Stupidly Simple Exercise for Dope Ass Bass Lines

Hey gang,

How great bassists do what they do - producing chart-topping banger bass lines - is often a mystery to us mere mortals. But every now and again you get a glimpse into what goes into the secret sauce.

There aren’t many bassists who can claim as many instantly recognisable bass lines as the late great James Jamerson. His secret sauce?

… many things. :stuck_out_tongue:

But one exercise in particular reveals one of his secret ingredients, and reveals a ton about how he thought about creating those magical basslines.

Here’s the basic exercise…

Jamerson's Chromatic Exercise in C

play with swing 8ths

The Full Exercise

This simple exercise contains the magic of how Jamerson smoothly linked chords together in songs, creating flowing melodic bass lines. Here’s what’s happening:

  • Bar 1: Starts on the root (C), works chromatically up to the fifth (G) by walking through E F F#
  • Bar 2: Starts on the fifth (G), same chromatic walk up to the octave via A A# B
  • Bar 3: A sexy walking bass triplet, then the same walk to the fifth, but in the lower octave
  • Bar 4: Same as bar 2 but down low

This exercise also demonstrates Jamerson’s insane fluency on the neck, which allowed him to find any note he needed in a given hand position, often just on the bottom 4 or 5 frets.

Here’s how that exercise helped create some of the best bass lines ever to hit eardrums…

What's Goin' On

In bars 7+8 of the tune, you can see on of Jamerson’s many chromatic walk ups to a root note (B + Cnatural walking up to C#), which is super typical of his approach, and of his Chromatic Exercise above.

Darling Dear

Another great bass line, full of these chromatic walks all throughout. This line is from the intro, but there’s lots more goodness along these lines when the verse kicks in!

For Once In My Life

I think this might be my all time favorite - almost 3 minutes of uninterrupted bass brilliance, NEVER repeating exactly. This is bars 9 + 10, showing Jamerson using chromatic walks on a minor one chord (Gm) to a dominant five chord (D7) just as brilliantly.

Notice in the tab too, that he doesn’t rely on the typical scale shapes we learn early on to find his notes, he’s anchored around the open strings and can find those notes anywhere he wants to!

The really cool thing about practicing this exercise - you’re not just stuck with soul and Motown. You could use this to craft…

Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water

Yes, Roger Glover’s opening fill on Smoke on the Water is using this same chromatic walkup approach!

Rancid - Time Bomb

Matt Freeman - coolest punk/ska bassist of all time? His chorus pattern on Time Bomb is eerily similar to Jamerson’s Chromatic Exercise. Little did I know when I was playing this in high school. :stuck_out_tongue:

Head Hunters - Chameleon

This ever-classic funk “bass riff” (that was actually played on synth by Herbie Hancock) is one of the most prominent uses of simple chromatic walkups.

The reality is, this exercise is just a tool. It will not make you Jamerson. :frowning:

But use this tool well and you too can write some dope ass bass lines. Let me know what you discover! :guitar:


thanks Josh for this it is great material
I have only played the first one so far (Jamerson’s Chromatic Exercise in C) but it is fun to play so I will try to learning the full exercise. I will also have a listen to all the great examples provided when I can.
humble request: I have a swing 8th hi hat beat going that I am playing to but it would be awesome to have an mp3 of you playing that first 4 bar exercise to check I have the feel correct (especially through bar 3 & 4)…

one other small note - Bar 4 of the exercise isn’t quite:

it only has seven notes for one thing which threw me off a little


Everybody needs to see this!
I don’t know how this has been up for three days and only had one reply.

This is great stuff and is a perfect answer for anyone wanting to know what they should do for daily practice.

Thanks you Josh!


Above content added to BassBuzz YouTube Video Guide. It may not be a video but it is a great fit for what to work on After Beginner to BadAss.


Strange indeed, it didn’t showed up in my feed until now! Might have been pushed down by new threads on that same day? :person_shrugging:

And yeah this is great stuff!


Hey @JoshFossgreen, why not turn this into a full-fledged mini-lesson video?


I saw this a few days ago on here, but was sidetracked by… Well, life really. And i was very sad because i did want to go through it.
Thank you @eric.kiser !


Since I love a good pdf, here’s a little gift for the adventurous.

Keep in mind I’m a beginner, especially when it comes to musical notation. So there are errors and some things I just don’t know how to avoid.

For example, after each three eight notes group, Musescore put a rest before and after the two eight notes that follows while there’s none in Josh’s original tab.
No idea how I’m supposed to avoid this.
edit : corrections done !
And I know next to nothing to key signatures ^^. So there’s that too.
Anyway, if it’s useful to you, enjoy.


Thanks for providing that!

Those are tripets - so they aren’t really 3 eighth-notes, but three notes that take the “time” of 2 - so since they’re triplet eighths, they take 1 beat for the 3 notes (same as 2 eighths, or a quarter note). They way you notated them (as eighth notes with a “3” as staff text), musescore thinks they’re a beat and a half - I don’t know why it let you notate those measures as 11/8 or 12/8 time rather than 4/4, but I’m no musecore expert either…


Ah ! Thanks @skydvr
This wasn’t all that hard once I understood what you said :


Still it’s messing up my staff a bit, so I’m forced to delete a measure to recreate it properly.

EDIT : corrections done. Still a bit weird, but … better. Initial uploads updated


Thank you, I needed this so bad! I’m constantly trying to play Jamerson’s lines but I can’t keep up.


Thanks @JoshFossgreen for this. I’ve been super busy, but kept this page open to this post when I first read this. Awesome stuff indeed. Seems like a great material YT video. (hint hint)