Jazz Walking Electric Bass Lines using IFR

I really love the IFR method for training my ear. I’m at the beginning stage using Sing the Notes 1, up to note 5 so far. I discovered this method a few years ago, but (wrongly) dismissed it because playing solos is not my goal and I was opposed (with a very poorly-informed bias on my part) to learning note numbers.

The second time I discovered IFR was two months ago and I became a huge fan! I have the IFR Book, two Video Courses (Ear Training for Musical Creativity, Recognizing Chords by Ear), and Sing the Numbers 1, 2, 3.

I now have two main Goals:

  1. My very long time main goal is to play Walking Bass Lines (WBL) over Jazz Standards by ear. Hearing the chord changes by ear, and now, improvising walking bass lines by ear instead of memorizing 4 note patterns. I have over 20 WBL and 10 Ear Training methods and have gotten to a certain point where I’m just frustrated at not being very accomplished at any of this this at all.

  2. Playing electric bass without looking at the fretboard.

If I could ever play electric bass on this Standard, in this style, like bass player Roger Spencer, it would be a MAJOR accomplishment milestone for me!

I am very tempted to purchase the IFR Video Course for Guitar so I can work towards Goal (2) above.
It seems I can try it for 60 days at no risk, and I learn better nowadays by a combination of watching video, using a book, and listening to audio.

How useful would this IFR Video Guitar course be for applying it to bass? Is there any IFR Video Course for Bass on the horizon at IFR? Should I just use the IFR Youtube videos to start?

Starting in February, I should have enough time free to start practicing bass and ear training again. It’s been on and off for many years now.


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@mcaputi Hi Mauro, and welcome to our forum! I don’t recommend my IFR Video Course for Guitar for you because too much of that course is about combining the notes on the fretboard in a way that’s only possible on the guitar. But you will absolutely achieve your goal, and I believe that the IFR framework is the surest way to get there.

By the way, I also just wanted to acknowledge your extraordinary humility and ability to reverse course. Not many people have the ability to change an opinion that they formed earlier about a given learning system, and I really admire that about you. Your comments about questioning your initial resistance to IFR inspire me to notice where I need to let go of my own past judgments about things as well. So I just really appreciate the wisdom and emotional maturity that you bring to our discussion, and I would encourage you to trust that these personal qualities are actually your greatest musical assets as well. This is why you will be successful.

I wish that we had a complete video course for bass that I could offer you. A video course on the IFR method for bass would be phenomenally successful because bass riffs and walking lines are one of the most exciting and enjoyable applications of the IFR method. So this deficiency is our fault, not yours. This course absolutely should exist, and you shouldn’t have to cobble together this understanding from my video course for guitar or any other sources. The only reason why we don’t have this course yet is because all of this is a lot of work. But it’s definitely on our roadmap and I can give you some ideas now about what this practice would look like.

Here is the most important principle that you need to trust and embrace about walking bass lines:

Walking bass lines is actually just melodic improvisation. The only difference is that because of your low register, your melodic choices carry great harmonic weight for the group.

Here is the key takeaway about the above statement. The fact that your melodic choices carry great weight doesn’t make them any more complicated. Let’s take the tiniest example we can think of and see how this works. Imagine that I’m improvising a solo on my trumpet. And on the first beat of a measure, I’m going to play a note. And just to simplify things to the extreme, just imagine that I can only choose between note 1 and note 3. (Just pretend that all of the other notes on my instrument are broken, so these are the only choices I have.) Should I play note 1 or note 3? As you well know, there is no right answer to this question. Both notes simply have different effects and meanings, and the choice comes down to which effect I want to create in that moment.

So now let’s talk about your role as a bass player. Imagine that you are in the same situation. You’re about to play beat 1 of a measure. And again imagining that most of the notes on your instrument are unavailable to you, let’s say that your only choices are to play note 1 or note 3. Which note is correct? Keep in mind that you are the bass player. And remember that your notes carry enormous harmonic impact for the group. So which note is correct?

The answer is the same. There is no right answer. Should you play note 1 because that’s the root of the chord, and your’e the bass player? Not at all. If you were to spend the next year learning that bass players should play the chord roots, then you would spend your second year trying to “unlearn” that principle so that you could play more interesting choices. If you listen to great jazz bass players, you will find that on beat 1 of a measure containing the 1 chord, they will play literally any one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. In IFR we are constantly reminding our students that as improvisers, their palette of available colors ALWAYS includes the entire 12 note chromatic scale. This is just as true for bass players.

