Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/walking bass line


I am trying to write a jazz-blues walking bass line for a twelve bar blues progression. The chords:

I was told that moving up chromatic in the first chord (C, D, bE, E) is good because then you're just a semitone away from F. Other than that I understand that you can also play chord tones (eg, tonic and fith) and then land on a semitone below the next chord.

Are there times when the chromatic movement should be used and not used? Can there be too many chromatic movements up or down to the next chord?

ANSWER: Hi Andrew and thank you for contacting me through

What you are doing by walking a bass line is using linear harmony. You are connecting one chord to the next chord through a line of notes.

Sorry, I don't open unknown files but I assume you are in 4/4 and with a standard 12 bar blues using the I, IV, V (C, F, G)

Yes you can use a chromatic line here & there but too many will get monotonous quickly. You want to keep it interesting, so use variation.  Using chord tones is excellent. When you are in C use the C triad: C, E, G then a connecting note Gb to get you F and so on.

EXAMPLE | C, E, G, Gb | F, A C, B |

After a while you'll start to hear more interesting phrases for the bass line.

Listen to recordings of simple blues where you can hear the bass player. Listening is the most important skill you can have as a musician/composer.

Thank you,

D C DowDell
Professor of Music

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Yes it is the 12 bar form
Should the walking bass line always be in crotchets? What kind of genres use this type of bass line?
If I play this on a piano together with a bass player it will sound a bit strange due to the fact that the pianist can't play bass line if the bassist is doing just that. Should the pianist then play chords in the left hand and licks in the right hand?

I don't know what you mean by crotchets.

Jazz, Blues and possibly some select Broadway and Pop music might use a walking bass line.

You are correct in assuming it doesn't work if the piano and the bass instruments both use this technique at the same time.

Yes, the piano would then play any number of different techinques if the bass is walking. Left-hand chords and Right-hand melodic lines would be one choice.

Sorry, can't say more. I'm driving across the state right now.

Good luck,
DC DowDell

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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D C DowDell


D C DowDell will answer questions about Jazz improvisation, composition, chord voicing, scales and modes, practice techniques and ear training. Professor DowDell also enjoys discussions on Jazz musicology and the evolution of style.

D C DowDell is a professional Jazz pianist/composer who currently teaches online Jazz studies at A Passion for Jazz!. Professor DowDell has been teaching music for over 30 years at 2 major universities, several community colleges as well as accepting students for private study.


American Federation of Musicians
National Music Teachers Association
International Association of Jazz Educators

Bachelors of Music Education from UCLA
Masters of Music Composition from UNT

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