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Convincing young players that theory is important, regardless of what their hero says

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Mike Sorr, Feb 28, 2014.

  1. Mike Sorr

    Mike Sorr "Play I Some Music" Supporting Member

    Oct 24, 2012
    Brick, NJ
    First let me say that I do not pretend to be a music teacher. I know enough music theory and can play enough styles to keep from humiliating myself with other musicians. I would describe my musicianship as very adequate. Having said that I have these neighbors who've been asking me to give their throwback 80s metal head son bass lessons. He's actually just wants me to teach him songs so he doesn't have to learn them on his own. He has stated flat out that he has no interest in learning music theory because his favorite bassists, Steve Harris and Geezer Butler, don't know anything about music and he is comfortable with only being good enough to play that genre of rock music. I told him that the guys he mentioned have been playing for 40 years or more and I'm sure they either started out as, or have become, musically literate. Self taught, does not necessarily mean untrained. He swears they're not, and if they're not there's no reason he should be. It makes me want to slap him silly to be honest. I told him I would put this debate to rest by posting it here on TB. So please, tell this kid that his favorite musicians are not as in the dark musically as he thinks they are. Oh, and while were at it, help me get through to him that learning at least the basics of music theory will help keep his mom from paying me $50 to show him how to play Black Sabbath songs that he could easily learn himself!
  2. :rollno:

    Bingo... they didn't just come up with basslines like that out of the blue, with no musical background. We're not necessarily talking about college-level theory... we're talking about years of listening, picking up ideas, imitating them, and working them into their own playing until it sounded good. You can either do that, or learn notes and how they apply to basic chords + scales. And then play the daylights out of them until you're comfortable.

    Bottom line, you can't cheat music. It's not like equations and formulas you can cram and memorize and guess and fake.
  3. playing an instrument takes time. theory helps you learn to play music faster. imitating a player, a genre or just screwing around will get you to the same place, it just take you longer. i like playing hands on figuring out on my own than being told what to do or how to play. to me, music theory isn't law but guideline/sugestion. if you want to be a musician learn theory. if you want to be a rock star, metal head, thrasher, or punk their is no to be beethoven with your music or playing. the rockstars cook junkfood, we are entertain to people that don't care about how it is suppose to be done. their audiance does know theory. tell the kid to get rocksmith. you can buy iron maiden songs through dlc.
  4. Mention John Entwhistle and John Paul Jones to him. Both of those guys played other instruments also (french horn and keyboards) and know theory quite well.

    Personally, I wouldn't want to just teach songs either. I would give him one or two lessons on ear training and then turn him loose.
  5. AaronVonRock


    Feb 22, 2013
    I totally understand where this kid is coming from because I was like that when I was young and first starting to play. I wanted to learn how to play songs, not theory. I say teach the kid what he wants to know. Don't ram theory down a beginners throat from lesson #1. Once he learns some songs, he'll start to scratch the surface and will probably want to dig a little deeper to find out more.

    Why not teach him a song or two that he wants to learn and "softly" explain the theory behind it. Show him how that theory is applied in other songs, too.
  6. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    I used to be that kid.
    I played in an originals band and figured that learning musical theory is for jazz.
    If i was to talk to my younger self i'd try to slap some sense into that lil bastard, but
    i'm quite sure that would not work.

    Here's an approach that might help:
    Once i learned the rather simple mechanics of blues and pentatonic scales, i realized that these tools were sufficient to play most of the first Black Sabbath album - and i sucked at playing by ear - it always took me ages to find out what chords or notes were played and even then, i missed some.
    So, equipped with these scales, all i needed to do was find the root, which was not too hard and i had some really good pointers of where to go next.

    As an example, you could teach him the blues scale by teaching him to play NIB and then give him the homework of figuring out how to play Paranoid.

    On Geezer Butler:
    It is quite possible that he never went into theory playing the bass - or took lessons.
    BUT he played guitar before Tony Iommy joined the band.
    He definitely knew his way around the blues scales when the first Black Sabbath album was written.
    He's been a big influence on many many bassplayers including Cliff Burton, Jason Newstedt and Les Claypool - If your Neighbours kid thinks it's possible for him to become a Legend and Godfather for a genre of music as Geezer did, he should instantly stop to cover songs and start writing songs for that first album that will later be regarded as a milestone in musical history and influence hundreds of well regarded and famous bassplayers of future times.
  7. pedroims


    Dec 19, 2007
    Tell him that some people are gifted and they are able to write songs without knowing any music theory: Steve Harris, Geezer Butler , etc. And other people need help from somebody else even to learn easy bass lines. For this kind of people knowing some theory will help them to achieve their goals.
  8. I'd teach him what he wants to learn AND teach him the relevant theory behind those songs (and stop him looking like a douche in front of his musical buddies).

    I learned guitar before I picked up bass. My teacher taught me technique, ear training, and basic theory. He picked a new song every week and explained the theory to it. And 25 years later, I'm still grateful for Greg teaching me that way.

    Relevant theory
    1. tuning the bass: tuner, harmonics, fretting notes.
    2. ALL notes on fretboard
    3. posture, hand positions to play faster/ prevent injury.
    4. how to pluck strings properly so you don't sound like crud.
    5. major, minor & pentatonic scales & arpeggios (95% of all music is based on these).
    6. alternate root notes eg G/B
    7. diff between maj7 and dom7 chords
    8. 4/4 vs 6/8 time sig.
    9. how to EQ your amp in a band.
    10. listening for & locking in with the drummer (esp kick drum)

    After this foundation he'll know how to sound good & work the rest out himself.
  9. Lobomov


    Aug 2, 2013
    Meh ... some are one way, some are another ... My experience is that you can't force theory onto someone like that.

