Baffled by the incorporation of theory!

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by WyrmDL, Jun 24, 2008.

  1. WyrmDL


    Feb 15, 2008
    Greeting TalkBass!

    Ive been lurking on TB for a while now, with this being my first post.

    Well, Ive been looking into theory several times now, and Ive developed an understanding of most of the structures and whatnot of it, but I havent quite figured out how they all play together.

    The major thing that really confuses me at this point is key signatures and scales. I know what they are, but when I try to link them together and with music, I have no idea.

    So the question for me is, what is the relationship between key signatures and scales, and their overal relation to music? Do songs 'generally' use a single scale throughout, or is there a certain selection decided with the key?

    Also, how big of an influence do the key and scale(s) have on an overall song? Say if I wanted to use a note excluded from the scale, how does that work?

    And one last question; how do you work out chord progressions? I actually have a haze of an idea, but its bare boned, and possibly dislocated.

    Thanks for the help; I hope I made everything clear!
  2. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    some tunes do, and some tunes don't...

    chords that have notes all from within the parent key are called 'diatonic' chords... (diatonic just means 'from within the key'), and it's possible to write lots of songs that only use diatonic notes...

    so, to play entirely within a key, you use a single scale... e.g. if your tune is in D major (eg... a chord progression of D , Bm7, G, A7), then you could use a single scale of D major over those chords

    hundreds of songs are made of diatonic chords, but they can be boring because harmony is all about tension and release... and a lot of tension and release can be generated by using non-diatonic chords... eg... chords that have some or all notes that don't sit entirely within the key

    this is a BIG area to get into.. there are many ways to do this... and some entire styles of music get their harmonic momentum from non-diatonicism (e.g. jazz and r & b tend to favour moving the dominant 7 chord up and down, which gets its harmonic momentum by delaying resolution and constantly shifting the feel of where the tonic lies)...

    there are lots of ways to introduce non-diatonic chords into your tune... a popular one is the use of a 'secondary dominant'... generally you precede the use of a diatonic chord with a dominant chord a 5th above it, even if that dominant chord isn't actually in the key... it works because you have tension (non diatonic chord) with a very satisfying resolution ( dominant chord to a diatonic chord)... so for example, in D major, you could have:

    D... F#7... Bm7

    F#7 is the secondary dominant chord, but these chords work because of the resolution to Bm7...

    we could do with a thread where people share chord harmony tips & ideas, because these are the great untalked-about parts of music theory... everyone wants to talk scales and modes but really, chord movements and their relationship to melodies is everything
  3. joelc1319


    Sep 12, 2007
    +1,000,000. I never understood why people put such an emphasis on scales. I've taken 2 years of music theory in college (with more advanced material on the way), and we barely even talked about scales. It was all about harmony, and how each chord will move to the next one, in a (hopefully) graceful manner. The crux of the last part of the course (Theory IV) was chromaticism, and how to get from chord to chord with the least movement possible (which is obviously a chromatic neighbor).

    Rarely do you see songs actually utilize a complete scale; plus what can be construed as a "scale" or use of the degrees in a scale by one person can be construed as just voice leading and harmonization by another person. To be honest, we didn't even cover modes in my theory course, since they had little part in the classical theory training. I suppose they may be more important in jazz, but I could be wrong.
  4. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    Find a teacher who can teach you these things. I already wrote another long reply but it's really difficult to describe it all in simple terms so I deleted it. Let's see how the second version becomes...

    First, I want to tell you that theory is a way to describe music, not to dictate it. There's a lot of musicians that don't know any theory but can play fabulously nevertheless.

    Then to the topic. I'll try to describe the things with a small example:

    Take the C major scale - C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C.

    Then take a song in C major - e.g. Twinkle twinkle little star - and add some simple chords to it:

       C       Em      F      Em
    Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
     Dm    C      G7       C
    How I wonder what you are.
    C    F        C        G
    Up above the world so high,
     C      F      C       G
    Like a diamond in the sky.
       C       Em      F      Em
    Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
     Dm     C     G7       C
    How I wonder what you are!
    ( I have to check out these chords at home, don't have a guitar in front of me now)

    If you check what notes these chords consist of, you'll find they all consist of notes from the C major scale - not only the root notes in the chords.

    I think you get the point - The song is in C major and the piece consists of notes from the C major scale.

    The reality then is seldom this easy. There's modulations, chord substitutions and god knows what, but to know these absolute basics is essential. There's something of these basics in virtually all western music there is.

    The key determines the pitch of the song. If you change the key the song becomes either higher or lower pitched. To change key is called transposing.

    You can play notes excluded from the scale if you think they fit the music. It's quite common to use these as passing notes, for instance. (I once wrote a jazz piece with an IMO beautiful but pretty strange melody and chord progression, not dissonant at all but very non-diatonic, and it took me ages to actually learn the theory behind why the notes sounded good...... what I'm trying to say is don't let the theory stop you, you might find out interesting stuff that way. :) )

    Then, just because a song is in C major like above, all notes in the C major scale don't necessarily fit in the song. Use your ears... :)

    Take the C major scale again and number the notes:
    C - I
    D - II
    E - III
    F - IV
    G - V
    A - VI
    B - VII

    You can put a diatonic chord (=all notes belonging to the scale) to each note here, like:

    C - I
    Dm - ii
    Em - iii
    F - IV
    G - V (the chord should actually be written G7)
    A - vi
    Bm(b5)- vii (this chord is seldom used)

    The small roman numbers are used for minor chords, big for major chords. You can also add a fourth note, which is actually the more common way to do this:

    I   - Cmaj7 - C,E,G,B
    ii  - Dm7   - D,F,A,C
    iii - Em7   - E,G,B,D
    IV  - Fmaj7 - F,A,C,E
    V   - G7    - G,B,D,F
    vi  - Am7   - A,C,E,G
    vii - Bm7b5 - B,D,F,A
    Some common chords progressions are:

    I, IV, V, I
    I, ii, V, I
    I, vi, V, I
    I, vi, ii, V, I
    I, iii,V, V, I

    And to the answer to the question: I learned how to pick out chord progressions by playing songs incorporating these and lots of other progressions and I learned how they sound. Soon (well, it took a few years) I could pick out the chords to a song relatively easy with just the help of a guitar or even without, as I did in the example above.

    But again: Find a teacher that can help you with these things. It's not the easiest thing to describe these things in a simple post on TB.. ;)
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree with you - but there is a big dichotomy or argument within Jazz education!

    So there has been a movement to say that if you see a certain set of chords - then you play this scale over that.

    Whereas another group of Jazz educators will say - no that is wrong it is too prescriptive - basically you take each chord as it comes and play the sound of the chord ...etc.

    Personally I think you need to use whatever helps you and really listen to what you like, transcribe, analyse why you like it and try to incorporate that into your own playing without directly copying! ;)
  6. Thunderthumbs73

    Thunderthumbs73 Supporting Member

    May 5, 2008
    Unfortunately, what I think you're trying to get at in terms of advice is something that is best handled by one on one lessons where theory can be applied contextually to make music, and the teacher/student can "map" things out using music manuscript paper, the bass, and perhaps a keyboard.

    I'll try to answer these quickly:

    a.) Songs do not generally use a single scale throughout. The selection of which scale to use is decided somewhat by what chord is being played in the key of whatever the song is. I say somewhat, as sometimes the same scale can be played with the different chords. Sometimes not. Context is very important.

    b.) Key signatures and scales are very relevant to music, but should not be thought of as iron-fisted rules never to be broken or questioned. There are many rules which are followed (and not necessarily purposefully) because our ear is conditioned to hear things certain ways that sound pleasing, but there are exceptions to many rules of theory. Again, context. Frankly, it's what helps music be interesting to the ear and engaging to the listener. That said, learning key signatures and scales does not necessarily or singularly enable a person to make music or to be musical. No knowledge of key signatures or scales (intuitively or explicitly), however is likely to produce unmusical, unsatisfactory results.

    c.) Notes excluded from scales make music interesting, but determining which ones and how to use them are a matter of context, and in that regard, it is very difficult to spell out an exact set of rules (and exceptions) to this.

    d.) Chord progressions: listen to songs you like and try to figure out the chord progressions. Chances are, some collection of chord progressions you have in your head (the nucleus of an original song) that came into your head was spurred consciously or subconsciously by something you heard. If your question is how do you figure out chord progressions, start simple. Find an easy song. Try Louie, Louie. Figure out the key (in this case, what chord the song starts on, and what it ends on), then from there, figure out the chords in relation to that key. You can safely assume there will be a I "one" chord, and a V "five" chord. There will also likely be a IV "four" chord in there, and perhaps some others too.

