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Jazz Bass Lines

First developed to generate a feeling of buoyancy or lightness for dance music, the two-feel is a
common style of accompaniment most often utilized by bassists during the melody or head of jazz
compositions before transitioning into a standard walking four bass line for the solos. Sometimes
referred to as the two-beat, the broken two-feel, or even the skip two-feel, this concept can also be
frequently heard within the "A" sections of 32-bar A-A-B-A song forms where the "B" section or bridge
is played in a straight-ahead walking four style. Unlike a conventional walking four bass line comprised
of a steady stream of quarter-note melodies, the traditional two-feel places the emphasis on the half
note.
In its most fundamental form, the two-feel or two-beat consists of only two half notes per measure.
The root of the chord is played on the first beat followed by the fifth on the third beat. Using the
concept of tension and release, the harmonic tension of the line may be heightened by placing a
non-diatonic tone as a chromatic approach note on beat three of the measure. By integrating rhythmic
embellishments such as eighth-note triplets, skips, ghost skips, syncopated rhythms, hammer-on
skips, pull-off skips, and slurred skips, you can create more of a broken two-feel or skip two-feel.
Although rhythmic embellishments can be placed anywhere within the measure, they are most
frequently found before points of harmonic shift and within turnarounds. In a standard 12-bar blues,
rhythmic embellishments are commonly placed in measures 4, 8, 11, and 12 to highlight the arrival of
bars 5, 9, and the subsequent chorus. With the broken two-feel, the underlying sense of rhythmic
tension and release is intensified, thus enhancing the forward motion of the line.
With regard to incorporating rhythmic embellishments, be careful not to go beyond your role as an
accompanist. If the bass line becomes saturated with too much rhythmic activity, it may defeat the
general purpose of the two-feel. Since the two-feel is typically applied while the melody of the
composition is being played, you don't want to exaggerate the half notes with too many rhythmic
embellishments or else you might distract the listener's attention away from the melody. Rhythmic
embellishments can add a rhythmic depth to your lines, but too many embellishments may disrupt the
overall flow of the pulse. The two-feel should enhance the melody and not drawn attention away from
it. As always, the notes and rhythms that you choose to play should support and compliment the
music as a whole.
In order to illustrate the development of walking bass lines in the two-feel style, I have composed a
number of lines over several choruses of the 12-bar blues in F. These examples will supply you with
ideas on how to effectively employ bass lines in the two-feel style over the 12-bar blues and these
basic chord changes. In the first chorus, the notated bass lines consist of half notes simply using root
notes and perfect fifths in the classic two-feel style. You need to be able to play in this simple fashion
before you can proceed to expand upon this concept with more rhythmic activity. Outlining chords in a
style similar to this is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with chord changes when working on new
compositions. If the measure contains a single chord, place the root note of the chord on the first beat
followed by the fifth of the chord on the third beat. When presented with two chord changes per
measure, simply play the root note on the downbeat of each chord. Sometimes it is best to apply the
two-feel in this basic manner because the two-feel shouldn't sound like a bass solo. The root of a
chord is the most important note. As a bassist, your primary responsibility is to outline the root
movement of the chord changes so the root note should always be the first note that you gravitate
towards when constructing walking bass lines. During the second chorus, you will notice the addition
of quarter notes, skips, and chromatic approach notes which will increase the underlying sense of
tension and release. Take note of how the quarter notes, when placed on beats three and four of the
measure, tend to accelerate the forward momentum of the bass line into the next chord change.
By Cliff Engel
The Two-Feel
2011 Cliff Engel
In the final chorus, rhythmic embellishments including eighth-note triplets, skips, ghost skips, and
syncopated rhythms have been added to demonstrate the broken two-feel style.
To acquire a deeper understanding of the possibilities you have available to construct walking bass
lines in the two-feel style, first play through the bass lines as notated many times. Pay close attention
to the accuracy of the rhythmic embellishments, and make sure that you can execute them without
disrupting the steady flow of the quarter note pulse. Utilize the MP3 play-along track that I have
provided with this lesson to help replicate a live performance application. Transpose my bass lines to
all of the remaining keys such as a 12-bar blues in Bb, Eb, G, and so forth. Finally, improvise your
own walking bass lines in the two-feel style over the 12-bar blues in every key or on any jazz
standard.
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