When you know how to play a walking bass line on piano at any given time, you are in possession of a shining tool that you are sure to keep at the very top of that piano playing toolbox of yours. Unfortunately, far too many pianists never attempt them and only marvel at the ability of other pianists who have a handle on this very useful cocktail piano playing technique.
Walking a bass line on piano can be accomplished on many levels. There are certainly concepts that are more advanced than others. But you have to start somewhere! Great news follows: you see, it’s not necessary to have those more advanced skills under your fingertips in order to put your playing across in a very professional way. Remember this: It’s not necessarily WHAT you know but how you use what you know.
Are you familiar with playing simple triads on the piano, for example? That in its own right lends itself to your creating effective bass lines for a beginner. Playing a basic triad in an arpeggiated manner works marvelously well.
A main point that I would like to get across here is that you want to connect yourself with a musical idea that allows you to play with some momentum without distraction. In other words, if you have your left hand fingering a C Major triad in the bass area, it’s just a matter of playing those keys as quarter notes, one at a time. You are not distracted by the act of having to look for them. Once you get your momentum going with a simple technique such as this one, it becomes easier to graduate to turning that idea into a more interesting line. Master what comes easy to you. Then more creativity can blossom from there.
(excerpt from this very popular online video session)
When you consider what a bass player will often resort to while walking, it makes sense that focusing on those chord tones is conducive to nice lines developing. A professional bass player, although capable of playing more complex lines, will often gravitate back to these chord tones, often using the 1 and 5 of the chord (for C Major: C>>G>>C, etc).
If you are familiar with 7th chords, then you can feel free to play those 7th chords as arpeggios as well, trading off between them and just the triads.
As you begin to feel confident with playing these “broken” chords, you’ll want to insert “neighbor” tones in between them to make your lines more interesting.
A key point worth mentioning is that, however you play those walking bass lines on piano, keep it in perspective. Remember the role of those lines. They are serving as support and accompaniment to a melody or improvisation which takes priority. So, focus on maintaining a balance with your volume. That left side of the piano will naturally resound more intensely, so play with sensitivity by playing those walking bass lines on the softer side. Their importance will stand on their own without being accentuated with extra volume.
There is much more that can be said of playing walking bass lines on piano but this short lesson is intended to serve as a beginning from which you can spring from.
Enjoy the walk!