    I think I understand what you want to know, but this medium, as good as it is, is not ideal for really getting into it. Either that, or I'm just not good with the words. I suspect I have been confusing, but have tried not to be.
  7. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    From the Jazz educators I've been around most are teach default scale choice. That there are other scales/colors but handy to have some defaults as a starting point when someone say you take the 3rd solo. Then they also teach arpeggio, guide tones, substitutions and etc as other resources. As teacher I know say and I agree it take about ten years to really develop into a good Jazz musician and over that time your going to experiment with a lot of different approaches and ideas.

    To the OP question theory is for communication and organizing common things in music. You learn the topic, think about it, put it to use, come up with your own impressions of it. Then over time you use it to analyze something, use it for a default answer or starting point, or for me I will read a post about theory, a book, interview and take that as something to play around with. Like last week I believe some thread here mentioned Spanish Phrygian I wasn't familiar with it. I checked it out and dug the sound and over next couple days had a great time making music with the scale. Music Theory is a overloaded term and has lots of meanings. What it is isn't, is telling you this is the only way to do something. :ninja: :bassist: :cool:
  8. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    another thing that needs mentioning is that the 'percieved harmonic environment' at any one time isn't conditioned solely by the chord sounding at that particular moment, but also what harmonic info came before it...

    e.g. if someone says 'ok, I have a Dm chord, what can I play over that? One of the first questions is 'what came before it?'.. otherwise you don't know whether this Dm should smell like Dorian, Phrygian, or whatever

    and also, at any one time, the harmonic environment may not be clearly defined... meaning that there may be several things you can legitimately play... again, the 'play this scale over this chord' approach can be reductive

    if there weren't so many people who think jazz and heavy metal soloing primarily involved whizzing up and down scales very fast, there probably wouldn't be the need to have this conversation so frequently
  9. joelc1319


    Sep 12, 2007
    Very true. A problem (or I guess, just a need to develop it more) that I have is that I tend to think vertically more than horizontally. Vertically being what the chord is, the 3, the 7, the quality of it, etc. Horizontal thinking, which is much more important to the overall picture, is how each chord leads into the next, just as cowsgomoo is saying. It's all about context. If you played a Cadential 6/4 chord by itself it wouldn't sound like it needed to go anywhere. However, play it after a IV chord and it will almost *gravitate* to a V or a V7, then to a I again.

    Of course, the beauty of it is that not everyone will agree with that (albeit simple) example. To some, the Cad 6/4 following a IV is a great place to stop the piece. That's why, as other posters above me have said, Theory does not provide laws, but it provides a point from which to begin the creative process, and also a way to explain what you did afterwards via syntactical analysis and melodic figuration.

    A wise man once said "You have to know the rules in Theory before you can break them." or something to that effect. Basically it's saying that it's excellent to know as much as you can about theory, but don't feel as if you are tied to the rules (species counterpoint comes to mind, ughhh). It's also saying that you'll gain a better understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of ALL music, including what you write, if you know the "rules" and see how they were used. And it's even more fun to see how the composer deliberately broke them to create some of the most incredible and complex music ever written (Chopin comes to mind...)

    This is really an excellent discussion; everyone has a great amount of pertinent knowledge and information to contribute!
  10. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Some 20-odd years ago I started buying "Guitar For the Practicing Musician" at the grocery store and reading the articles and transcriptions in that mag. Every (tabbed BTW) transcription included an analysis of the solos detailing what modes the guitar player was using and every interview with the guitar heroes of the day (like the guy from Winger, Alex Skolnick, Kirk Hammett) included the question "What advice do you have for aspiring players?" Their answer was always "Learn music theory!" but there was never any elaboration on what that really meant. Every bedroom rockstar took that to mean "I need to learn all of these modes and pentatonic scales that are listed in the transcription analysis!" and that was the long and short of it.

    After many years of music theory, ear training, and Schenkerian Analysis classes at the college level I cam to the realization that scales and modes and the stuff professed in Guitar were really not very important. Harmony is where it is at, and if you understand that then everything else is relatively easy.

    Deacon Blues harmonized Twinkle Twinkle in a post above here and I can tell by just looking at the chords that it's not going to sound right just based on harmonic function. I don't even need to hear it.

    Learning scales is really more of a practice technique for improving your instrument handling, nothing more. If you are practicing scales to learn scales then you didn't get the point. Playing lydian dominant is all 12 keys around the circle of 4ths with a crappy tone and poor time teaches you nothing.