So what does this mean for learning the art of jazz bass? It means that the ideal preparation for a lifetime of creative walking bass is to learn to improvise melodically exactly like all of our other students do. The only thing that you would need or want in a special IFR video course for bass are activities that let you practice applying this ability to the special role of the bass player. For example, rhythmically it’s quite different to play a walking line than to play a solo because when you’re playing a walking bass line you’re going to be naturally attracted to playing more quarter notes. You’ll still have all of the same syncopations available to you that horn players use in their solos. But you’ll use these syncopations more sparingly because they are much more dramatic and violent on your instrument. But if you’ve gained a lot of experience improvising melodically just like our horn players do, then all you really need is some guidance and some special activities to learn to adapt your ability to the special role of walking mostly quarter notes.

Harmonically it’s the same story. Everything you need to understand about harmony in order to improvise walking bass lines can be learned from improvising melodic solos. The only additional step you need is the opportunity to practice applying this ability to the special role of the walking bass line. And mostly that’s a question of experience, taste and sensitivity. There isn’t really any new “theory” that you need in order to apply your IFR skills to walking bass lines.

But I understand that all of this is quite nebulous, and it’s very helpful to see these principles put into action in the form of video lessons and demonstrations. So that’s definitely something that we want to create for you. But you could get a tremendous head start on that work by simply embracing the art of melodic improvisation as a necessary foundation for walking great bass lines. In other words, don’t even worry right now about how you’ll use your skills to make bass lines. Just become a great soloist. The IFR resources you already have give you everything you need to work on connecting your harmony knowledge, your ear, your imagination and your instrument into a single understanding. If you just focus there for now, you’ll be creating a tremendous foundation for that lifetime of creative bass playing that I described.

And here’s one other thing that I encourage you to do right now. I’m not sure if you know that all of the IFR jam tracks place the bass in the left stereo channel. This allows you to eliminate the bass player from our jam tracks by simply adjusting your stereo balance all the way to the right. Let me repeat that you should be spending most of your time improvising melodically just like our other instrumentalists do. But just to begin demystifying this world of the jazz bass, I encourage you to already start spending at least 10% of your time using our jam tracks in the way I’m describing, where you eliminate the bass role so that you can occupy that space yourself. Don’t worry that you don’t have any formula or strategy for playing the bass part. Don’t let that be an excuse. Just imagine that you’re playing with a group of friends and they need you to do something on the bass, and it’s up to you to hold down a bass part the best you can. Even if you feel that you have no idea what you’re doing, this experience combined with your more structured IFR practice will help you to bring these two worlds together.

I hope these ideas help. Mostly I want to leave you with the idea that it’s okay if you don’t know right now how all of the pieces will come together. Just don’t lose any time. Find something that you CAN learn right now (even if it’s purely melodic and doesn’t seen related to walking bass lines). Remember that all musical instruments in a band have the same notes, and harmony is the same for all of us. So just keep growing in all of the ways that you have at your disposal right now, and trust that you’ll be very thankful for these skills and knowledge later when you’re walking those bass lines.


I’m a piano player, but a few years back I bought the VIDEO COURSE FOR GUITAR to understand the IFR method better. That worked for me

Also, you might look at some of Paul McCartney’s bass lines to see how more melodic bass playing contrasts with stricter walking bass- don’t be put off by its being in the rock/pop genre. You can try googling “Beatles bass lines PDF” and get some of them for free, in the context of well known songs (at least for those of us of a certain age)

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Thanks so much @hender99 , glad it helped you understand the method better! Yes, I have an entire book of Beatles bass lines. I’ll take a look to see Paul’s melodic lines, thanks for the good tip. My “certain age” is 63. 🙂

I’m going to give David’s ideas a dedicated good faith effort since that’s the only method that’s been of any benefit for developing my ear, and leave all my WBL patterns for another time. I plan on doing more with my fretting hand technique, too. A few years ago I devoted 3 weeks just to a floating thumb plucking hand technique, and it’s now in my muscle memory for good. So, training my ear with IFR, practicing without looking at the fretboard, and developing fretting hand technique will be my plan for the months ahead. Plus seeing if I can play Paul’s lines as an IFR exercise.

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A fine vintage - or so it seems to me, but I could be considered biased on the subject. :wink: LOL!

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Yes, I understand this. Most WBL methods explain it as internalizing a bunch of different one- or two-measure patterns of quarter notes, and then “improvising” by stringing them together in real time. But that’s not what you mean by improvising, because you’re calling it “melodic improvising” or soloing, something I never wanted to do on bass. But – since doing this using the IFR method will help my ear understand the music, I will practice this. I can use this as training my ear to know what playing a note on the bass will sound like before playing it!

