@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.