    "Music theory" is thrown around this forum so often by so many who don't understand what it is for. The music came first and then the analysis of it.

    Go ahead and start the flamethrowers, but I'm going to stick to my claim that focusing on scales and arpeggios is nothing more than looking at a box of nuts and bolts and gears. That is in no way going to build a house.
  11. joelc1319


    Sep 12, 2007
    I felt the same way, I just didn't want to say anything ;)

    Yea, I use scales on bass and piano for technique only, good point...never thought of it that way.

    Agreed. However, denying the importance of scales and arpeggios is not the way to go either (not saying you're doing that). Everyone needs to keep in mind that arpeggios are merely a note-by-note outline of a chord. And in effect, so are scales!! A C major scale is an outline of a C major triad, with some passing tones (and the leading tone for that matter). That's why you can play any note in the C major scale while holding down a C major chord. The other notes in the scale just act as passing tones to embellish what the chord below actually is. They have no other function.

    EDIT: I forgot to also mention, to the original poster, that a lot of what you are asking us to help you with should probably (and almost has to be) done from a classroom-standpoint or with a one-on-one advisor, as has been said already by other posters. It can certainly be done by onself, but the second you get stuck it's hard to go past that point. Theory is the kind of thing where you have to know the basics and all prerequisites before moving onto the next topic.
  12. Thunderthumbs73

    Thunderthumbs73 Supporting Member

    May 5, 2008
    Amen! I'm not anti-DIY, but I agree completely. I'd say work to develop your ear, and some (but maybe not all) of the theory will come in time. If I had to chose or request a skill, out of the two, I'd chose a well-developed ear over well-developed understanding of theory, any day of the week. But that's just me.
  13. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    +1, good post.
  14. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    My intention was only to put in some chords that fitted the melody, which they do just fine. (I just checked it out to be sure). You could definitely switch out some chords here and there if you're more familiar with another harmonization, but this sound right to me. The only thing I would change would be to remove the dominant 7 from the G7 chords and play plain G's instead.
  15. joelc1319


    Sep 12, 2007
    And such is the beauty of music and music theory. Deacon_Blues hears the melody and harmonization different than the next guy. Neither is wrong. One may be more commonly accepted and heard, but still neither harmonization is "wrong".

    However I'd keep the 7 on the G. The F leads nicely to the major 3rd (E) in the C major chord at the end, just like the leading tone (B) leads to the C. The tritone resolution (in this case, an augmented 4th) from B-F to the C (tonic) chord of C-E major third interval is very common.
  16. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    It's Mozart, dude. I and V. He got more mileage out of those two chords than anyone.

    When you start throwing in mediant function chords without regard for function you just get a harmonic mess with weak resolutions and no direction.

    Harmonization and Reharmonizations are all based off of the melody and you can't just paint by numbers. And that is where "Music Theory" comes in.
  17. Subscribed. I think some of you have answered questions I've had for a while.
  18. joelc1319


    Sep 12, 2007
    The 7 on the G to the 3rd of the C major chord is a strong resolution. As is the leading tone (3rd of G major chord) to the tonic C, and that's the strongest resolution of all, no questions asked.

    However, I did sit at the piano and play that rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". I'm not feeling the E minor, and playing diatonic triads that are built off of the same notes as the melody as the harmonic accompaniment is really not very slick...

    A better approach would be I-I6-IV-I6-V7-Cad64-V7-I (for the first line).
  19. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    You know, the first like of twinkle twinkle works really nicely with the infamous Canon in D harmonization (well, slight adjustment at the end for cadence).

    C G | Am Em | F C | G C |

    Here's a bluesy/jazzy harmonization.

    twinkle, twinkle...
    | C6 / A7(b9) / | D-7 / G7 / | F7 / C/E / | D-7 G7 C6 / |

    up above the...
    | E-7 / Eb7 / | D-7 / G7 G7/F | E-7 / Eb7 / | D-7 / G7 / |

    twinkle, twinkle...

    |F#-7(b5) / F-6 / | E-7 / Ebmaj7(#11) / | D-7 / G7 / | F7 / C6 / |

    Try that one on.
  20. joelc1319


    Sep 12, 2007
    We could go on all day tossing around harmonizations (which is awesome, and shows individuality).

    I never get tired of this stuff; I'm so fascinated when I analyze what composers like Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin did in their pieces. Personally, I think Chopin was a master of all things theory, but I'm biased...