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The Body and Soul of a Modern Walking Bass Line by Rhayn Jooste


The Body and Soul of a Modern Walking Bass Line by Rhayn Jooste

The song/lesson for this month is the standard Body and Soul (Cuerpo y Alma) – music by Johnny Green. It’s inspiration is taken from Esperanza Spalding’s Esperanza album (2008). The key is Db major; however because the piece begins with an Eb minor, it means we are in Dorian mode. The technique you are aiming for is being able to walk a solid modern bass line through a jazz standard. Your goal is to master the basic pattern and riff and then play through the changes to create a dynamic walking bass part, with a twist – this standard is in 5/4. This piece will require a 5 string bass guitar.

Main Riff.

The main riff is a swung bass line that really accentuates the 5/4 feel with Latin tumbao offbeats. The primer should be used to get yourself acquainted with the main riff chord arpeggio shape (here an Eb minor 9) and counting the riff pattern – master that before moving onto the main groove part of the chart. There are some big stretches here, so go slow and get your left hand used to them first. Each bar of the primer adds something extra from the previous to build you up to the full riff – which does have a chromatic passing tone tucked away in it.

Things to note off the original are that Esperanza’s bass lines are rhythmic with lots of triplet and quaver pushes. An idea to steal off the record is Spalding’s subtle use of slides to outline the notes and definitely check out the scat singing with her bass line at 4’40”.

Technical bits.

To begin it’s worth saying that to play 5/4 convincingly in the pocket is going to be the main challenge here. So a few hints: break down the rhythm into smaller more manageable chunks of timing (think in terms of 3 + 2, or 2 + 3); count out loud with the record (away from the bass) to internalise the feel to gain awareness of  the down stroke on the first beat (the 1) of each bar –  that way you will never get lost rhythmically; most importantly sing the riff and bass line, really get it under your skin and into your head so that when playing it you will always know where you are in the changes.

Learn the road map of the main changes (pretty much straight from the standard). Sign post each one with a root note before walking up, down or around the chords. Know your chord arpeggios with the ability to move them around the fretboard (in other words know the names of the notes on each string – not just the shapes).

That aside this technique will not sound authentic without the right sound, think velvet acoustic – as Esperanza is playing this all on her upright bass. So pluck nearer the fretboard for a more sulcello effect. Turn down the treble slightly and add some more mid range. Another thing is to try some foam under  the strings around the bridge (or constant light palm muting if foam is not your thing). Experiment with the right hand plucking position as you don’t want to lose those harmonic over-tones. For further listening check out Ray Brown or even J.S. Bach.

Backing Track.

This is a bass line that grooves and is dynamic in shape. The primer starts on all 5 beats and slowly adds in the syncopation, get used to counting the notes that are held. The track follows the music as written with a one bar break between the sections. The main section is where the chart begins with a bass solo groove for 4 bars. The piano then enters and doubles the riff. This section is where you will have to outline the changes – these are taken from the jazz standard and have been altered slightly. The piano is generally outlining chords in a 3 + 2 counting pattern and also doubles the main riff with the bass. Watch the rhythmic elements and understand how each chord tone is approached and left – (passing tones greatly aid the arrival of the chord tones). There are also hints from the melody see if you can spot them. Most importantly have fun with the groove and be sure to check out the original.

Backing track and track on Soundcloud.

Lesson music/tab on Tumblr.

About Rhayn Jooste…
Rhayn is a musician whose interest lies in musical spontaneity and improvisation. He is a commercially aware music graduate with in-depth insight into the processes of Indie music obtained through concerts and festivals. 

A multi-instrumentalist, who shares, writes and elucidates music in a fusion of genres. It is the pure joy of utilising sound to create a magical world which others can share that inspires him. Currently playing bass in U.K. based rock group – Sankara.

Visit Ryan online at

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