What is the Boogie-Woogie?
The boogie-woogie is a piano blues style from the early 20th century. The boogie-woogie style has a very strong bass pattern associated with it. Originally, piano players accompanied themselves by playing this bassline with their left hand. When a bass player was added, the bassist would duplicate the piano player’s bassline. As this style evolved more, the bassist would often play the boogie-woogie bassline by himself or herself while the pianist played entirely different piano parts.
The Boogie-Woogie Bassline
Although there are many variations, the basic boogie-woogie bass pattern is a two-bar pattern using quarter notes. The bassline ascends and then descends strongly outlining the notes of each dominant 7th chord in the blues progression.
The basic two-bar pattern goes: | Root-3-5-6 | b7-6-5-3 |
Emphasize Those Chord Tones
If you’ve spent any time reading my lessons you’ll know I always try to make you pay attention to chord tones. This 100-year-old bassline is still around today because it outlines chord tones perfectly. The only note not found in the chord (which contains a root, 3rd, 5th, and flat 7) is the 6th. The sixth, coming from the mixolydian scale, is really there for melodic decoration. It melodically connects the 5th to the flat 7th.
You might also notice that strong chord tones fall on beat one of each bar the root and the flat 7th. When you listen to music your ear considers notes falling on beat 1 as very important. You’ll rarely find a non-chord tone on beat one of a well-crafted bassline.
Next, you’ll notice that the all-important 5th falls on beat 3 of both bars. Beat 3 is a strong place for landing chord tones, too.
The Importance of Learning the Boogie-Woogie
I know most of you don’t plan to play this line in your band, but it’s essential to learn. For one, you’d be pretty embarrassed if someone wanted you to play this classic line and you didn’t know it. Every bassist knows this line.
More importantly, this bassline contains all of the qualities of a perfect bassline. It’s memorable, melodic, and catchy. It sets the pulse. And, it successfully supports the sound of each chord in the tune.
You can learn a lot about bass playing from this simple little pattern.
The Boogie-Woogie Exercise
You should learn to play the boogie-woogie bassline over blues variation 1 first. (The Boogie-Woogie exercise.) The two-bar boogie-woogie pattern neatly fits it since it contains two (or four) bars of each chord.
Make sure you practice this line in different keys and areas of the fretboard, too. That's really important.
In future lessons I’ll post more boogie-woogie variations on different blues forms. Those will probably sound more familiar to you.