11th December 2020

How To Start Improvising Bass Lines


Improvising might sound scary to you or you might struggle to come up with any good bass lines if you are just given a chord chart. 

But anyone is capable of improvising and initially it is just a matter of having a few ‘stock ideas’ that you can fall back on, and an understanding of different styles of music.


The Brain On Music

To start with, my advice would be to pick a particular style of music and then start listening to lots of bass lines in that genre.  Every style has it’s own particular sound and there will be certain shapes and licks that are used time and time again. 

An obvious example would be Country where the bass lines are most often based around root and 5th ideas. 

Say you were given this chord sequence: 

| G      | C      | A   D   | G      | 

If you used roots and 5th’s the bass line would look like this:

Country Bass Line

 Now we can start to embellish the basic root and 5th bass line, by changing the octaves of certain notes and putting in extra notes and runs.

How To Play Country Bass Lines

This is basic improvisation.

If you know that root and 5th's work in Country and that you can move these notes around different octaves and add little runs, you increase the possible options with a limited amount of notes.  If you are then given a chord chart, you can come up with variations and move away from just playing root notes.  Of course you need to know you fretboard, but you hopefully get the idea.

Let’s now look at some Blues.  If we use the first 4 bars of a 12-bar in A, we have: 

| A      |  D      | A      | A      | 

We could play a shuffle groove on the root notes:

Blues Shuffle Groove

This shuffle groove is a perfectly viable bass line, but you can take it one step further and start playing this basic Blues walking line:

Blues bass riff

You could then add some more chromatic notes to make a smoother walking line:

Blues Walking Bass Line

Like with the Country bass line, if you know a few different Blues riffs then you can start to experiment and try them out.  Also, if you understand the basic construction of walking lines, like using roots, 3rds, 5ths and octaves, then you can create your own lines.  All this is improvisation.

So how do we ensure that we know what to play if given a blank sheet?  Well near the start of this article I mentioned that you need to understand different style of music and become familiar with the bass lines. 

My ‘Building Bass Lines’ Playlist might be useful as it highlights certain styles. 

My ‘Blues’ Playlist gives you an introduction to different Blues styles 

My ‘Starting Jazz’ Playlist might also be useful to start learning walking bass 



I hope you now understand that improvisation is just taking ideas that you can learn and ‘reusing’ them to construct your own lines. 

Everyone uses lines and riffs that have been used before.  In this way we are part of the history of music and are simply passing along musical ideas.

The more practice you get at improvising, the better you become.  So find some backing tracks online and start experimenting today! 


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