Ear vs theory

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by draginon, Oct 4, 2004.

  1. draginon


    Oct 4, 2004
    I have been playing the bass for about a year and a couple months. I initially started learning by getting on the internet looking for lessons and reading forums.

    I play in a band with 2 of my cousins and a good friend. We make our own songs so as a result I haven't really bothered diving into to learning a lot of theory. I know a few scales and a little bit about arpeggios but find that I never really use it too much when we make up new songs.

    Basically I listen to the guitars play for a long while to get a feel for the song and then I'll try and make up a bassline in my head that will add to the song. After I have the notes in my I head, I then figure them out on the bass and throw them in. Every now and then I'll try and just play root notes and throw a couple extra notes in the scale and see how it sounds. So far I have created some pretty good bass lines to really bring the songs out.

    I was wondering though, am i at a big disadvantage making basslines by ear rather than using more theory?
  2. pontz


    Oct 31, 2003
    I'd say that for original music, using your ear is the way to go. If you've got a good grasp on the groove and feel of the tune, theory doesn't mean a thing, just play what you know is right.

    Trying to learn covers, say a difficult jazz tune, theory helps out a lot.

    I guess its all about balance. When I knew no theory, I played with more soul. Now that I know theory, I play more notes. I'm not sure it was worth studying!

  3. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    I learn by ear through music theory. It's all about recognizing intervals.
  4. 5stringDNA


    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    Whether you realize it or not, you are using basic music theory in figuring out those basslines in your head, and then plotting them on your bass. many musicians tend to look at music theory like it some mysterious and mystical tool that will unravel teh secrets of the universe, when it is in fact, simply a system of arranging everything we know about music and then using that arranged info to say "hey, if i'm playing a a tune in G major, I can hit B and D all i want!". The trick to creating basslines effectively while implementing all that theory you've learned is teaching it to your fingers, instead of just your head. If it's all in your head, you will probably just play needlessly complicated lines that clutter things up. Studying theory just give your fingers an effective tool to play you are feeling.
  5. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    Thoery in conjuntion with a good ear will allow you to do things your ear or mind doesn't consider when composing bass lines. I can't stand theory, what am I going to do with a mode, I never use them when I play in my rock band. But I keep telling myself "man you have to learn this stuff". I have a good ear, and my mind creates some good bass lines but I am missing some options because I am not strong with my thoery. What about shredding? How can you shred or solo, improvise or with out it? You have to know where to go, or what you can get away with. I can write a bass run then do it during a gig but not on the spot without just guessing, to me that's worth it.
  6. Personally Id rather have good ears then know everything in theory but Im Lucky I have both as mentioned earlier I also started with little theory but worked everything by ear and yes you tend to play soulfully then many years later Ive studied theory and everything that goes with it reading transcriping etc and yes sometimes with all that theory knowledge within your grasp you tend to over complicate things for yourself ( ie play too many notes whereas a simple couple of tasty notes will do )
    But in saying that having theory will make things easier to comunicate with others and making learning alot faster
    So theres nothing wrong with either way but having a combination in both would be a hell of an advantage
    So good luck in your musical journey :bassist:
  7. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Bellingham, WA
    Music is no different from learning any other language. You can speak a language much more effectively when you have a firm knowledge of the mechanics and vocabulary of the language. Music has it's own form of mechanics (i.e. tonal functions) and vocabulary (i.e. scales.) People who don't learn the technical aspects of a language (whether it is oral or written) often sound very similar, due to a limited knowledge base. Think of the way 8-year olds write and speak vs. writers/speakers who have studied the language. Great speakers sound unique as do great musicians.
  8. RyanHelms


    Sep 20, 2003
    Cleveland, OH
    I agree with everyone here, mostly ;) The bottom line (no pun intended) is this - playing by ear and theory complement one another.

    Your playing is greatly enhanced if you have a deep understanding of how music works, likewise, your grasp of theory is only as firm as how you can apply it in a playing situation.

    But remember, alot of what we call western musical theory came about from the "reverse engineering" of Bach by the academic community in an attempt to solidify what he was playing intuitively. :bag: