Pianist Terry Seabrook’s Jazz Tip of the Month No. 7
A Beginner’s Guide to Bass Lines
It is often required that players of instruments such as keyboards and guitar be able to play a suitable bass line if for example there isn’t a bass player present. And in my foray into the Hammond organ world it’s a topic I’ve had to study. So here is a beginner’s guide to making a simple bass line over a straightforward 12-bar blues in F. All instruments should have a go at this as it helps you appreciate another aspect of the music, particularly how to outline the harmony with chord tones and then scale segments (by adding non-chord tone passing notes)
The first example employs the chord tones 1 3 5 7 on each chord. If the chord lasts two bars then you can ascend then descend. This example is good practice for making sure you know the chord tones and can “walk through” them. It’s very basic and a bit relentless and I was recently told by organist Larry Goldings that you should use these patterns only in a more R&B-type context. So in reality you will want to employ a bit more variety as in example 2 which employs the same idea but tries to “connect” with the next chord by half step (semitone) and sometimes by a whole step. If there are two bars on one chord you can begin the second bar on the fifth of the chord. Otherwise always go for the root on beat one.
Example 3 shows how to create a simple bass line with a rock or bossa feel by using a repeated rhythm every 2 beats and by using mostly the roots and fifths. For this reason this is quite simple to do.
Example 4 is more involved with a more broken rhythm and more syncopation but there is again a lot of emphasis on half-step connection to the next chord. (More advanced)
Try transposing the examples and create some of your own bass lines and then move on to applying to other songs, eg: Rhythm Changes and tunes like A Train, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, Ladybird, Afternoon in Paris, etc.