by Adam Levy
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
A longtime friend of the ‘Fire, Adam Levy has been unlocking the