Walking Bass Jazz Blues – Fingerstyle Rhythm

Joe Pass

Quite a while ago, I heard Joe Pass (amazing jazz guitarist) play a fingerstyle walking bass line while playing a chord melody (solo guitar arrangement). It just blew my mind! I spent days trying to figure out how he did it. Eventually, I was able to come up with a walking bass and rhythm at the same time. When ever I jam the blues with friends I would throw this in once in a while. It’s lots of fun, sounds pretty cool, and always gets a happy surprised look on the other players face.

This particular lesson is focusing on a typical jazz blues progression in the key “A”. Most people who are just getting into the blues know that there is a 3 chord combination that is traditional with the blues. It’s called a I – IV-V progression (Roman Numerals are usually used with explaining chord progressions). In the key of “A”, we would use the chords A, D, and E. To figure this out, we would think of an “A” major scale and an A major chord would be the “I” chord. As you build chords in the scale you get: I = A, ii = Bm, iii = C#m, IV = D, V = E7, vi = F#m, vii = G#m7b5. Each one of these chords can be extended, as long as the integrity of the chord remains [example: E = E7]. A typical set of chords for a jazz blues is our set below. As you listen to the mp3 provided below, you will notice that it will “sound” of the blues, but the new chords have put a twist on the texture and feel of the sound.

There are standard classical theoretical rules that can be bent with jazz and blues (such as changing major chords to dominant 7th chords) . Our progression contains: A6 = I , D9 = dominant II, F#7#9 = dominant III chord (notice the #9 is the same as a b3, thus this type of chord is substituted for minor chords and doesn’t ruin the chord progression sound), Bm7 = ii, and E7#9 = V. A lot of this theory is confusing for some of you, so don’t worry about it. Just play the exercise, because it’s fun! For those of you that have some general theory background, I thought this would be interesting. Jazz theory is very insightful, and there are lots of good books and articles available on the subject. I highly recommend it.

Back to playing…The bass line generally will out lines the chords, walk a scale that matches the chord, and sometimes will add a few chromatic passages (1/2 step notes that are not part of any scale or chord) to lead to the next chord. The trick to making this sound good is to “punch” the chords out with your index, middle, and ring fingers, and to focus on making the bass sound smooth. By doing this, you create a feeling of two instruments (bass guitar + rhythm guitar). It takes a while to get it, but it’s somewhat addictive once you got it.

Provided below is the music, tab, and a chord diagram sheet to help out with fingerings. I would recommend taking it a chord at a time, check to see how the bass line relates to the chord, and get the feel of moving from one to the other.

Your Left (picking) Hand:

  1. Play the bass line with your thumb.
  2. Keep your index, middle, and ring fingers together and pluck in a unison motion (as if they were glued together).

For a quicktime video of me playing it, email me and I will be happy to email you one. Left and Right hands. Sometimes seeing it helps a lot.
Here is an mp3 of me playing the Walking Bass Blues Rhythm – Key of A – (click here)

( I played it a little slow, in order for you to follow the chart)

Example 1
Example 1 continued
Chord Fingerings

Have fun with it!
Enjoy! … Peter Simms