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I'm learning walking bass on the piano. All the walking bass guides I have say to play some approach tone on the last beat before a chord change.

If the progression were C to G you might play F# or Ab to approach the G of the G chord. But the common tone G would not be used. (At least the guidelines rule it out.) So, for example, | C C E G | G... wouldn't be used. Apparently the repeated common tone is too static.

My question is also prompted from another answer I got about walking bass recommending against repeated tones. But I don't put much stock in that person's advice as they weren't able to answer that question.

But does the same sensibility hold if the progression were C to E7 and the common tone E? When the change is a chromatic mediant like that, it seems to be repeating the common tone works differently. I suppose you could say the change is already so dynamic - all tones change but the E - that repeating the E in the bass provides some needed stability.

But I'm not really interested in the theory explanation. I just want to know if a jazz bassist would consider it a good walking bass or something to avoid?

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  • Are you specifically asking about repeating notes on beats 4 and 1 of successive measures? – Peter Jan 13 at 22:50
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    Speaking as a pianist who occasionally walks bass lines, I wouldn't avoid the common tones either way, but I wouldn't re-articulate them on the downbeat. I would hit it on beat 4 and hold it over through beat 1. – Aaron Jan 13 at 22:51
  • @Peter, yes, beats 4 to 1. – Michael Curtis Jan 13 at 22:52
  • The issue is whether you want to keep the line "moving" all the time or if it would sound good to drone over a change. As a bassist and a guitarist having played with many great bassist I can say these "guides" are just that. A book on walking bass is probably trying to teach a specific idea. Once many ideas are learnt then you can toggle back and forth. – user50691 Jan 13 at 22:57
  • @MichaelCurtis in going from C to G why not walk down into the B, the 7th of C and the 3rd of G. A "common" tone in a sense. You could do this with C-->E7, which hints at a modulation to A minor. One could walk up the major scale into the G#. Or, are you trying to highlight root position? – user50691 Jan 13 at 23:00
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Chord changes are exactly that, changes. You want to hear the change. Jazz bass players playing walking lines won’t repeat a note from beat 4 into beat 1 on a chord change. It doesn’t sound right because it sounds like the bass player is making the change on the wrong beat before the rest of the band.

There are some exceptions, one is a pedal point over a set of moving chords like this:

| C6/G | A7/G | Dm7/G | G7 |

In that scenario the G is all the bass player will play, no other notes.

Another exception is as part of an arrangement where a chord is anticipated or syncopated by a full quarter note by the whole band. In this case, the chord changes on beat 4, not beat 1 of the following bar.

There is a place for repeated notes in walking bass lines for sure, usually over a single chord on beats 1&2 or 3&4 or even on all 4 beats in unison or octaves.

Two examples of well known tunes with this change are “All of Me” and “On The Sunny Side of the Street”, both in the first 4 bars of each half. Check out some recordings with walking bass and I’m sure you won’t find any beats 4-1 with repeated notes.

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  • the 'too early' explanation makes sense, and the other repeated note cases really help tie it all together. very clear. thank you. – Michael Curtis Jan 14 at 14:21
  • As a bass player, I'd typically do one of two things, either accent the 4th beat and hold it to one (for emphasis), or often I'll play a half step lower than the note I want to play on beat 1 (whether or not it's in the chord of beat 4.) So like the example given elsewhere here, D# to E. As it was explained to me, it's all about tension and release. The D# (for the C chord) is the "tension", the E (for the E chord) is the release. – Duston Jan 14 at 15:14
  • @Duston The accented 4 carried into the following 1 is more of a quarter note syncopation than a repeated note but is something bassists will sometimes do for rhythmic variation for sure. The chromatic non-chord tone either up or down is also common, for example, from C to E7 one bar each, a common line is ascending C C D D# E or descending C A G F E. – John Belzaguy Jan 14 at 16:26
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    @MichaelCurtis slightly related, one thing I learned from a great player and teacher Whit Browne when I was 18 is walking bass feels best with a slight accent on 2&4. – John Belzaguy Jan 14 at 16:50
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    @MichaelCurtis 2&4 is the essence of swing. One may not notice it as much in the bass but it is there. Two suggestions, play full note durations and throw in a few swing 8th notes on beats 1 and 3: one and TWO three FOUR... – John Belzaguy Jan 14 at 17:22
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It is generally best to avoid playing the same note on beats 4 and 1 of successive measures in a jazz walking bassline no matter what the chord changes are (unless the two measures are on the same chord). This is because the bassline serves both a harmonic and rhythmic function, and when you repeat the same note rate of harmonic change becomes a little unclear.

The other musicians are relying on the bass to provide a rock solid foundation that clearly outlines when the chords are changing. So those leading tones on beat 4 help keep things lined up.

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Taking your C>E example - C C♯ D D♯ >E. Or - C E G F >E, or C G E D♯>E, or - C (down4 to) G F♯ F♮>E are some ideas I use.

Occasionally, I play Aaron's hit the target on previous bar beat 4, use it as a push note, so no note on beat 1, only tied - or maybe not at all. The listener puts it in for themselves!

Answering the question at the end - it does sound like the bassist has made a timing error, and arrived too soon - not something I'd want in my playing. If that happened, I'd be inclined to make the last beat two quavers, such as C C D ED♯ >E, or C C D EF >E.

Then of course there's always the ghost note - a muted note of no particular pitch. But, I forgot - this isn't bass guitar, it's piano! I'd still do all of the above on piano, though. Maybe time to branch out, Michael..!

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