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For those to understand Theory

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by In Flames, Apr 9, 2004.

  1. In Flames

    In Flames

    Dec 11, 2003
    I was just curious how long and how much effort you have put into learning theory. I feel its one of my duties to learn and understand it in order to make me a better bassist. I plan on finding a bass teacher to help me along my journey. So if you don't mind, tell me about your experience on learning theory.

    Thank You,
  2. Chris A

    Chris A Chemo sucks! In Memoriam

    Feb 25, 2000
    Manchester NH

    It's worth more of your time than physically learning how to play bass. It's something you will use more than technique.
    I learned theory from my piano teacher and from attending college, but I try to incorporate as much theory as my students will tolerate in their lessons. I've been known to teach a lesson entirely on theory without even having the student or myself picking up a bass.

    Chris A. :rolleyes: :bassist:
  3. sedgdog


    Jan 26, 2002
    Pasco, WA
    Here is a good theory book - "Harmony & Theory" by Keith Wyatt. One of the Musicians Institute Essential Concepts Series. Published by Hal Leonard. Should be able to find it about anywhere.

    Best of Luck,
  4. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Theory is very important, I have been studying it for about 3 years, mostly Classical theory, but now I'm learning jazz theory, and that's really neat too.

    I still have much to learn, I have tons of concepts floating around in my head, now I just have to pound them down so that they are solid.

    It can be a lot of work, but learning theory is amazingly fulfilling, and it's so fascinating watching all your music, and the music you listen to, start to make sense in totally new ways.
  5. Bass of Galt

    Bass of Galt Guest

    Mar 25, 2004
    Scrotillia Falls
    I played for years with almost no theory. I'd learn songs - play them - and be completely comfortable not understanding why the basslines I learned fit the music so well.

    However, I recently became frustrated with my own lack of development.

    I also wanted to take my playing to another level. So I went searching for a teacher - and I tried several. At one point I was seeing 3 instructors. The point was to find one who could make the material work for me. (I also had to get over the notion that I already knew how to play the bass - but that's another topic!)

    After almost 2 months I settled on a guy who took me all the way back to the beginning of bass playing. How to hold the bass, how to finger and pluck properly, dozens of excercises to develop finger independence and string crossing strength - all this BEFORE a single concept of music theory was introduced.

    The point was - even after years of playing - I had bad habits - and "pattern" habits that would prevent me or make it more difficult to apply the theory I was to learn on the bass. And that's why I'd have to disagree with the poster who teaches theory without the instrument - or anyone who stresses one more than the other.

    I went with the instructor who was going to help me learn theory as applied to my main instrument - the electric bass and not seperate the ideas. So now I'm learning theory - but I'm learning it ON the electric bass. I don't have to do any translation between my theory class and my bass instruction. And you shouldnt' have to. You can talk about chord construction and scales and modes and stacked thirds - and even pass a test on questyions on that material. But if you can play it on your bass because you can't finger the ideas what good is it?

    The overall idea is that you must develop balance between theory and technique. They are interdependent and reciprocally related. Theory without the technique to apply it to an instrument leaves you an academic. (not a judgement - just an observation) Technique without the theory to guide it leaves you a "player" rather than a musician.(again - no judgement attached - just an observation of a fact)

    Exceptions exists - but they do not disprove the rules. You may be one of the exceptions and if so - congratulations! But for the rest of us mere mortals - the fastest road to becoming a great bass player is to learn theory and the technique to PLAY the theory at the same time.

    Ying and Yang man! Soak it up! ;)
  6. dirtgroove


    Jan 10, 2003
    Taipei, Taiwan
    For about eight years I muddled along-arrogantly assuming that the musical theory I learned (and for the most part forgot again :rolleyes: ) through playing an instrument when I was younger,would be enough. I was wrong

    I only started taking actual bass lessons around six months ago. I can't explain how much it has helped me already to work with a drummer. Just to be able to visualise a groove- and even more importantly- the gaps and spaces within a groove. I'm livid with myself for not making the effort to learn before.
    It will really tighten up your sense of time-keeping, help you to phrase your playing and heighten your awareness of what others in your band are doing.
    I guarantee you won't regret it.
  7. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH
    For the sake of learning music theory, the piano is a better instrument than the bass.

