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Are Theory-Nazis anti-fun?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by brewer9, May 25, 2001.

  1. brewer9


    Jul 5, 2000
    Sorry to continue the topic that evolved out of that Fieldy-Click thread, but it became obvious that those who were called "Jazz Snobs" view their bass-playing role in an entirely different light than the so called "Rock Morons."

    JSs want to impress people with their scales and technique while RMs want to impress people with riffs and power. These are fundamentally different approaches. Therefore having the type of conversation we had on "that other thread" cant possibly go anywhere.

    The JSs are truly superior in their knowledge of what is respectable on the bass. But, RMs are superior in their knowledge of what is cool and fun, regardless of the fact that this may not be respectable to many.

    Its sorta like religion. You can believe in God without knowing all the Bible stories. I'm sure Preachers get very frustrated with those who just go around praying without knowing what the guy they're praying to has been doing for the last few thousand years or so. But, they're still gonna pray anyway.
  2. Ummmm...

    I think you got it a little wrong.

    Jazz guys want to make music.

    Rock guys want to make music.

    Jazz guys use all the tools available to them to aid in their quest to make music.

    Rock guys give JAzz guys grief for being "Theory Nazi's".

    Jazz guys roll their eyes after trying to explain themselves, and go study more music.

    The above is based on reading that click click thread, and also on general observations. In no way am I implying that musiciancs fall into either of those categories.

    I'm a rock guy, but I study theory. Does that make me a Rock Snob?

    Why wouldn't you want to use all the tools available to you to become more proficient at something you love?

    I guess I just don't get it. What was the point again?

  3. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    You can't just say that both are mutually exclusive....they most certainly aren't. Maybe that's been your experience, but there's a whole world of players out there you don't know. I know many players who have the knowledge and skill to play Jazz well, but placed in the rock world, can be as heavy as ANY rock bassist you can name.

    You're obviously a younger guy and haven't reached this point yet, but I can tell you from personal experience that if you don't try to get some theory under your belt, you'll regret it. You can't play rock all your life and I doubt you'll wanna, regardless of what you think now. Why not have to tools in terms of knowledge, to be able to cut any gig you want to do?

    Also, what is "cool and fun" is a relative thing. What you play might not be the least bit interesting to someone else...not even another rock player. Hell, I enjoy pounding out I-IV-V blues, country and bluegrass grooves if the band is happening (oh..sorry..used some "theory talk" there), but that wouldn't interest many players.

    Hate to break this news to you...playing rock well just isn't all that difficult. I love it, but it doesn't take a genius to do it.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Rock doesn't have a lock on "cool and fun". Even Mozart knew about that stuff :)

    Actually, the more I know about music the more fun I can have because I can play cooler stuff.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Thank you for that very excellent and pithy overview of the situation. Well put.

    Ooops! Time to go practice......
  6. Even though I'm a rock guy who knows little theory, I've got to disagree with that statement. How can you say that people who know less about music are "superior in their knowledge of what is cool and fun"? That's patently impossible.
  7. an old jazz cat in a suit and shades thumping out lines on his upright is just about the definition of cool, IMO.
  8. Pacman.... where are you?

    brewer9, what is with this hang-up with "jazz snobs"? How does one become a JS? Realistically, wouldn't there be rock snobs and blues snobs and pop snobs (etc.) out there as well? Let's discuss them too.

    (Oh... I think jazz is cool and fun. But that's totally subjective.)
  9. Brewer - it's not really about the style of music. Truly more people who play Jazz have a good grasp of theory, but it's very much required in that music in oreder to play it well. I don't play Jazz myself, but in the Classical world where I work a lot, a solid theory background is also essential.

    It just happens that a solid theory background is usefull for ALL styles of music, it's just more essesntial for some styles. The fact is that Classical music and Jazz are generally much more complex forms on the whole (note I did not say better) than most Rock music, so the people who play those styles will naturally have learned a lot of theory (hopefully).

