony. When you watch great players who can do this with ease, it almost seems like a slight-of-hand trick. It doesn’t have to be all that complicated, though. To show you how I approach walking bass with chords, I’ve written a 12-bar blues study. The bass line is straightforward enough, connecting the chords by way of scale tones and the occasional chromatic passing tone. Most of the chord forms here are 2-note shapes comprising each chord’s 3 and 7. On a G7 chord, for example, I’ll play F (the b7) and B (the 3). There’s an interesting shape in the 9th measure—an A9 without its root, voiced C#-G-B, low to high. The same type of voicing is used for the rootless D9 in the following measure. Note that nearly all the chord punches are based on the rhythmic motif I establish from the first bar. This theme—landing on beat four and the and of four—continues throughout the 12 bars, and is only interrupted for the turnaround in the final 2 bars.
I never use a pick for walking bass lines—the tone is just too clinky that way. Instead, I’ll lightly brush the bass notes with the flesh of my thumb, and pluck the chord tones with my index and middle fingers. This helps the low notes sound more bass-like, while keeping the chords in the guitar zone. For further walking inspiration, check out bassist Ray Brown’s stellar 1950s work with the Oscar Peterson Trio, and Paul Chambers’ sturdy walking on pianist Wynton Kelly’s recordings from the late 1950s and early ’60s.
A longtime friend of the ‘Fire, Adam Levy has been unlocking the guitar for students of all levels and varied interests for decades. His teaching experience comprises several years with the National Guitar Workshop, the Blue Bear School in San Francisco, and private lessons for New School in New York City. He is also a talented artist and songwriter, having worked with Norah Jones, Amos Lee, and Tracy Chapman. Be sure to check out Adam’s official website, his insightful blog, and his latest album, The Heart Collector.