Jazz Bass


Authored by Jim Stinnett


Course Code: OBASS-332

Next Semester Starts
June 26, 2023

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Jazz Bass explores the key ingredients necessary to play great jazz bass lines, including the sound, feel, foundation, and power. Throughout the course, you will learn techniques for playing effective walking bass lines over jazz chord changes. The course begins by exploring "money notes"—the notes most valuable to a bass player to support and influence the band. You will play simple and functional walking bass lines over the blues and then progress to more sophisticated lines over jazz tunes, using chord tones in conjunction with half-step approach notes in multiple keys.

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You will learn to recognize common chord progressions in jazz standards and play them effectively. The course highlights famous recordings from jazz greats—such as Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Christian McBride—and teaches you strategies for modeling their performances. You will explore right- and left-hand techniques for both acoustic and electric bass, in addition to topics such as substitute chords, melodic development, and turnarounds. Each lesson will feature video demonstrations, listening examples, play-along exercises, and suggested practice routines, culminating with a walking bass line assignment that demonstrates the key concepts covered. The goal of the course is to give you the tools you need to improvise jazz bass lines like a seasoned professional.

"When a walking bass line is done right, everybody in the audience wishes they could play bass." –Jim Stinnett, Jazz Bass course author.

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Play a walking bass line over jazz blues
  • Transpose jazz blues to any key
  • Hear and recognize the ii-v-i chord progression
  • Transcribe walking bass lines
  • Produce a jazz sound in your playing
  • Develop a better physical technique
  • Identify characteristics of the master jazz bassists
  • Create a focused practice routine
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: The Money Notes

  • Tension and Resolution—Roots and Half Steps
  • Jazz Blues, Chord Changes with II-V Chord Substitutions
  • Transcription
  • Left-Hand Technique—Major Scale Economy of Motion
  • Practice Techniques
  • Assignment 1: Chord Substitutions

Lesson 2: Build it Solid

  • Jazz Blues, Chord Changes with bV Chord Substitutions
  • Transposing Chord Changes
  • Jazz Sound on the Electric Bass
  • Transcription—Ear/Hand Coordination
  • Practice Techniques
  • Assignment 2: Transpose and Perform

Lesson 3: Developing a Harmonic Foundation

  • 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths
  • Transcription Examples
  • Right-Hand Technique for the Acoustic Bass
  • Left-Hand Technique for the Electric Bass
  • Assignment 3: Blues Using R 5 R 1/2

Lesson 4: Learn from the Masters

  • Transcription—Learning the Language
  • Blues in the Key of Eb
  • Left-Hand Technique
  • Assignment 4: Record Transcribed Blues Chorus

Lesson 5: The Rosetta Stone 

  • The ii-V-I Chord Progression
  • Hearing the ii-V-I
  • Transcription
  • Assignment 5: Walking the Bass Line

Lesson 6: Melodic Development

  • One Measure Melodic Shapes
  • Practice Techniques
  • Two-Beat Style
  • Turnaround
  • Assignment 6: Walking Bass Line Using Melodic Shape

Lesson 7: Modeling 

  • Modeling
  • Bass Line Analysis
  • Practice Session—Transcribe
  • Assignment 7: Walking Bass Line Over "Lady Bird"

Lesson 8: Hearing the Line 

  • Substitute Chords in Blues—Memorization
  • Choosing Left-Hand Position
  • Transcription
  • Assignment 8: Memorize and Perform

Lesson 9: Quarter-Note Melody 

  • Additional Substitute Chords in the Blues
  • Chords with Tensions
  • Developing Melodic Shapes
  • Assignment 9: Memorize and Perform

Lesson 10: How to Sound Like a Seasoned Pro 

  • Register
  • Rhythmic Embellishments
  • Dynamics
  • Giant Steps/Transcription
  • Assignment 10" "Giant Steps"

Lesson 11: Secrets of the Great Walking Bassists 

  • Function - Interaction
  • Phrasing - Repetition
  • Creativity
  • Assignment 11: "Autumn Leaves"

Lesson 12: Cake Minus Eggs Ain't Cake: The Importance of Balanced Learning 

  • Balancing Act—Tips on Successful Learning
  • Transcription
  • Next Steps
  • Assignment 12: Final 


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of Bass Performance 101 or equivalent knowledge and/or experience is required. Students should have knowledge of the bass guitar fretboard, an understanding of the modes of the major scale, and the ability to read music.

Required Textbook(s)

Software Requirements

  • A basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself and save the recording in MP3 format. You will have a tool to use for this purpose inside the learning environment. Alternatively, you can use software like Audacity (PC) or GarageBand (Mac) 
  • You must be able to submit notation—either hand-written and scanned or created using the notation software MuseScore, Finale Notepad, Finale, or Sibelius

Hardware Requirements

  • For electric bass: a basic amp chord with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • For acoustic bass: a microphone with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • Audio interface such as the IK Multimedia Stealthplug, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Mbox, etc.
  • A scanner is required for those creating scores by hand and is recommended for those using a notation program, so that you can handwrite portions of your scores, such as drum notation, if necessary
  • A printer is recommended, so that you can print out music examples used in the course
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built in ports or an external audio interface)

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu for any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Jim Stinnett


Jim Stinnett (1955-2021) was a professor at Berklee College of Music, where he taught arranging and bass. A highly sought after producer, writer, and arranger, he founded the Bass Workout and was the musical director of the New Hampshire Bass Fest. His extensive list of publications include The Music Of Paul Chambers, Arcology, Creating Jazz Bass Lines, All Cows Eat Grass, Reading in Bass Clef, Slap Bass Workout, and 12 Keys to Success.

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Originally from the Northwest, Jim enjoyed a rich performing career. As a first-call bassist in Seattle, Jim performed with nationally acclaimed artists, including Phineas Newborn, Jr., Jean-Pierre Rampal, Clark Terry, Ernestine Anderson, Kia Winding, and Sam Rivers. Jim's credits also include performances and recordings with Phish, Joe Diorio, Lionel Loueke, Rufus Reid, Michael Manring, Ernie Watts, Kenwood Dennard, John LaPorta, Joe Hunt, Ernie Watts, Tal Farlow, the legendary NTSU 1:00 Lab Band, Red Garland, Buddy DeFranco, Anita O'Day, Roy Hanes, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, and Musicisti Americani Chamber Orchestra in Italy. Jim graduated from New England Conservatory of Music in 1986 as a student of Ed Barker. Read Less

Dave Clark


David Clark is bassist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer. Before joining the faculty at Berklee, he was the resident jazz instructor at the International School for the Double Bass in Cincinnati during which time he was twice the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Study Grant. Dave currently teaches bass and jazz at Berklee, and is the musical director of the Berklee Faculty Inter-Galactic Sun Ra Astro-Infinity Myth Equation Commemorative Arkestra. As a performing bassist, David has appeared with Peter Frampton, the Drifters, Lesley Gore, and many others.

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David is also a prolific jazz writer, and his compositions have been recorded by such artists as Gary Burton, Cercie Miller, and Tim Ray. He received the Massachusetts Council for the Arts Award for Jazz Composition. David holds bachelor's and master's degrees in composition from the New England Conservatory of Music. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Jazz Bass can be applied towards these associated programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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