Your bass has to walk before it can run

For a long time, I treaded water playing bass just being a guitar player. Luckily for me, being a jazz guitar player meant my bass lines were already somewhat coherent from playing chord melodies, learning from greats such as George Van Eps and Joe Pass. Being a music composer helps as well since writing bass range instrument parts is something I deal with regularly.

Treading water is not good though. Treading water only lasts so long before you find yourself sinking rather than swimming. I had a music project come up which was going to be extremely jazz bass forward. Old school style, old timey New Orleans King Oliver or Sidney Bechet style jazz but with a modern instrument setup. (I. LOVE. KING. OLIVER. STYLE.) I was going to be using upright bass and I was going to push it hard in the mix. Treading water wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

So I decided it was time to really tighten up my fundamentals. It was time to practice walking bass. The best way to practice is to play along with amazing albums, then go play with amazing players. That’s the best way. My schedule has removed that path so I went for the close second way and bought a book.

Books are only good if you use them. I mean really use them. working through them repeatedly. You’re reading about how a habit should be formed and then you’re repeating those until the habit becomes real. The book I settled on was Building Walking Bass Lines by Ed Friedland.

This book is built for beginners. The hardest part of a book like this is sticking with the basics at the beginning—and sometimes even the middle—of a beginner book because you already know what’s going on. At least that’s what I used to think. Now I look at that mundane section as a chance to tighten up, practice, and get things firm. It’s funny, the better I get at an instrument the more I appreciate the super beginner exercises.

Building Walking Bass Lines is a good intro book and it continues further along to get you far enough that things will sound natural. Once you get to that point you’ll be getting better on your own. Just keep playing through charts practicing the techniques, you’ll end up creating your own lines and you’ll be a walking bass champ before you know it. (You’ll still be lightyears behind Vic Wooten but that’s okay, all humans are lightyears behind him.)