Yes, I see this as a better way of learning to string along the one- or two-measure patterns. They will stop being rote patterns, and instead be melodic phrases that sound like WBL lines. I have a huge storehouse of method/pattern books, none of which made me an accomplished WBL bass line player. So, I will practice this new IFR way (new for me)!

Absolutely, I agree. The previous methods haven’t worked for me, anyway! The pressure will now be off, too, since the WBL skills will come as a by-product of having a better ear for music.

I agree!

OK, great plan, David

  • Training my ear with IFR,
  • Sing the Notes
  • Melodic soloing on the Jam Tracks
  • Practicing without looking at the fretboard,
  • Developing fretting hand technique

will be my plan for the months ahead.

Thank you again, David, for your amazing & detailed response!


THE CASE STUDY OF CHARLIE HADEN written by Hamilton Pinheiro (B.M. Music Education, Universidade de Brasília, 2014, M.M. Jazz Performance, 2018).


I have all ten of the method books summarized on pp. 5-25. This will give you an idea of what WBL education is like. I actually have at least ten more methods.

I couldn’t help but think of how a new WBL method could be written based primarily on the IFR method, to answer the author’s conclusion on pp. 55-56,

"To finish my conclusion, I will recall Downes’ definition of bass line: “The bassist is expected to play a series of logical and functional notes which outline the harmony, to make the time feel as good as possible, to listen and react to rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic ideas, all while fully supporting the rest of the group!”

All inquired books in this research basically cover the first deed of the definition: playing a series of logical and functional notes which outline the harmony.

Will future educational media extensively cover time feel? How to teach a student to listen and react to rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic ideas?

Haden’s bass lines on Wanton Spirit did not come from nowhere. His bass lines were reactions to what he listened from Barron and Haynes and if there were two other musicians in the recording session, Haden’s bass lines would be totally different.

At the same time, Barron’s and Haynes’ performance reflected their reactions to what they heard, in other words, the album Wanton Spirit (and basically all other albums with improvised music) was a result of collective improvisation.

How to teach future bass players to understand their bass lines as a result of a collective improvisation? How to teach future bass players that specific techniques they learn are small pieces of a whole? There are several points that jazz bass pedagogy can explore, even those ones that are difficult to quantify."

I will follow the IFR road less traveled now! Glad to be part of this great community as we journey and journal together.

Ciao, Mauro

PS: From Wikipedia
Charlie Haden revolutionized the harmonic concept of bass playing in jazz. German musicologist Joachim-Ernst Berendt wrote that Haden’s “ability to create serendipitous harmonies by improvising melodic responses to Coleman’s free-form solos (rather than sticking to predetermined harmonies) was both radical and mesmerizing. His virtuosity lies (…) in an incredible ability to make the double bass ‘sound out’. Haden cultivated the instrument’s gravity as no one else in jazz. He is a master of simplicity which is one of the most difficult things to achieve.”[1]

Haden played a vital role in this revolutionary new approach, evolving a way of playing that sometimes complemented the soloist and sometimes moved independently. In this respect, as did his predecessor bassists Jimmy Blanton and Charles Mingus, Haden helped liberate the bassist from a strictly accompanying role to becoming a more direct participant in group improvisation.

PSS - I don’t wan’t to take things as far as Hayden did, but I would happy to train my ear as stated above and play mostly an accompanying role, but actually being able to play what I hear in my head!

Fascinating contribution, @mcaputi. Thank you for sharing all of this. I just wanted to respond quickly with one more point that I should have mentioned earlier. It has to do with the role and value of those specific bass line techniques and examples that you found in what you’re calling WBL method books. There is a lot of musical wisdom in those examples! The problem with that teaching approach isn’t that it’s totally bankrupt. There are many beautiful gems to be discovered in those examples of WBL patterns. The problem is more on the learning side. What to DO with those examples? How to go from a few isolated examples to a holistic understanding of the musical landscape?

IFR exists to give you that holistic understanding of the musical landscape. But this doesn’t negate the value of those WBL method books. In fact, IFR greatly increases the value of those WBL method books! What IFR gives you is a container for every other musical idea that you discover in your life. Every one of those WBL examples takes place somewhere on your tonal map. And so you can use your IFR practice to build that container in your mind, and to explore the sounds of our musical system on your own. But then you can actually go back to those WBL examples and bring those sounds onto your tonal map also!

In other words, you don’t have to choose between seeing the landscape (IFR) and seeing the individual gems of content (WBL methods). Those gems of content exist somewhere on the landscape. And this is really the power of learning to understand harmony. It gives you a container in which to place all of the other musical content that you discover.