    I still enjoy playing Rock as much as the next guy - I don't need to be playing super complex music all the time to enjoy it. In my Rock band, I'm the only one with any real knowledge of theory and although the other guys in the band are super talented 'ear' players, trying to explain new riffs etc. to them can be very time consuming. For example, I was trying to show them a fairly simple Jethro Tull melody last time which is very clearly in D minor, but since these guys have no real concept of what notes are in the key of D minor, they were having to just hunt and peck their way around and they never really caught on fully. It also takes a lot longer to remember things that way. Since I know what notes to expect in that key, I just follow the scale up and down at the appropriate times.

    Now honestly, the one guitar player has much better 'ears' for playing things on the fly than I do, the trouble is that he lacks the theoretical knowledge to know what notes are not likely to appear in a given key. So he may hear the notes in his head but isn't quite sure where they lie on the instrument. The result is that he plays a lot of notes that aren't in the key by mistake.

    I guess for those of us who have studied theory, when we play with people who haven't, sometimes it can be frustrating trying to explain things. We'll see very common patterns in things while the non-theory folks almost approach each song as a unique case and have to hunt their way around to find notes that we can find without thinking about based on knowing what key we're in and what relative intervals are happening.

    I guess maybe you've had some bad experiences with players with theory backgrounds, but honestly we're not all bad. You may be seeing a little bit of frustration from us when rehearsals sometimes grind to a halt. The reason is usually that we really want to play the music not spend time worrying about what notes to play. The reason people learn theory (hopefully) is just so they can spend much more time actually playing music without thinking about the notes because with a solid theoretical knowledge, we are able to forget about all those things when they are finally put into practice. All our knowledge of key signatures, etc. has become so second nature that we needn't actually think about it at all when it comes down to actually playing the music.

    That's really how theory should best be used. Our ultimate goal here is playing great music no matter what style. In my mind, the best use of theoretical knowledge is to get to that point that you have all that stuff so engrained that when it comes time to play, you can forget about it completely a just let the music flow.

    That way you get all the emotional content AND a superior technical performance. The two are not mutually exclusive, believe me. Everyday I work with some of the best violinists, cellists, etc. in my country so I get to see this firsthand.


    Apr 13, 2001
    Kent, England.
    And I fall into the third category


    and proud! ;)

    No seriously, I think any kind of music is fun to play, I play a lot of punk and rock but I don't disregard other genres. Actually I would love to be able to play more complex and inmprovised dtyles like jazz but I find it too rythmically challenging.

    Play what you wan't to play, let others do the same.

    Respect other peoples tastes and appreciate the value and challenges to the role of bass playing in other musical genres.

    I think too many people ASSUME rock fans know little theory, sorry but not necessarily!

    Too many people assume playing rock is easy, sorry no. One word, from a technical point of view, and also melodic and ultimately ARTISTIC point of view...Cliff Burton. Oh theres more... Geddy Lee... Flea...the list goes on.
  11. brewer9


    Jul 5, 2000
    Boy, already a bunch of responses. Usually my threads bomb out.

    Great answers too (all of you). Rob W, as usual its insightful to get your point of view. Good to hear from you on this.

    I meant to comment on the characterizations that exist of "Jazz Snobs" and "Rock Morons." I wasnt initiating the concept.

    The mention of the cat playing jazz in dark sunglasses is great imagery and undisputably cool, and the relative complexities of various styles (very generally speaking) is a point well made and well taken.