    If you have access to a piano or keyboard (a cheap keyboard from a discount retailer like Wal-Mart could work), use it to learn how the major scale and its series of whole- and half-step intervals works in every key. Name the steps, or tones, of the scale as you play.

    Ditto for the minor scales (there are several).

    Then focus on chord construction using the steps of the scales. For instance, a major triad (i.e., major chord) is formed when the 1-3-5 tones of the major scale are played together.

    Again, the graphical nature of the piano keyboard allows the new learner to grasp theory concepts more readily than when learning on the relatively complex fingerboard of a bass.

    As you make progress on the keys you can transfer your knowledge to the bass fingerboard fairly easily.

    Good luck - leanring theory can transform your playing!
  8. Lewk


    Oct 19, 2003
    I agree it can transform your playing, i've been learning lots of theory through college, and more to come. I love reading about and learning theory and find it exceptionally clever how it all fits together so well.

    If i have one piece of advice though (as an intermediate player), make sure it compliments your playing, and not rules your playing. i think when you get into theory it's very easy to say "i can't do this because theory says i cant", which when learning simple theory may be true, but i have recently found theory does, essentially, let you do anything you like, but when covering the basics it seems quite a constraint on creativity.

    Use it to aid, understand and enhance your music, but not to create it.
  9. I started learning theory... but there is a couple things that you will NEED to even get by one day of it:

    1. LOADS of consentration, its super confusing, and very easy to get lost at
    2. a big will to learn, otherwise you'll get bored within minutes
    3. someone teaching you that knows what they're talking about

    anyway, dont get me wrong, its great to learn, but i personally get easily side-tracked when i was learning...

    gl ;)
  10. DaemonBass


    Mar 29, 2004
    Sacramento, CA
    Learning as much about theory is really awesome. In my experience leaning even basic theory gives you a common language when you are playing with another musician. For example if you tell somebody Just root notes or major chord or minor chord if they look at you crazy then obviously they don't know any theory you've gotta show em physically. Once you know the theory you can make the physical connection very easily, if you practice a bit. In my eyes theory is the connection between what you hear and the physical aspects of playing anything. Heck, you can train a monkey to play a A D F progression simply using physical motions but if you wanna add any variation, for example change that A to an A minor, if you know theory that is done easily, well, if not, then you gotta show 'em how to physically play a A Minor chord. In my opinion the greatest gain of learning theory is the ability to express yourself as one musician to another in a common language, and also you will learn more about how music actually works. I am myself very limited in theory but there are a lot of folks who "play bass" or "play guitar" that I can't even communicate with concerning music, and that is vital.
  11. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    I totally agree with you. I know a little about theory, but the 4 other people I know that play instruments know almost nothing about theory. It gets frustrating playing with them because it's difficult to communicate musically with them.

    For instance, my friend and I get together on Friday nights to jam. He's a total metalhead so we usually play System of a Down, G-n-R, and maybe some Black Sabbath or RATM.

    All of System of a Down's Toxicity album is based on a C scale, mostly either C Dorian or C Phrygian. Knowing this, I can hit 99% of the notes in these songs without really thinking too hard because I know the notes in these modes. The only thing to me that's tricky is playing the songs at speed.

    My buddy, however, is tripped up trying to find the notes because he doesn't know scales.

    When we play G-n-R, he's like "Wow, the whole song is like a rhythm guitar solo!", and I'm thinking, "It's just in a mode of Eb.", which makes it 10 times easier to figure out Duff's bass lines.

    My bluegrass picking friends only play 4 chords, A, D, C & G, so my only challenge when playing with them is getting good intonation out of the homemade broomhandle / washtub bass. I don't play my electric because "Bluegrass don't have no electric instrument in it". :D

    Another guitar player I tried playing with just didn't work out at all because he kept calling E a C (like G, C, D when he was playing G, E, D).

