Untold Secret to Melodic Bass lesson: Lead-Ins

This lesson is derived from Jon Burr’s The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass. Be sure to check out the complete method book in downloadable PDF, Kindle Book and the all-new paperback formats.

So far we’ve covered Anchors and Pivots in previous columns. Roots and fifths – the bread-and-butter of the working bassist. Now we start to get into the really fun stuff….


This next area is exciting; as we said earlier, it’s the bassist’s playground; a creative opportunity, and also a hallmark of style. For our purposes, we can define lead-ins as melodic material used to approach, set up or embellish anchors and/or pivots. Lead-ins can consist of either harmonic (chord) or non-harmonic tones; they can be derived from scales—diatonic, pentatonic, chromatic—or intervallic patterns. Their content is less important than their resolution. Between an anchor and a pivot, or an anchor and the next anchor, there’s a whole lot of leeway as far as choice of notes is concerned. Lead-ins can approach the target from above or below, or both. Once the bass has established the fundamental of the chord, the remainder of the chord’s duration is about style and direction. In walking jazz bass, lead-ins are generally used to establish a sense of forward motion, to give the line some logic and enhance the unfolding of the harmony by setting up an expectation as to what the next chord might be. In other styles, lead-ins are used to ornament and embellish static harmony by providing a sense of motion within each particular pattern.

Given the unlimited possibilities opened up by this conceptual approach, we are not going to attempt to cover all the possibilities with the following examples, but only provide examples sufficient to illustrate the general ideas put forth.

Lead-In Examples

This example consists of anchor, lead-in, pivot, lead-in
Note: from this point, examples are annotated as follows:
a = anchor
l-i= lead-in
p = pivot
ct = chord tone

Notice the chromatic lead-ins in bars 3 and 4:


Here we return to the lead-in and then skip back to the anchor:


Here we are omitting the pivots and playing lead-ins for the rest of the bar:


Here we’re using chord tones for the lead-ins. Notice that we’ve annotated each inverted arpeggio as a lead-in “unit,” even though each of these happens to contain the pivot on the third beat. Arpeggios are a musical idea with such familiarity and integrity to the ear that they tend to be perceived as integral units.


Here’s a line using pentatonic lead-ins. These are also immediately recognizable musical “chunks” and can be thought of as such. In our experience, we’ve found triads and pentatonics to be extremely reliable resources for note choice; you might hear the familiarity of these lines as you play them. They’ve been used by thousands of players for a long time because they work!:


Here are some chromatic lead-ins to the pivots and anchors (here the pivot, rather than being on the third beat, is on ‘one’ of the second bar:


Here is a line using various lead-ins and pivots. Notice that some anchors are delayed; and there are examples of lead-ins that consist of neighbor tones on either side of (above and below) the target note. There is also an instance where the anchor is delayed until later in the bar:


Continuing next week with Embellishment of Fixed Bass Lines

In case you want to see more right now… The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass is available as a pdf download or as a Amazon Kindle book. And now in paperback edition!

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