Jazz Bass

Author: Jim Stinnett   •   Course Code: OBASS-332

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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.

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

Lesson 1: The Money Notes

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

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

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

Lesson 4: Learn from the Masters

  • Transcription—Learning the Language
  • Blues in the Key of Eb
  • Left-Hand Technique

Lesson 5: The Rosetta Stone 

  • The ii-V-I Chord Progression
  • Hearing the ii-V-I
  • Transcription

Lesson 6: Build It Solid 

  • One Measure Melodic Shapes
  • Practice Techniques
  • Two-Beat Style
  • Turnarounds

Lesson 7: Modeling 

  • Modeling
  • Bass Line Analysis
  • Practice Session—Transcribe

Lesson 8: Hearing the Line 

  • Substitute Chords in Blues—Memorization
  • Choosing Left-Hand Position
  • Transcription

Lesson 9: Quarter Note Melody 

  • Additional Substitute Chords in the Blues
  • Chords with Tensions
  • Developing Melodic Shapes

Lesson 10: How to Sound Like a Seasoned Pro 

  • Register
  • Rhythmic Embellishments
  • Dynamics
  • Giant Steps/Transcription

Lesson 11: Secrets of the Great Walking Bassists 

  • Function - Interaction
  • Phrasing - Repetition
  • Creativity

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

  • Balancing Act—Tips on Successful Learning
  • Transcription
  • Next Steps

Jim Stinnett


Jim Stinnett is a professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches arranging and bass. He is a highly sought after producer, writer, and arranger, and is the founder of the Bass Workout and the musical director of the New Hampshire Bass Fest. A highly respected educator, Jim presents bass clinics and workshops all over the world. 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.

Originally from the Northwest, Jim has 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 Joe Diorio, Lionel Loueke, Rufus Reid, Michael Manring, Ernie Watts, Phish, 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.

Dave Clark


David Clark was the resident jazz instructor at the International School for the Double Bass in Cincinnati during which time he was twice recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Study Grant. He is currently a professor at Berklee College of Music where he teaches bass and jazz. He 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 Mose Allison, Karrin Allyson, Nat Adderly, John Abercrombie, George Adams, Bruce Barth, Gary Bartz, Lois Bellson, George Benson, Jerry Bergonzi, Joanne Brackeen, Randy Brecker, Alan Broadbent, Donald Brown, Gary Burton, Terry Lynn Carrington, Cyrus Chestnut, Michael Feinstein, Sonny Fortune, Peter Frampton, Slide Hampton, Billy Hart, Jimmy Heath, Lee Konitz, Howard Levy, Dave Leibman, John Medeski, Greg Osby, Clark Terry, Shiela Jordan, Bill Pierce, John Proulx, John Scofield, Gunther Schuller, Keely Smith, Zak Starkey, Bennie Wallace, Claudio Roditi, Danilo Perez, Mick Goodrick, Ellis Marsalis, Lyle Mays, John Pizzarelli, Danny Richmond, Tiger Okoshi, Rosemary Clooney, James Williams, the Boston Pops under John Williams and Keith Lockhart, The British Rock and Roll Symphony, Natalie Merchant, Patti Austin, Emily Remmler, Orange then Blue, Strange but Trio, Tierney Sutton, Phil Woods, Atilla Zoller, and many others.

David is also a prolific jazz writer, and his compositions have been recorded by such artists as Gary Burton, Cercie Miller, Tim Ray, Dick Johnson, Armen Donelian, and Strange but Trio. He has received the Mass Council for the Arts Award for Jazz Composition. He received his bachelor's and master's in composition from the New England Conservatory of Music.


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

Software Requirements

  • A basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself playing along with a background track 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 or GarageBand.
  • You must be able to submit notation--either hand-written or created using the notation software Finale Notepad, Finale or Sibelius--in one of the following formats: .mus (Finale file) .PDF (Adobe Acrobat file) .JPG (graphics file) .GIF (graphics file) .DOC (Word document, with score pasted in.)

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

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. See the Student Deals page for discounts (recommended)
  • A scanner is required for those creating scores by hand and strongly recommended for those using a notation program, so that you can handwrite portions of your scores, such as drum notation, if need be
  • 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)
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed (http://www.speedtest.net to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)


Got a question? 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. We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

  • Level
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    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
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