    I do jam with Josh Walsh from time to time, and he knows his stuff! So I guess I know 5 people who play.
  12. DaemonBass


    Mar 29, 2004
    Sacramento, CA
    Yup, it's way easier to be able to say "Hey Bass-Playing friend, check out this chord progression, say, D, Em9 or whatever, and with a scale and intervals in your mind you can start building a bassline right away. If you know your fretboard and some interval shapes (and / or scale shapes) you will have won half da battle (other half is making it sound good :) ). My experience with theory is little other than using it to relate to other players, trying to follow somebody's fingers on the fretboard or using "perfect pitch" is the only other ways. It's useful for songwriting also I use my knowledge of Key sigs to make up songs and serve as a menu of notes or tonalities to choose from.
  13. I started learning music when I was a kid of 9 or 10 (descant recorder (ah! the memories of 22 descant recorders all playing "All Through The Night" in unison (!@!$#^&*)) - and I've gone from recorder to piano, to organ, to flute, to bass, to double-bass - but the theory has always been an on-going project - there is so much to learn and there just isn't time to learn everything, however I've found that the theory that I have learned is invariably useful (of course, YMMV).

    - Wil
  14. You really don't know or appreciate how much theory you have until you have to apply it. When I was auditioning for other bands, I got lots of compliments because I was usually the first bassist they met who could pick up a song right away, playing it in the right key and playing the right chords.
  15. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    I spent 3 year in college before I left, and a good part of that was spent as a music major. So I was actually trained in music theory and have been trained by classic vocal instructors.

    I decided that I wanted to be on the more popular modern side of music and a degree wouldn't do me much good, so I left. I learned everything I really needed those first few years.

    I advise anyone that is currently in a liberal arts college, to take a year or more of music theory. It really helps and you learn a lot.
  16. Matt Till

    Matt Till

    Jun 1, 2002
    Edinboro, PA
    I want to learn Jazz theroy, but I'm a lazy man. :(

    Edit: To give myself a little slack, a busy, lazy man.
  17. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I was learning theory almost from the day I picked up the instrument. I figured that since I was just starting out and some of the other kids had been playing for years, I needed every advantage I could get.

    Learning the concepts of music theory is not difficult. The part that is tricky to do, and would take far more than a lifetime to completely master, is applying those concepts to your instrument.

    For example, you can learn how to play a Cmaj scale easily enough. But when would you use it? What notes, phrasings, rhythms, voicings, harmonizations, counterpoints, suspensions and resolutions could it be used with, when, and in what contexts? And, could you properly apply those concepts in a compositional or improvisational situation?

    THAT is the tricky part.
  18. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    I was a late bloomer when it came to actually studying theory. I was always one of those guys who could play the instrument but never really knew why it all worked. Ive been studying theory for a little over a year now and I find that it takes up a great deal of my time. (Im one of those ppl who wont rest until I completly understand something and will stay on it until I do)

    There are also lessons I give my students that are strictly theory orientated without ever picking up the bass.
  19. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Same as cass really, I played for 10 years and started learning theory about 3 or 4 years years ago.

    I'd say that I thought I played the bass well until I realised there was so much more to it than learning 'parrot fashion'... and that I'm still trying to break that mould - and maybe I always will be?

    For me, theory just sinks in pretty easy - I've always been good with patterns - so commiting it all to memory is pretty easy for me, and putting it into practice is the tough part.. I expect this is the case for the vast majority of players tho.
  20. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I remember purchasing a theory book at Borders a year before I even bought a bass. I read it from cover to cover, probably not understanding the whole lot of it (although I've learned a bit of theory on guitar, keyboard, and violin in the past), but I was hungry for knowledge. Then when I bought my first bass, I was able to work more with the book. It fascinated me. I started lessons a couple months after, and that's when the heavy theory training began. Theory is a part of my everyday practice ritual. It has to be. There's no getting away from it.

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