Have you ever noticed how some musical techniques span multiple genres? I’m always fascinated when I discover how, say, a particular arpeggiated pattern might appear in both a Mozart sonata and a folk song.
Walking bass lines are like this, too.
Although primarily associated with jazz, walking bass lines are also found rock styles. (Classical too – check out J. S. Bach’s Prelude in Bm from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1.)
The Beatles’ Paul McCartney enjoyed playing walking bass lines, especially in the band’s early days. A good example of this is on their song “All My Loving,” which has a kind of bluesy shuffle beat. Walking bass lines lend themselves well to this kind of rhythm and the jazz influence shines through. This kind of rock beat is a direct outgrowth of big-band swing.
To see and hear this in action, check out the video I made of me playing “All My Loving” on piano:
All My Loving: Complete Beatles #22
One of the reasons I made this video is to enable you to watch my hands from an over-the-shoulder view, as if you are standing right next to me, watching me play the bass line. “Back in the day” of the 1930s-60s, pianists learned from watching more experienced pianists play, up close. In fact, I know someone who saw the Beatles perform in a restaurant in Hamburg, Germany. Nowadays, of course, not many people have the experience of seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform anywhere but in a big stadium. And not nearly as many restaurants feature live music as they did in the past, before piped-in music became commonplace.
The process of standing next to a pianist and absorbing the music by watching them play is a valuable part of our learning experience which is often overlooked these days. I play the way I do now because I had the opportunity to watch great pianists play up close, and I absorbed their physical movements in addition to the notes they played.
Learning to play bass lines isn’t just an intellectual process; it’s visceral. Watch my left hand play the walking bass lines on “All My Loving,” and soak it up. As you do so, you’ll gradually notice how I include chord tones and some stepwise movement up and down the scales. Then, learn the song’s chords and try it yourself.
Have fun, and “let the music flow!”