    The best point of all is that we should respect one another no matter how different we may be, and for whatever purpose we have for playing.
  12. Knowledge = Power
    Power = The ability to do as one wishes
    The ability do to as one wishes = Fun

    Music Theory = Knowledge

    Ergo, Music Theory = Fun

    (WHEEEEE!!!! I knew knowing the reflexive property of mathematics from all those years of algebra would come in handy one day! ;) )
  13. oarsman


    May 11, 2001
    Being the new flesh in B block a bassist locks up whatever he/she can play.
    Well I do have this, give a classic, dead on the beat, sight reader some Earth, Wind and Fire music and you've absolutely blown the narrow mind. Give a funkt up, nasty tastin' bass thumper some sweet soundin' cello music and the guy'll absolutely destroy the dead on timing and puts in a few synchos where they don't belong.
    If you understand the music, ear or reader player, that's the beauty isn't it?
    A few weeks ago I sat lonesome between two sight readers, being an R&B ear player who taught myself to read and repeat. One of the sight readers was a trained jazz player, the other was a double bass bower and technically they blow my slinky backside into the weeds. But who got the Latin piece? Hahaha...not because I was better than they were but because it was a groove piece. I'm sure given a few moments either one of them could have done my job...but it was what I preferred. It was what I could do. Maybe it's brain dead music, maybe not.
    Jazz players can groove if they can be corraled. Classic players love the idea of near-perfection but are locked into the middle of the beat. I love the idea of near-funkafication but can't read as well as I would like. I know my positions and work my drills but my knowing church modes is like shopping in the dress aisle with my wife. Yes dear I like that one, no dear it won't make you look fat. What good does it do me? I don't prefer honk-and-peep but if it's someone else's bag it's not mine to stand in their way.
    If playin' church modes or 9th or 13th leaps blows your socks or the idea of god like tones, or ear splitting active tappin', or just simply filling up the low end with a steady beat and tonic emotion is your groove, then do it.
    If you're flea-biten or thoroughly Pastorized...who cares. Isn't it all about your preferences...if it makes you feel good looking down your nose at ear players or laughing at sight readers trying to locate a sync, there are other issues in your life.
    Play because you love what you play. If that involves theory then by all means learn it...if it involves hours of mental transcibing then memorize to your heart's desire but do it because you love it not because it puts you in rank over someone else. That's just a sad soul looking for gratification at someone else's expense and it makes you nothing more than a music bully.
    A friend of mine once told me "Be 3D." It was the best piece of advice I ever got about playing.
  14. uhh.....


    I think I got what you were saying (I think) but it sure was a long and treacherous journey through the valley of colloquialisms.

    BTW, welcome to talk bass. The better your spelling and grammar, the less likely JT or Mr. Ed will be to beat you over the head with a bass far larger than mine...

    But, I think I agree with you (if I understood you) that flexibility and depth are good things.

  15. td1368


    Jan 9, 2001
    I am just starting down the road of musical theory and I am fascinated by all of it. For me once I realized that there are patterns and combinations of notes that are naturally occurring I was pretty excited. But, how much if any makes you a snob? All of it? Isn't saying play root - fifth or root -octave theory? How about knowing where the root notes of the major keys are? or the major scale has a pattern derived from the key of C. Take it from there I don't see how becoming informed and having an appreciation for your instrument can be a bad thing.
    Granted every occupation has it share of A-holes who think there better for some reason or another. Get over it.

    I don't really recall any of theory buffs critizing anyone who stated they like rock. Most of the theory buffs have said they just didn't care to play it. So what. If I remember correctly the RM's are self proclaimed.
  16. oarsman


    May 11, 2001
    I think my syntax is fine though.

    Sorry for the lengthy diatribe...I just felt compelled.

    Thanks for the agreement but I think I feel the same about your signature.
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    (Sorry, I couldn't resist doing that, it's just too easy....feel free to frizzle fry my username with impunity) I hope this isn't taboo, but I'm going to repost something in this thread that came from the previous FIELDY thread for two reasons:

    1) You never really responded to it, and yet you started another thread on the topic of "Theory Nazis" without really explaining why you thought that theory was bad, and

    2) Somebody in another thread just taught me how do do cut-and-pastes in the forum. Yes, you guessed it - like most Crusty Old Farts, I'm something of a cyber dummy, and I want to try this out and see if it works. If I'm boring everybody by repeating myself, just mentally report me to the NURSING HOME POLICE, and fast forward past the following....