Hi @ImproviseForReal David. Yes, absolutely, and I discovered this just yesterday! Thank you for confirming my discovery and explaining it so well. I was going to write here about it yesterday, and got part of it written, but had to switch gears back to my college prep work since classes start again in two weeks.

And in fact, I had JUST finished practicing singing a basic 12-bar blues BL using triads - JUST 30 minutes ago! Before I read your post!!
The chords are
| I7 | | IV7 | | I7 | | I7 |
| IV7 | | IV7 | | I7 | | I7 |
| V7 | | IV7 | | I7 | | V7 |

I just used a simple BL device called 1-3-5-1, or root-third-fifth-third.

Before IFR, I would sing (play actually)
– I7--------- IV7--------- etc
| 1-3-5-3 | | 1-3-5-3 | |, etc
over the entire chord progression.
Even over the IV7 chord, I would sing (play) the correct pitches, but call the 4 the “root”, etc.
Because I’m using the same BL device over and over.

But today, I sang instead:
| 1-3-5-3 | | 4-6-1-6 | | 1-3-5-3 | | 1-3-5-3 |
| 4-6-1-6 | | 4-6-1-6 | | 1-3-5-3 | | 1-3-5-3 |
| 5-7-2-7 | | 4-6-1-6 | | 1-3-5-3 | | 5-7-2-7 |

Plus I paused to hear some of the notes in my head in relation to the next note, or other notes, so I was not just singing a memory of a BL of a blues song. I wanted to be able to recognize what I was singing.
I paused to hear the 7 going down to the 1, etc.

So, I can now practice singing improvised melodies without reference to established Bass Line (BL) patterns or devices.
AND I can practice singing the patterns with IFR numbers!
Back and forth.

IFR is awesome for bass!

Indeed @mcaputi, however more generally “IFR is awesome” is just as true. No extra words are needed. :wink:

PS. Off Topic: I only dabble in bass guitar but the Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny album ‘Beyond the Missouri Sky’ is among my favourite albums, so I was interested to see his name pop up here.
I’m also a big fan of the highly creative bass player Steve ‘solobasssteve’ Lawson. If he’s new to you. you might like to check him out on bandcamp.

PPS. I do have 6 bass strings on my Chapman Stick, but that’s very new to me and I’m still working on being able to make use of them!

Well, @DavidW, I never intended to imply any limitation. My extra words were important for me to express to the Forum my newly discovered enthusiasm for how I can apply IFR - to finally have a path to overcome my long struggle with learning WBL, after reading @ImproviseForReal’s posts. I’m overjoyed with this breakthrough! IFR is the way to go no matter the specific musical goals. Yes, indeed.

Thanks for sharing one of your favorite albums. I actually only listened to One Finger Snap and Take the Coltrane in order to listen along with the two bass transcriptions provided by the MS Thesis author. BUT - I learned quite a bit about how his playing was so unique just by seeing the lansdscape of 14 choruses. Whew! This was a good learning opportunity for me.

Hi @hender99 . Would you be able to expand a little on your comment above. What was it that worked for you? Since David is giving us 25% off right now, plus a 60 day trial period, I was hoping you might have additional insight on how this helped you, in what specific ways.


That course walks through the 7 harmonic enjoyments, chords, and chord progressions, demonstrating many of the IFR exercises. It made the IFR method as described in the book much more clear to me, so I could translate to my own chording instrument. I don’t mind translating the guitar specific actions to a piano. The INTRO to MELODIC improving course is also good for the same reasons, with a focus on non chordal instruments. That course also explains and demonstrates many of the IFR exercises.

I just found IFR to be so different from any other music instruction I ever got that I needed to see stuff in action. The book is great, but pseudo-live instruction is better. IFR is worth all you invest in it, time $ money, as long as you actually do the exercises that the book lays out.

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Thanks so much for your speedy and helpful reply. Yes, I agree that this material is very different but very much more helpful to me! I just love Singing the Numbers 1 (1 - 5, so far) and Feel the Numbers from the Ear Training for Musical Creativity course. I enjoy watching the demonstrations in that ETMC course and then practicing Sing the Numbers in between. With the current missing pieces discount, this would be the best time to invest in the Video Course for Guitar and apply what I can to the bass.

Again, thank you so very much!

So Allan @hender99 , I did end up buying the Video Course for Guitar and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first three lessons and am looking forward to having some free time to finally begin applying this material to electric bass. I enjoy the teaching videos, as you said “seeing the stuff in action”. Now I can feel confident in applying this to bass since I can see David playing first.

mcaputi Hope it all works great for you

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