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!

In an earlier video blog post, we looked at jazz-style walking bass lines with chord jabs, in the context of a 12-bar blues in G. I want to delve a little deeper into walking bass concepts, so here’s a new lesson that employs the same two-tiered concept—outlining the harmonies with a walking quarter-note bass line and adding simple chord shapes above the bass. Once again, we’ll keep both elements thematically focused. I’ve used a 12-bar blues in the key of A minor as the foundation this time. The chords are: 4 bars of Am7, 2 bars of Dm7, 2 bars of Am7, 1 bar of F9, 1 bar of E7(#9), and then two beats each of Am7, C9, B9, and Bb9. In jazz and blues parlance, these final 2 bars are often called the “turnaround” because the chord progression is designed to bring us back to the top of the form.

The four-beats-to-the-bar bass line is fairly repetitive. In the first 4 bars (Am7), the line ascends A, E, G, A—one note per beat. It does essentially the same thing in the next 2 bars (Dm7), a 4th higher—D, A, C, D. Bars 7 and 8 (Am7) are similar to bars 1–4, except that the last quarter note of bar 8 is a Gb. That chromatic passing tone smoothly connects G (bar 8, beat 3) to F (bar 9, beat 1). We’ll break away from the bass-line theme in bars 9 and 10, opting for a root-5-root-5 motion instead. The line gets streamlined further in bars 11 and 12, where the root of each chord is simply repeated.

The chordal stuff on top is a bit of sleight-of-hand. We’re rarely playing shapes with more than two notes at a time. It sounds richer than that because of how the bass line supports the harmonies. Note that the chords are pinned to a rhythmic theme (and of beat one; three-and; four—followed by a bar of rest) throughout most of this 12-bar blues. Rhythmic predictability works to our advantage, keeping the overall groove uncluttered. Record yourself playing the groove a few times through, then play it back while improvising over it. When you’re soloing, you’ll really appreciate the rhythmic clarity of the bass line and the chords.

Plenty of great guitar players have masted the art of walking bass lines while chording. Tuck Andress, Ted Greene, and Charlie Hunter are three of my favorites. Make sure to check these guys out for inspiration.

Adam LevyA 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.