    WHAT MUSIC THEORY IS NOT: Music theory is NOT a set of rules that you follow whenever you are trying to write/create/improvise something new. It is NOT a set of mathematical yarrow sticks that you whip out for the purpose of telling you what the next note or chord should be in the music YOU are creating. No amount of music theory is going to tell you how to write a great song or play a great solo - you have to find that from within yourself.

    WHAT MUSIC THEORY IS: Music theory, quite simply, is the Quantification of sounds that have already happened (in the past). It is the SCIENCE of giving names to specific sounds so that they are more easily referred to and accessed when desired (in the future). The names that are given to these sounds are not important in and of themselves - two people can be playing a C7#4 chord; one of them knows its name and the other only knows that it's a "cool sound", but it's the same damn chord either way - but the names do become important as a means by which musicians from all over the world can communicate with each other quickly and easily.

    There are only 12 different pitches in most western music, and harmonic theory is the study of the way these pitches interact in different combinations. Maybe I'm missing something, but how could studying (read: making observations about what you are doing and taking notes {no pun intended} that enable you to use the knowledge you have gained from your observations more quickly, which frees your mind to make different observations....) music theory NOT make you a better musician?
  18. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Why are so many of you (I suspect) young guys making a divide between those who can read and those who can play by ear? In my experience, the guys who could read the best also grooved the best.

    Jaco said "there's no such thing as 'I can read a little bit', either you can read or you can't" and I agree. What good is sight-reading if you don't sound like you're not reading? One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to make the first time through the chart sound like I've been playing it forever. That's why my phone rings, that's why I eat.

    That being said, I also get calls because I can play with a band I've never played with, and play tunes I've never played, by faking it and using my ears. Why can I do this? Because I know [gasp] theory! I understand chord structures, song form, substitution. I know what a ii-V7 sounds like, I know what a ii (m7b5) - V7(b9) sounds like and where it's going. I've played the blues, and understand where the form goes. I know a shuffle from a swing, a bossa from a samba from a salsa tumbao. I can play raggae, I can play funk.

    My point is (and I aplogize for getting off track), I understand music.

    How boring my life would be if I just understood rock.
  19. brewer9


    Jul 5, 2000
    This is the type of statement that aggravates people like me. Although I'm sure you're an excellent player and no credit should be taken from you on that front at all. You're attitude is very "My way or the highway"

    First, whether someone "grooves" or not is subjective. Geezer Butler in my opinion was the best "groover" of all time (you may disagree because its a subjective opinion), yet Geezer didnt read music or know theory in a strict educational sense.

    Secondly, your involvement in music is totally different than what some other players want to do. Not everyone has any interest in playing Swing, Bossa, Samba, shuffle, or Salsa Tumbao, etc.

    Please understand that some players love a variety of different styles that you may have no clue about, such as Death or Black Metal, Ambient Moodcore, Psychedelics, and Melodic Power Thrash.

    You are clearly superb at what you do, but I would put money down that you would have trouble doing what I'm doing. Sure, maybe I'd be even better if I knew which ancient tribe created the root notes of a particular scale, but its not the end all of everything.

    Just because they dont do what you do doesnt mean that they therefore know "only rock."

    Please dont take offense at my comments, I am just pointing out the subtle nature of the attitude that many dont realize they even have.

  20. I am pretty sure Pacman said "IN MY EXPERIENCE" which is by no means absolute. That would mean in his experience.

    You can disagree, but you sure can't say he's wrong.

    And still, how in the heck is knowing music theory stopping any of the "Jazz Snobs" from playing death metal?

    On the other hand, how are you going to make it through a Jazz number without knowing your music theory?

    In the end, what I said before still holds. Some players fun it fun to know what they are doing on a theoretical level (I am one of these players). If they know why this particular thing sounds good, chances are they are going to be able to use something like it somewhere else.

    I personally feel that "Rock Morons" secretly want to have the same level of understanding of the music they play, and resent the cats that do understand what they are playing.

    Of course, that's my opinion, and I am sticking to it with both guns ready to blaze.

    (and my money is on Pacman)


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