Welcome! In today's bass guitar lesson I'm going to show you how to play Moondance by Van Morrison and break it down into 3 straightforward sections.
If you're in the early stages of learning Walking Bass this song is the perfect way to start experimenting with this style. This is because the chords are very straight forward.
Moondance wonderfully transcends the world of 'Pop' (I use that term loosely!) and Jazz.
I've played this song hundreds, if not thousands of times on gigs and there's a good chance you may well see it too.
You may also want to check out The Walking Bass Series on the eBassGuitar Lesson Blog for further ideas on how to build out Walking Bass Lines for Moondance.
Let's get going and analyse the basic structure of the song!
The 3 Basic Sections In Moondance
Moondance can be broken down in to 3 basic sections. These sections are then repeated throughout the rest of the song.
Here are the 3 sections:
Once you are clear on these sections you can then make the song as long or as short as you'd like.
There have been gigs where I have played versions of Moondance which have lasted up to 10 mins because solos by instruments such as the saxophone and trumpet have been added.
1. The Verse
The Verse is a 16 bar section that begins when the vocals come in.
There is also typically a 4 or 8 bar introduction too that is 100% based on the chords you'll discover in the verse section.
The Piano and Guitar play 3 chords in this section:
- Bars 1-8 = Vamp between A minor (Am) - B minor (Bm) (Piano only)
- Bars 9 -16 = Vamp between Am - Bm - C - Bm (Adding the Guitar)
A vamp is a repeated phrase or chord sequence.
All the of the Bm chords are 'pushed' before the beat. This means they land on beat 2+ of the bar.
Here are the chords for verse written out:
Chords For The Verse
We can now add a very straightforward quarter note style 'walking bass line' that follows the chord changes or root notes. This is simple and functional but fundamentally works!
101 Bass Line For The Verse
Whilst the bass line above works fine, it is also quite restrictive and as bass players there are many, many beautiful walking bass lines that will work over Moondance.
The chords in the Piano / Guitar are moving quite fast but fundamentally they are all directly related to the key and the chord of Am.
So... we as bass players can simplify our thinking to just 16 bars of Am.
Once you get deeper into the world of Walking Bass you'll experience simplification time and time again. The other harmony instruments (such as piano & guitar) can often play incredibly complex ideas. These complex ideas can often be heavily simplified.
As bass players there are times when we can create far strong bass lines if we simplify the chords... rather than following the complicated, fast moving chords piano players and guitarist often have to deal with!
This is what the verse of Moondance simplified looks like for us bass players... straight forward eh?
Moondance Verse Simplified
To create walking bass lines for the verse I would use the A Minor scale as a starting point. You may also hear this referred to as 'A Natural Minor' or 'A Aolian' too.
A Minor Scale Diagram
When starting out constructing walking bass lines it is often best to build 2 bar walking bass lines that can simply just be repeated.
The example below use a 2 bar walking bass line that just uses the first 5 notes of the Am scale.
If you want to discover more 2 bar walking bass line ideas make sure you check out the Essential Walking Bass Course, where there is a whole module exploring these concepts.
Moondance Walking Bass Line
How many more 2 bar walking bass lines can you come up with just using the first 5 notes of the Am scale?
2. Let's Take It To The Bridge!
Let's move on to the next section of Moondance which we will call the Bridge.
This is 8 bars in length.
So far (from a bass playing perspective) we have only used one chord - Am.
In this section we introduce two more chords - a D minor (Dm) & E7 chord. For those of you who are interested in harmony these are Chord IV and Chord V respectively in the key of A Minor.
We now have all 3 of the chords used in Moondance.
The Bridge Chord Sequence
The Bridge chord sequence has a lot more 'movement' in it.
For the first 6 bars we alternate from a bar of D minor (Am) to a bar of A minor (Dm).
In bars 7 & 8 we then hit 'Triplet Stabs' in unison.
Triplets are where we play 3 notes in the space of one, two or four beat beats. Triples feel very different to play!
In this case, we are playing 'triplet quarter notes' and this is shown by a bracket with a '3' in the middle of it. The first note of each triplet is missed out.
If this sounds like Double Dutch right now just listen to the original record - it's often easier to 'feel' rhythms like this (rather than getting overly analytical!).
Unison stabs are where the whole band (in this case) plays a punchy rhythm as one, to make a phrase stand out.
The last three 8th notes in the notation / tab are a 'pick up' into the chorus section, which we will talk about towards the end of this article.
Creating Walking Bass For The Bridge
As we discussed earlier, the Bridge section is alternating chords one bar at a time... so this is the perfect moment to create a one bar walking bass line.
Now I'm going to share with you a simple but massively powerful one bar walking bass line creation formula.
You will often regularly hear the great jazz bass players such Ray Brown, Paul Chambers and Christian McBride using this concept .
The '1235 Forumula'
The 1235 Formula uses the first 5 notes of the Am scale:
R - 2nd - 3rd - 5th.
Try playing this first of all in the key of Am and make sure you observe the shape it creates on the fingerboard. You will end up the notes A - B - C - E.
You will then need to transpose this so it works over the chord of Dm. The simplest way to do this is to take the shape you have created in Am and move it 'down' on to the A string. You will end up with the notes D - E - F - A.
The notation and bass tab for Moondance above will show you this concept written out.
3. The Chorus
So we've made it to the chorus - this is where things get interesting!
The chorus is effectively a syncopated (or off beat) unison phrase that the whole band plays as one. Each instrument is playing the same thing. Look at the standard notation or tab and this will tell you exactly what notes to play.
The beauty of this section is it's very different to the walking bass lines in the previous two sections. Broadly speaking walking bass is 'on beat' and the bass line of the chorus is largely 'off beat.
These rhythmical differences create ' musical light and shade' which is very valuable musical device.
Here's what you need to know about the chords and the general structure of the chorus:
- This section is 8 bars in length.
- There are two 'pushed' chords per bar that alternate between an Am & Dm chords. 'Pushed' means they are played an 8th note ahead of the beat. This musical idea lasts for 7 bars.
- On bar 8, beat 2 there is a 'hit' that whole band plays as one and the chord changes to an E7.
The Chorus Bass Line
Tips for the Chorus:
- To begin just learn the first bar of the chorus. This will work perfectly as a repeated pattern for the fist 7 bars of this section.
- Then try is it as a two bar phrase. The second bar is the same as the first but just up an octave.
- Watch out for the cheeky chromatic bass line in bar 4. It's unexpected but sounds super cool!
Lesson Wrap Up
As I said earlier learning Moondance by Van Morrison is the perfect gateway if you play rock and pop music and want to expand into the world of jazz.
If you need more help make sure you check out The Essential Walking Bass Course inside the Bass Lab PLUS membership.
If you an intermediate bassist this course will help teach you how to play walking bass right from day one... all the way through to improvising and creating bass lines over the most important 'Jazz Standards' that musicians need to know.
Unquestionably Walking Bass will also help you understand and play virtually every other style of music.
It's so powerful and will help you become a better bassist.
Good luck and get stuck in!
P.S. If you'd like to grab the backing tracks used in this lesson you can find these in the Bass lab PLUS Membership in addition to a full 1 hour Song Analyse workshop on Moondance.