Hello everyone - I'm sorry it's been a while since the last installment; my trio, QB3, and I have been very busy gigging in and outside of the New York City area. We were also in the midst of breaking in a great new bassist, which has been absolutely worth it. In any case, I'm looking forward to presenting you all with some music for your listening pleasure soon.
With that being said, welcome to the official 3rd installment of Guitar Picks. For new readers, the purpose of this column is to spread some knowledge that can definitely benefit the novice or intermediate level guitarist, especially one who is making the leap from another style, such as rock, into the jazz forum (like I did many, many moons ago). I try and touch on a number of topics, which I have found in my own personal experience to be very useful and enlightening. In any case, enjoy it, and feel free to email me at
with any questions. As always, these lessons are my humble opinions, and are not to contradict or interfere with any other studying you may be doing now.
Walk That Walk
One technique I found to be especially useful, particularly in a scaled down or solo guitar setting is the walking bass technique, which describes holding down a bass line (usually with your thumb), while comping chords or adding melody lines on top (yes, simultaneously). This adds great continuity to your playing and can create some very rich harmonic textures, as well as filling in any holes that may be left with the absence of a keyboard player or bassist.
While many players old and new have employed this technique, there are some who have truly mastered it and made it a staple of their technique; try listening to some solo Joe Pass records or to the excellent, percussive technique of Tuck Andress. On the newer end of the timeline, Charlie Hunter has mastered it to a point where you can't believe it's only one person doing the whole thing. There are too many to list, but these are a few that come to mind every time.
Commonly you will see players using their thumb (and sometimes forefinger) to pluck the bass notes across the low E, A and D strings (if you're on a six string guitar), and use their remaining fingers to pluck 2 and 3 note chord voicings. You're technique may differ, although this may always turn out to be the most reasonable (and physically comfortable) approach. If you're a pick-based player, you may need some adjustment, especially if you are trying to hold on to your pick at the same time. Another thing to remember is that your chord voicings don't need to redundantly include roots and 5ths - the bass notes coming from the bottom should leave you free to build on top of the chord structure to include 7ths, 9ths, 13ths, etc. - whatever color tones fit within the progression and add texture.
Approaching a Progression
The first thing I think of when I analyze a progression to apply this method to is how to create a bass line that establishes and supports the chord progression, sounds melodic, and maintains a smooth flow. To create the best flow, approach the bass line as you would a melody line. Be conscious of too many wide and random intervals; make use (but not overuse) of passing tones and approach notes. If you can sing it, even better. Try and vary rhythmically between the and the line rather than using the same rhythm for both - this creates more texture and gives the bass line a more 'independent' feel. Another thing is to be conscious of the motion of your lines; feel free to move in and out of the register and carry your chords with you to create those tonal 'peaks and valleys', as opposed to staying within the same 6 frets.
Below, here are the chord changes to Miles Davis' "Solar". The first pass around, you are hearing just the progression:
Cmin7/ Gmin7 /C7 /Fmaj7 /Fmin7/Bb13
Guitar Sample 1 - MP3
Second time around, I add in the bass line, which is a combination of chord tones, scale segments, passing tones and approach notes. Some common things I do are leading into a minor 7th using the leading tone (B), especially in the case of the resolve to the tonic. Also, for example, I use 2 approach notes (or a "double approach") into the root of the Dmin7b5 (Db-C#-D), or you can use a passing tone to walk from the major 2nd to the root in the case of the Ebmaj7 and the Dbmaj7 (which would F-E-Eb and Eb-D-Db, respectively): In essence, you are walking right across the minor second in both cases.
Second sample is a basic I-IV-V in Bb with a II-V-I turnaround:
Guitar Sample 2 - MP3
Again, on the first pass I'm just playing the simplified progression, and graduate into the walking line, which is also composed of chord tones, scale segments, passing tones and approach notes.
The best way to get the hang of this technique is to choose a progression of a good, solid standard that you are comfortable with. Try creating some lines based on quarter notes. Then move up to eight note rhythms. Once you feel more comfortable, try and mix different rhythmic patterns, and keep yourself moving around the neck through different inversions on the same chord.
Fred Gerantab leads the NYC-based trio, QB3, and currently studies with renowned jazz master Charlie Banacos.