    If you have fun teaching him songs, then have fun and if not ... then point him to whatever online site that has tabs and/or vids and let him sail on his own.
  10. People who can play by ear, may think they don't know music theory but they are using it without knowing - kind of like discovering it themselves and learning their own version. They don't know the proper terms but they understand it and use it - and very often published established music theory is written after somebody used it. Many composers in the past discovered what worked and what didn't, and then somebody else worked out what was technically happening, and it became a rule.

    The people who say they don't know music theory and when they are playing a song maybe at an jam session automatically know what chord is coming next without being told are using music theory. A musician who can 'feel' if it's a 12 or 16 bar blues song is using music theory. Somebody who plays E, then E7 and then know A comes next is using music theory.

    I've worked with enough music students who do NOT have this ability to be able to apply the musician label accurately, and having Grade 5 Theory isn't part of it. Plenty of people have the piece of paper, but lack the ear.

    It's daft to look at Steve Harris and believe him when he says he doesn't know anything about music. Clearly, he does - otherwise the band would have thrown him out a few weeks after being formed. To be a pop musician you need a decent ear, and while a formal music theory background helps you understand 'why' something works, it doesn't let you do it better.

    Only this week, while doing one thing for a production I got drafted in as a singer - The Musical We Will Rock You was what they were learning. Bohemian Rhapsody with Alto, Soprano and fellas - three part harmony, and my friend running the session was short of blokes. Most didn't read music, so they were learning and remembering their individual parts line by line. Music theory did n't help me at all. Most of the usual rules of harmony just don't apply, and I could NOT guess the next note, it had to be learnt. Sounded (or maybe will sound) great when complete, but a good example of where music theory, in itself, doesn't help.
  11. Lobomov - go back and read again... I was in the middle of editing it and accidentally posted it (& please delete where you quoted me). :)

    Edit: I can't send a message to him - can Mod tidy that up pls?
  12. Bassisgood4U

    Bassisgood4U Banned

    Jan 30, 2014
    Have him list some songs he wants to know. Pick one out that takes some knowledge of theory..and explain to him why he needs to understand theory to play it. Find a song that has odd time in it that he isn't aware of.
  13. Mike Sorr

    Mike Sorr "Play I Some Music" Supporting Member

    Oct 24, 2012
    Brick, NJ
    He has figured out that both Harris and Butler are generally playing similar scales and using similar notes in a similar way, although he refuses to believe that they have any idea of what they're doing, because he read in interviews where they said they don't know what they're doing. I'm trying to slip in the kinds of scales that are being used, and even a little of where else he might hear them...introducing him to the blues. I told him Black Sabbath is essentially a really high energy blues band. I also told him it is a good thing to have influences, but he should dig into who influenced his heroes, and then who influenced them. Hopefully that will lead into a deeper appreciation of music for him. I actually had him listen to some old Motown to hear what Jamerson is playing and he didn't appear to hate it. How about this, I asked him why he chose bass and not guitar or some other instrument. He said it was because guitar and drums take too long and he wants to be in a band as soon as possible...to meet chicks. I have my work cut out for me.
  14. phillybass101

    phillybass101 Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    I started out with a classical guitarist as my bass teacher. I learned how to read, used the simandle and Paul Hindemith books and had finger exrecises out the ying yang and after 18 mos quit because I heard Larry Graham and Louis Johnson. My teacher was not teaching me how to play like that :). Self taught from there on. I eventually played myself up to a level of playing where theory was a must just to be playing with the level of cats I was playing with. Communication is much faster which means things get done much faster. Still I would offer if you're a bass player in a garage band or do weekend warrior type gigs the theory is not as important as having a good ear. If you want to be a full time Musician and make a living you need the whole bag of tricks because everyone at that level can play. Who didn't want to be in a band and meet chicks when they were in their teens??????
  15. My answer to this when peopleI'm teaching bring it up is that these guys know theory; it's just that they don't know that they know it.
  16. bThumper38

    bThumper38 brian ebert

    If he's your student, it's your job to teach him that stuff. Eventually he'll want to know what made them write those bass lines, that's why I am not a good teacher, I just want to jump right in to teaching modes, chords, arpeggios, and all that stuff, but if you make it fun first eventually he'll want to put in the work. I had my first teacher write out Ramble On, he did it for me but not in tab, he forced me to learn how to read the lines. Good Luck.
  17. lilcrate

    lilcrate Tortdaddy

    Sep 9, 2013
    St. Louis
    My guitar player is one of those guys. He points out interviews of his favorite guitarists. I noticed a pattern in the interviews. They are ALL asked "do you know how to read music?". Reading music is not the same as knowing some scales, chord progressions, notes in a key, etc. Everyone has a different idea of what "knowing music theory" is.

    Unfortunately, due to the images portrayed by greats, my guitar player doesn't even know what note or chord he is playing.
  18. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    It seems like this is an example of where an understanding of music theory (at least, the ability to read music) would have helped you, because you would have been able to read your part. Am I missing something here?
  19. I wasn't interested in thEory until I was already a decent enough player. Learning thEory before learning how to play is a good way for a student to lose interest.

    Once he can make some music on his own, it would only be in his greatest benefit to learn SOME thEory. I can't stand playing with people who can't tell me what note they are trying to play.
  20. Put it this way: no-one learns how to read and write Before they can speak. It would be Nonsense. But anyone who can speak for long better know how to read and write. Or else you are considered a moron.