Playing walking bass lines and chords simultaneously.

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Many students ask me about playing walking bass lines and chords at the same time on the guitar. There are many ways to approach this, but here's an easy way to get started. In this lesson we'll deal only with unaltered dominant 7th chords and use them to play a basic blues progression in the key of G.

First, find simple voicings for your G7 chord. You'll want voicings with each of the basic chord tones (Root, 3rd, 5th, and b7th) as the LOWEST note in each chord. Be sure the voicings are within a few frets of each other. This means your voicings will move ACROSS the fretboard.

   G13  G9 Gtriad G7   G13  G9


  Root  3rd  3rd  5th  b7th Root
 in the
Notice you've got a couple of choices for voicings with the 3rd in the bass, both within easy reach. Be sure to explore using both of them ... you'll want to be able to use either, depending on the situation.

While you're at it, you can find similar voicings for a C7 chord IN EXACTLY THE SAME PART OF THE FINGERBOARD as the G7 chords you found. This will allow you to change from chord to chord smoothly and easily.

   C9   C13  C9   C9 Ctriad C9


   5th  b7th Root 3rd  3rd   5th
  in the
After you've got the chord map plotted out, practice playing the chords in order. You can repeat the bass note after you play the chord to get a feel for the bass lines you'll play later. Try very hard to change chords smoothly and keep the bass notes distinct. Play very even 4/4 time, with no pauses between chords. Easier said than done ... this is going to take some practice at first.

By the way, this technique probably works best if you pick with your fingers, rather than using a pick. Play the bass note of each four note chord with your right hand thumb, and use your index, middle and third fingers to play the upper three notes.

 This is all on a G7 chord:

     |--3----3---|-5----3-3-|-5-5--3-3-|   Etc.
 Count: 1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
Be sure to sustain everything and connect as smoothly as you can. Of course it goes without saying that you should do this same thing with the C7 chords you've mapped out ... the ones I showed you above. When you get comfortable playing the chords in order, start mixing the order of the voicings a little, like this:
 Again, this is all on a G7 chord. Be sure to do the same
 thing with your C7 chords.

 Count: 1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
Be sure you spend enough time on this, because now you'll approach the bass note of each chord from 1/2-step (one fret) below, like this:
     |--3----3---|-5-2--3-4-|-5-2--3---|   Etc.
 Count: 1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
HERE'S A HINT: Always play the approach note with the SAME FINGER that will play the bass note of the NEXT chord. This will really help you to connect the chords more smoothly and maintain a steady and distinct bass line ... especially when we start to separate the chords and the bass line by delaying the chords.

Make sure you do this both ascending, as above, and descending. As before, play the chords in order first, then skip around among the voicings. You could expand the example above like this:

     |--3----5---|-3-2--3-4-|-5----3---|-3-2--3---|   Etc.
 Count: 1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
Once you get comfortable playing the G7 and C7 maps separately, start to change between G7 and C7 ... two measures each, at first.
      G7 -->                C7 -->               G7

    |-5----5---|-3-2--3-1-|-2----2---|-2----2---|-3-|   Etc.
Count:1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
Then it should be easy to do the same thing, one measure for each chord.
  ||: G7  | C7  | G7  | C7  :||
Now, repeat everything above, except this time approach each bass note from 1/2-step (one fret) above:
 Here's our mixed-voicing example, all on the G7 chord.

     |--3----5---|-3-4--3-6-|-5----3---|-3-4--3---|   Etc.
 Count: 1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
I hate to repeat myself, but don't forget to do this on the C7 chords, too.

Now, you might try changing from G7 to C7, varying the approach. Try to maintain a good balance between 1/2-step above and 1/2-step below approach notes. Use the varying approaches to create an interesting and melodic bass line.

      G7         C7         G7         C7        G7

    |-5-4--3-1-|-2----2---|-5----5---|------2---|-3-|   Etc.
Count:1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4   1 2  3 4
Notice that in the 4th measure I used an approach note a full step (2 frets) above the root of the C9 chord. This just made a smoother line in this instance. You can always use scale tones as approach notes, especially a scale tone above your destination.

Before we end this lesson, you might like to try some of the ideas above, but this time play the TOP three notes of each chord on the off-beat ... the "and" of each beat. The bass note will still be on the beat. Look at this TAB very carefully, and count!

 To make things easier, this is all on a G7 chord. Of course
 you'll do this on C7 as well, and also switch chords as in
 the exercises above.

        G13    G7      G9     G9      G13    G9      G13
 Count: 1 + 2  3 + 4   1 + 2  3 + 4   1 + 2  3 + 4
Here's where a good teacher could really help you. Try to make the bass line as smooth and sustained and connected as you can, but at the same time, try to make the chords short and punchy. This is going to take a lot of practice, but it's possible to do it if you take your time and do all the steps.

Good luck, and keep your eyes open for Part Two of this lesson. We'll move to another area of the fingerboard and use just the two areas to connect bass lines over the entire guitar.

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Take care,


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