Chord Progressions That Create a Walking Bass line

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Electric BassA walking bass is simply a bass line that moves primarily by step (tones and semitones), with a few leaps thrown in. Certain genres use a walking bass more than others; it’s most prevalent in jazz and blues. When we say that a bass is “walking”, we also mean that it moves generally by 8th notes when the basic beat is quarter notes. (See an example here.) But while most popular in jazz styles, you can borrow the idea for use in any other genre. I’m talking about creating progressions that require the bass to move to a note adjacent to it. A good example of this is Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

The verse progression of “Like a Rolling Stone” is:

C  Dm  Em  F  G

followed a little later by the same chords in descending order:

F  Em  Dm  C

Dylan makes it work well, of course. The problem, however, with that kind of progression (where the roots move by tones and semitones), is that most of the time, chords work well if every once in a while there’s a root movement of a 4th or a 5th. (See my video on this concept here.)

So I’ve created a set of chords below that use a “walking” bass line by mixing up root position chords with chord inversions (“slash chords”). Each chord change moves the bass one semitone or whole tone. You could make a case for it not really a walking bass, which requires that the bass move between the beats.

But the benefit of these progressions is that the bass is treated almost like a “countermelody”, and it adds a sense of dimension to your music. Try them out:

ASCENDING BASS LINE:

  1. C  Dm7  C/E  F  D/F#  G  Am  G  C
  2. C  A/C#  Dm  B/D#  Em  F  G  C
  3. C  Bb/D  Eb  Fm  G  E/G#  Am  G  C
  4. C  G/D  Em  F  C/G  G  C
  5. C  Db7  Dm7  Ebmaj7  F  G  C

DESCENDING BASS LINE:

  1. C  G/B  Am  G  F  C/E  Dm  C
  2. G  Bb  Abmaj7  Eb/G  F  G  C
  3. C  Em/B  D7/A  G  Bb/F  C/E  D7  G  C
  4. C  Gm/Bb  F/A  G#dim  Gsus4  G  C
  5. C  Bdim  Am  Ab7  C/G  G  C

MIXTURE OF ASCENDING/DESCENDING BASS LINE:

  1. C  Dm7  C/E  Eb  Db  G/B  C
  2. C  G/B  Am  E/G#  A  Bb  F/C  Dm7  G  C
  3. C  Bb/D  Ab/Eb  Eb  F  Eb  Bb/D  G/B  C
  4. C  G/B  Am  G#dim  Am  C/G  F  D/F#  G  G/B  C
  5. C  A/C#  D  B/D#  Em  Cm/Eb  Dsus4  D7  G  G7  C

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Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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5 Comments

  1. henoc

     /  October 27, 2011

    hi! please can you explain me why and how to use the (Dm7 9# 5#). can i replace it by Dm when the key of C major? thank

    Reply
    • First, I’m a bit confused by the chord you mentioned, but maybe it’s just some confusion over chord symbols. With a minor chord, a #9 will be the same note (enharmonically) as the 3rd of the chord. Did you mean D7 with a raised 9th and 5th? That, and any type of 7th chord built on a *major* chord can be used like any regular dominant 7th chord (e.g., D7 in the key of G major). If you’ve seen that chord in a chord chart online, perhaps you could post the link, and I’ll take a closer look at it.

      -Gary

      Reply
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