5 tunes every developing bassist should know

I'm wearing my jazz educator hat for this post:


Knowing repertoire is key for all improvisors, beginners included.

At minimum, horn players should know the melody, song structure, and key centers of a tune. Minimum requirement for rhythm section players is the chord changes, song structure, and any specific hits, grooves, bass lines, etc. that are commonly associated with a tune.


These tunes are great for ALL bassists, and perfect for beginners.

  • They are all technically approachable.
  • They are all jazz classics, and can be requested at almost any jam session or combo rehearsal.
  • They are all widely recorded, so it's easy to find source recordings (see below).
  • They are all in the common repertoire of horn players, too.


How to get your bass player learning these:

note: the objective is to have the bass player memorize and internalize the bass part(s) to these songs

  • Pick one of these tunes from this list that you think s/he will dig.
  • Tell her to listen to the tune a bunch until she can sing the bass line along with the recording.
  • Have her figure out how to play the bass line by ear. Work through it together if she needs some help.
  • Once she's got it, have him play it along with the recordings about a million times.
  • Have her 'jazz up' the bass line (for instance, on tunes line Footprints, the bassist adds subtle changes to the bass line throughout the recording).
  • Encourage her to check out other recordings of these tunes to compare/contrast.
  • ULTIMATELY, have the student find an opportunity to play this tune with other musicians.


Source recordings

  • All of these tunes have been widely recorded, but the original version is always a great place to begin. 


Here they are in alphabetical order:


All Blues

by Miles Davis (the trumpeter pictured below)
6/4 modal blues in G
12-bar form with intro/interlude vamp


Canteloupe Island

by Herbie Hancock (piano)
16-bar modal-like groove tune with 3 chords



by Wayne Shorter (he's the sax player pictured below)
6/4 modal blues in C minor
12-bar form with intro vamp


Song for My Father

by Horace Silver (piano, and that's his Dad pictured below)
Jazz-rock-bossa feel
24-bar AAB form in F minor


Watermelon Man

by Herbie Hancock (piano, pictured below)
16-bar Blues form in F


Posted on March 15, 2016 .