What are Walking Bass Lines and How to Play Them?

A walking bass line creates a forward motion feeling when played and usually consists of quarter notes that “walk” from chord to chord, hence the name “walking bass line”.

The walking bass line is essentially used to outline the chord that you are playing and to create a smooth transition into the next chord. The definition of a walking bass line is best explained in that it requires four quarter-notes per measure or one note per beat.

To successfully achieve a walking bass line, your transition needs to be perfect from one chord to the next, so as to get that forward motion feeling that I mentioned, otherwise, it will not be classified as a walking bass line.

Who Created The Walking Bass Line ?

It’s hard to say who invented the walking bass line, as you might read that Jimmy Blanton has been mentioned as the father of the walking bass line, among others. But even he didn’t invent it, as the technique is said to be deeply rooted around the 1600-1750s Baroque period.

What we do know is that it came into the spotlight and was developed during the early 20th century. In early jazz music, it was very common for bass players to use walking bass lines as this very well set the grounds for further improvement.

The walking bass line that we know today is set to have one time played on the first and the third beat in a measure, then a man by the name of Wellman broad, who was a jazz bassist in New Orleans, was said to have been the first one to play the bass line on every single beat.

He was later credited with inventing the slap technique and joined Jimmy Blanton, who was credited as the father of the walking bass line in the history books. Both went down in history by adding their mark to music.

In the 30s and 40s, a player by the name of Walter Paige, who was another one credited with developing various techniques we know today, began to use a different approach on the subject, with a more chromatic approach, he landed his name among the greats.

How To Play A Walking Bass Line?

The best way to learn how to play a walking bass line is that you should first start off by playing the 1st and 3rd beat in the measure, which is the root note and the fifth note. The next step would be to double the root note and the fifth note on the 2nd and 4th beat in every chord. As the walking bass line consists mainly of chord tones, accompanied by chromatic pitches, and scales, you should first learn how to develop a walking bass line using chord tones. The next approach would be to start using scales, whereas the chromatic approach comes later on when you want to smooth out that bass line.

Another way to approach this would be to determine what chord is being used, then play the root note of the chord on the first beat. On the second beat, you should play a tone that’s related to a scale from the root note. On the third beat, you can basically do the same, pick out a tone that you like from the scale and just use it there. And on the fourth beat, you should be playing a leading tone that leads to the next root note. This is more simply explained, by making the last note on the beat sound comfortable enough to transition into the next chord as to prepare the ears of the listener for what’s coming next.

Things To Keep In Mind

One of the few things that you should keep in mind while creating a walking bass line is what you should target first. This is most likely a particular note in the chord that can be a chord tone or even a non-chord tone.

You essentially have to place down the blueprint of the route you’re about to follow, which will be spanning from chord to chord. There are a few ways to get around chords but some of the more used approaches have been the chromatic approach, the diatonic approach, as well as scales and arpeggios.


The walking bass line is extremely popular these days and it’s been around for a really long time. Different artists have contributed throughout time to get the walking bass line where it is today. So, there are a few ways to approach how you play and how you construct a walking bass line. But if you just follow these tips, I’m sure you will do your best. Remember what the walking bass line represents and how it should be played. Don’t forget to use scales and arpeggios in the process while you’re constructing one. I hope this was a helpful guide and thank you for reading.

Milan Trajkovikj

Milan Trajkovikj

I’m the Deputy Editor for Musician Wave and a touring and recording bass guitarist. I love to share my passion for all things music. I’ve been playing music for over ten years and I love exploring it further through writing. You'll also find me on the Musician Wave YouTube channel.

Leave a Comment

Leave a reply

Musician Wave