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How to Master the Core of Walking Bass: Demystifying the I-vi-ii-V Turnaround

Online Lessons with Diana Mascari
Diana Mascari-Piano Teacher for Adults

Although being able to play walking bass lines requires knowledge and quite a bit of practice. The core of walking bass is the I-vi-ii-V turn-around. Since playing this turnaround gives you predictable pattern as well as a way to connect your linear bass lines, I call this the Anchor Bass. In this article, you'll learn what it is and how to use it effectively.

What Is the Walking Bass?

The Walking-Bass is a left-hand accompaniment pattern composed of quarter notes which forms the foundation for the swing rhythm often associated with jazz and standards from the Great American Songbook.

What is the I-vi-ii-V?

The Roman numerals stand for the chords built on those notes of the major scale (1-6-2-5). In the key of C these are: C major-A minor- D minor and G7.

What is a Turnaround?

The turnaround is a chord pattern (I-vi-ii-V) that appears at the end of a song that provides a comfortable transition back to the beginning of a song when you you want to repeat it (the song).

The turnaround is also used at first endings of songs, so you can repeat the music of the first section with the words to the second verse.

Occasionally, composers use the turnaround within the song. This is the case with Let's Fall in Love, Time After Time, I'm Old Fashioned (which you'll hear me play in the video) and many other songs. It's the same pattern, but it's used as part of the walking bass.

What Are the Notes in the Anchor Bass Line (Turnaround)?

In the diagram above, you'll notice the roots (letter names) of each chord as part of the bass line. That is the I-vi-ii-V turnaround.

What are the Other Notes Between the Roots of the Chords?

The notes in question in the diagram above are tones that make the bass-line sound jazzy.

For the turnaround to work in an effective way, you need to play the note one half step above each bass note BEFORE you play the chord tone. Thus you have: C to start then: Bb-A-Eb-D-Ab-G-Db-C

5 Tips to Help You Play the I-vi-ii-V Turnaround (Anchor Bass) Successfully:

  1. Take 2 or 3 easy keys (e.g. C, G, F, etc) and go over the chords for each one

  2. Insert the bass notes that are one half step above each of the letter names of the I-vi-ii-V chords and write out the bass line (letter names work just as well as notes on the staff

  3. Add the fingering to the bass line so you can use muscle memory to get comfortable playing the line (this fingering works in the keys of C, F and G 5-2-1-4-5-2-1-4-5

  4. Take an easy song like Heart and Soul and start learning how to play the I-vi-ii-V chord progression that's part of the song with the anchor bass as the accompaniment

  5. For the adventurous pianist: play some blues improvisation above the anchor bass. This works quite well and is a lot of fun.


Here's how Diana plays the Walking Bass left-hand accompaniment including the Anchor Bass (I-vi-ii-V turn around) in the standard by Jerome Kern called I'm Old Fashioned:


About Diana Mascari

Online Lessons with Diana Mascari
Diana Mascari-Piano Teacher for Adults

Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 45 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. She was the music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England.

To get Her FREE Course: Song Playing Starter Kit for Pianists, click here

To schedule your FREE 30 Minute Piano Lesson Consultation on Zoom, click here.


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