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Playing Jazz Bass: Arpeggios, Passing Notes and Chords

In the previous lesson, we began to build a bass line for a jazz blues progression in the key of F. In this lesson we’re going to explore chord types, progressions and harmony when playing jazz and playing jazz bass.

Now we should have a clear idea of the root movement of the chord sequence and we’ve solidified the sound using the fifths of each chord. To begin to create a walking bass line, the next step is to start using the arpeggios of each chord. As we already have the root and fifth, we will be adding thirds and sevenths.

These notes create a lot more colour in our lines as they really describe the character of each chord i.e. whether it is major, minor or dominant.

There is sometimes a misconception that each new chord should start with the root note. This isn’t the case and many of the great jazz bassists would often start on the 3rd, 7th or an extension of the new chord. However, it is common to start on the root and the root should nearly always be included.

Often, pianists and guitarists miss the root out of their chords as they assume the bassist will play it. Make sure you know the notes in each arpeggio of the progression very well as this will allow you to access the nearest note in an instant. Use the example as a guide but be sure to create your own lines. Take it as slowly as needed and the process will soon speed up.

The final piece of the walking bass puzzle is to include passing notes.

A passing note is just a note that helps lead from one chord tone to the next. For example, in an F7 chord, we have the notes Eb and F. Therefore we can use an E as a bridge between the two. Be careful where you use the passing notes and try to avoid placing them on strong beats of the bar (1 & 3). Again, use the example provided but think about where else they could be placed.

Have fun!

Playing Jazz Bass: Arpeggios, Passing Notes and Chords example 1 john marley

Download the example sheet here: blues-in-f-arpeggios

Playing Jazz Bass: Arpeggios, Passing Notes and Chords example 2 john marley

Download the example sheet here: blues-in-f-passing-notes

For a a full piece to practice and study, download this practice sheet here: study-piece-jazz-standard


Visit John’s personal site for more  lessons, tips and information about bass guitar and his own bass guitar lesson site, Bass Guitar Course. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnmarleybass