stepwise and pedal point bass lines

  • Introduction
  • In this week’s lesson, we will examine the influence various stepwise and pedal point bass lines can have on substitution and approach techniques. We’re almost in the home stretch!


By the end of the lesson, you will be able to:

  • apply various bass line approach techniques in a creative context
    • examine harmonic implications of various bass line reharmonizations
    • apply bass line techniques in a creative context as a variation on approach techniques
    • unify substitution and approach concepts

Timeline for Lesson 8

Exercise: “Here’s That Rainy Day” (pt.1)—Due TuesdayDiscussion: Bass Line Reharmonization—Due ThursdayAssignment 8: Bass Line Reharmonization—Due Sunday

1 of 12

  • Descending Stepwise Bass Lines
  • So far, the formal presentation of functional substitutions and the various approach methods has been exclusive and independent of one another. However, in application, we’ve experienced expected overlaps of techniques, and in some cases, a duality of function in the various techniques.

For example, a tonic substitution chord can become a diatonic approach function, or a parallel approach chord will also have a diatonic approach and functional substitution relationship to the target, etc.

The use of bass lines in reharmonization is a very effective way to unify different reharmonization techniques, with a continuous melodic bass line in a location that is traditionally associated with controlling the harmonic direction. Although stepwise bass lines are not required to unify and control the various kinds of substitution and approach techniques, they are desirable because they add another dimension to the overall melodic and harmonic structure of a tune.

It’s a commonplace observation to say that the most outstanding parts of a song are at the extremes: the melody and the bass line. If those elements are clear and strong, the listener will accept most anything that is put inside of them, assuming of course, that the linear control of the internal voices (voice leading) makes sense.

There are several types of bass lines outside of the standard cycle 5 and cycle 3 control of harmonic direction. These are:

  • Descending Line Cliché (exclusively chromatic in minor or major)
    • Descending Combined Stepwise (half and whole steps in major or minor)
    • Descending Diatonic Steps (to create diatonic bass motion on static functions and contrary motion under an ascending stepwise diatonic melody line)
    • Pedal Point (tonic or dominant pedal to create static bass for increased dissonance)

Ascending stepwise bass lines are used, but descending is more common. The descending will be our primary focus.

Before we get started, here’s an important qualifier to always keep in mind when applying bass lines:

  • Root motion and bass motion are not always the same

What this means is that chord tones other than the root will often be found in a stepwise bass line. In most cases, the expected outcome is the combined use of root position and inverted chords, which is very desirable and opens up the greatest number of options for alternative chords and functions.

Remember this key point: At any time, the stepwise line may be abandoned and normal cycle 5 or cycle 3 bass motion resumes.

2 of 12

  • Descending Line Cliché
  • A line cliché:
    • is exclusively a chromatic line located in the upper tetrachord of a major or minor system.
    • starts on scale degree 1 (do) and moves downward toward scale degree 5 (sol) or starts on degree 5 and moves upward toward 1.
    • is often located in the bass, but is also found in the upper voices.
    • is common to minor key tunes because the chromatic upper tetrachord reveals all possible 6th and 7th degrees found in the composite notation of natural minor(6/7), harmonic minor(6/7),melodic minor(6/7),and Dorian minor(6/7).
    • may be used in part or in its entirety.
    • is found in many different styles and eras of popular and jazz music.
    • is a rich source for bass line reharmonization as well as for substitution techniques.
C Composite Minor

Here’s a simple, unembellished four bar phrase in C minor. The I minor chord is very static. At this stage, there’s no melody line to consider. (By the way, the Root/5th/Root ostinato pattern in the performance of this example is simply there to generate some melodic interest; it has no contradicting influence on the C minor chord as a static structure.)

Embellished 4 Bar Phrase in C minor

 Play Audio

Here’s the same phrase with a chromatic bass line and all of the possible chord tone functions and chord symbols from natural, harmonic, melodic, and dorian minor. (The first and last examples are identical. The difference is by coming full circle, the implication of different C- chord symbols in the first example is realized in the last example.) The C- chord begins each example.

Examples of Different Minors

 Play Audio

Here’s a similar phrase with a melody line and some possible reharmonizations drawing from the vast number of choices in composite minor. Once again, the Kern classic “Yesterdays”:


 Play Audio

Did you notice the contrary motion between the melody line and the bass line? This is often described as flowering, much in the same way a rose or some other such bloom will unfold in a very beautiful and graceful fashion. Pay attention to this detail…it has a strong emotional impact on the listener.

There are several choices for diatonic chords as well as chromatic alterations, such as secondary dominants, bVI7, bIImaj7, bIII7, etc., that may represent a potential conversion/substitution or approach function. The choices are based on your desire and the needs of the style, context, or mood.

Here’s a major key version with “Too Close For Comfort”:

Too Close For Comfort

 Play Audio

Notice the difference between the two bar turnaround in Variation #1 and #2. In the second variation, the chromatic bass line is continued from the G7 to the F#-7(b5) and continues chromatically all the way to the end of the turnaround. The bass line uses the entire chromatic scale from top to bottom!

3 of 12


Exercise 8.1: “Here’s That Rainy Day” (pt.1)

(Due Mar 2)

  • The song “Here’s That Rainy Day” is considered by many to be the greatest tune ever written by James Van Heusen (Chester Babcock, to his friends). The tune has undergone many versions over the years and has been covered by countless artists. Below, I have supplied you with the sound files of four versions.

The first sound file is from Wes Montgomery. His version is in E major, a half step lower than the notation I’ve supplied (with apologies to any of you who may be cursed with absolute pitch.) Once the intro is finished, Mr. Montgomery enters and the changes are very much in agreement with the basic changes in the A section. However, the changes in the B section are lightly modified.

 Play Audio

Wes Montgomery. “Here’s That Rainy Day” from Bumpin’. (The Verve Music/1997)

This second sound file is from Stan Getz, which has become a new stock set of changes.

 Play Audio

Stan Getz. “Here’s That Rainy Day” from Getz/Gilberto No. 2 (Live). (UMG/1993)

Compare the Stan Getz version to the changes in the Wes Montgomery version and answer the following:

  1. What is the essential difference in the modalities?
    1. What kind of a bass line was used for the Getz reharmonization?
    1. What kind of approach technique is represented by the Ab7 and D7 in bar 2 relative to the Dbmaj7 in bar 3?
    1. What are the melodic conditions in the first four bars that possibly motivated Mr. Getz to change the modality?

The next sound file is a Rosemary Clooney version. Listen to this version in comparison to the Getz version, then answer the following:

  1. What is similar in the Clooney version compared to the Stan Getz version?
    1. Are the modalities the same?
    1. How would you compare the Rosemary Clooney A section to the Wes Montgomery A section
    1. What kind of line is used to embellish the changes to the Wes Montgomery B section?

 Play Audio

Rosemary Clooney. “Here’s That Rainy Day” composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke from Sings Ballads. (Concord Jazz/1985)

The final version is from the classic Joe Pass solo album Virtuoso. Listen to this version and compare it to the others. In what general ways was it different? Is there anything specific you hear in terms of techniques or devices he used?

 Play Audio

Joe Pass. “Here’s That Rainy Day” from Virtuoso. (Fantasy Inc./1974)

Download exercise file and answer key (zip)

Post your response to the Joe Pass version question to the Discussion Thread and title it, Listening and Analysis Exercise for “Here’s That Rainy Day”- Lesson 8.

Participate in Discussion!

4 of 12

  • Descending Combined Stepwise
  • Descending Combined Stepwise (half and whole steps in major or minor):

Here are some major and minor key examples of combined stepwise bass lines.

My One And Only Love

 Play Audio

The Masquerade

 Play Audio

5 of 12

  • Descending Diatonic Steps
  • Descending diatonic steps create diatonic bass motion on static functions and contrary motion under an ascending stepwise diatonic melody line.

Here’s a version of the Rodgers and Hart waltz “Wait ‘Till You See Her” with the basic changes and then with a diatonic descending bass. A common target point in diatonic bass lines is the non-diatonic #4 scale degree, functioning as either a 3rd or a root. Once bass note #4 has been reached, it’s typical for the line to continue downward chromatically to a diatonic target such as a II chord. As I pointed out in the “Yesterdays” example, notice the contrary motion with the ascending stepwise melody:

Wait Till You See Her

 Play Audio

Here’s are two modified versions of “Too Late Now.” The first version is exclusively using a descending diatonic stepwise line without scale degree #4 as a target. Observe the use of dominant approach with the E7(#9)/B and the chromatic II-V targeting the Dmin7. Also observe the F#min7(b5) is under going a conversion as the result of the diatonic bass line.

In the second version, the consolidation of substitution and approach functions relative to the bass line is even more evident.

Too Late For Now
Combining Diatonic And Non-Diatonic StepWise Bass Line

 Play Audio

6 of 12

  • Pedal Point
  • Pedal Point (tonic or dominant pedal to create static bass for increased dissonance):

Pedal point is a sustained or repeated note, pitched on the tonic or dominant scale degrees (do and sol). It’s often used in the bass to create a tonally-defining platform, above which, chords can freely move to create levels of stability and instability without losing the key center identity.

Here is how tonic pedal works on the bridge to the jazz standard “Afternoon in Paris.” This is a good example of how paraphrasing a chord pattern from another song, in this case “Green Dolphin Street,” can create fresh changes in place of the standard II-V-I-VI bass line.

Afternoon In Paris by John Lewis

 Play Audio

Observe the substitution and approach implications:

Afternoon In Paris

Here’s an example of dominant pedal used in the beginning of “My Romance.”

My Romance

 Play Audio

It’s interesting to hear how the E7(b9,#11) chord, being such an unstable function, brings some welcome relief to all of the pent-up energy created by the long and drawn out dominant pedal point. Dissonance is indeed a relative condition.

7 of 12

  • Exercise: “Here’s That Rainy Day” (pt.2)
  • 1.) Picking up from bar 5 of the Getz version of “Here’s That Rainy Day,” realize chord symbols for the new stepwise bass line targeting bar 9. Explain the functional relationship between the original chord Fmaj7 in bar 7 and the reharmonization Dmin7. Play your solution and then check it with the answer key.

Download exercise file and answer key (zip)

2.) Using chord symbols, reharmonize this excerpt of the B section to “Have You Met Miss Jones” using dominant 7th chords rooted on a descending bass line cliché. Use two chords per bar. Play your solution and check the answer key.

Download exercise file and answer key (zip)

8 of 12

  • Ascending Stepwise Bass Lines
  • Ascending stepwise bass lines are not as common as descending lines, but they occur enough to warrant some examination. The most common ascending bass line occurs in a tune such as “I Got Rhythm” or any contrafact based on that form. This typically starts on a root position I chord and moves up in half-steps to scale degree 3, usually as a root function on III.
Serpent's Tooth

 Play Audio

Ascending bass lines will often start on the 5th of the key and move as an ascending line cliché. In lesson 5, I presented a very exposed example of Axis dominant substitution on “Wonder Why”, with the qualifier that we would return to the same example later in a more developed form. So, once again, here’s the original opening phrase of the Sammy Cahn standard “Wonder Why,” followed by an ascending 5th line cliché in the bass, and then with a descending bass line. Observe the Axis system implications in several bars.

Wonder Why

 Play Audio

9 of 12


Discussion 8.1: Bass Line Reharmonization

(Due Mar 4)

  • What are some reasons that may explain why bass line reharmonizations are predominantly used in a descending direction?

Participate in Discussion!

10 of 12


Assignment 8: Bass Line Reharmonization

(Due Mar 7)

  • Step 1: Save this file to your computer and use an appropriate bass line technique to reharmonize two of the three A sections of “Robbin’s Nest.”

Download assignment 8 (PDF)

1st A Section — leave as is.

2nd A Section

For the 2nd A section, keep the target chords in their original location.Here’s a suggested strategy for developing the bass line for the A section:

  1. Starting from the Db6 chord root, play only the melody line against the raw descending chromatic bass line (no chords, only a bass line) with a two beat harmonic rhythm for each chord. This will link together the three original target chords of Db6, A7, and Fmin7. Do this several times and get used to the uncooked sound of the two extreme lines. Once you start to hear this as being “inside”, treat each bass note as a chord root and imagine what chord type will work best with the melody/harmony relationship. Remember: any melody note that creates a b9 and/or #9 as melodic tensions can be supported only with a dominant7th structure pitched on the given root in the bass.
    1. After you have played through this initial version, explore other types of stepwise bass lines covered in the lesson such as combined stepwise or diatonic stepwise to develop other possibilities and contrast the unique effect each line offers. Keep in mind that the two beat-per-chord harmonic rhythm used for the chromatic line may need to be modified for the other bass lines.

B Section

For the B section, use dominant substitutions, including II-Vs, and chromatic approaches.

  • Look for other reharmonization possibilities we covered in earlier lessons such as turnarounds and delayed cadences and diminished 7th reharms.

Final A Section (at letter C)

For the final A section, create a bass line idea that contrasts the 2nd A section bass line.

You have several options to create your assignment:

  • You can hand-write your answers, scan them, and submit them as PDF file.
    • You can create your answers in Finale, Sibelius, or a similar notation program and submit them as PDF file.

Step 2: Save your work as a PDF file, “yourname_Assignment_8.pdf.” For example: Schmeling_Assignment_8.pdf. Note: Make sure you are saving the file with a .pdf extension.

Step 3 (Optional): Record yourself playing the reharmonizations on either your keyboard or guitar. Save an MP3 of your recording as “yourname_Assignment_8.mp3.” Note: Make sure you are saving the file with a .mp3 extension.

Please note: If you choose to not present a realized, recorded performance of your treatment, there is no grading penalty. However, if you do choose to present the treatment as a final, fully realized performance, then the final grade of the assignment will take into account how well the performance represents the musicality of the choices you have made on a notational level. Otherwise, on my instrument, I will realize the music you have written to assess the musicality of your choices.

Step 4: Post your completed files below.

  •  Submissions:

Luis Classen


11 of 12

  • Recap
  • In this lesson, we have examined various bass line reharmonization techniques. You should now have the confidence to:
    • hear the intervallic differences with the various stepwise bass line techniques
    • use stepwise bass line techniques as one way to unify various substitution and approach techniques
    • use stepwise bass line techniques along with cycle 5 and cycle 3 bass motion

12 of 12

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