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FRUSTRATED! best way to learn theory?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by RicPlaya, Jan 13, 2004.

  1. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    Thanks for peeking at this. I'm and sick and tired of muddling my way through learning thoery. I am changing instructors I just can't realte to his teaching style. Well the only place I feel I can go is here for advice. I found Pac Man's scale learning method and I like that a lot what do you guys do? All responses will differ but I need suggestions. Scales, modes, and other techniques I need to learn and don't know about please mention. I know some scales modes are confusing how do I link all this together please help?
  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Well, I think you're on the right track. When you find a new teacher, make sure that you're going to be learning functional harmony. That's what we as bass players deal with.

    Look in to studying with a piano player, failing that a guitar player. These are the guys who have it down more often. And realize that learning bass and learning music are separate. (Yes, I know you can learn both from the same teacher)

    Ask lots of questions here. Get Chris Fitzgerald's email and keep it handy! :D

    Remember, it's a lifelong path....no shortcuts.
  3. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    I'm good at bass but bad at music, I'm still working on your scale method thanks Pac Man.
  4. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    It's easy to get overwhelmed at first, and like anything, the hard part isn't actually learning the theory, it's knowing what to concentrate on first, and what to forget about til further down the line

    I would suggest the following order:

    basic 3 note chords/arpeggios... major, minor & diminished chords, what they look like under your fingers & what the 3 notes 'mean'.. listening to plenty of real life bass examples where arpeggios are used (they're all over the place)

    the major scale & it's relative minor scale, what they look like under your fingers, and which of the above chords/arpeggios are applicable on each note of the scale

    I'd probably then look at pentatonic major & minor scales, and see how they relate to the full major & minor scales worked on earlier (i.e. they're just like them, with a few notes missed out).. again listening to numerous real life examples will reinforce this

    only then, would I think of looking at modes... and the 'eureka' moment with modes comes when you realise that if you've played a C major scale, you've also just played the notes that make up D Dorian, F Lydian etc... i'd suggest learning parrot fashion, the basic 1-octave 'patterns' that the standard modes make, and as they're getting under your fingers (and their sound is in your head), their relationship to that standard major/minor scales becomes pretty obvious (i.e. Dorian is like a minor scale with a major 6th, lydian is like major but with a sharp 4 etc)

    at this point, i'd look at 7th & 9th chords... and another eureka moment is that when you add more and more chord extensions, it usually makes it easier to work out what kinds of scales & modes are appropriate... eg Am7 could allow you to use Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian... but add a flattened 9th to the chord and it's more likely you've got a Phrygian thing going on

    up to now, it's all been standard diatonic harmony, but modern music usually breaks the rules somewhere along the line... the most common one is in blues/jazz/rock harmony: you'll often hear dominant 7th chords all over the place, not just on the V... they work because they set up tension, they're just aching to resolve and many different kinds of movement from them gives a satisfying feel...

    another very common exception to the rule is where you can play a minor chord over major types of tonality... again, this is very common in blues/rock, where the chords might be suggesting a dominant 7th flavour, but sticking in a pentatonic minor (with that minor 3rd in there) can sound bluesy, heavy & full of mojo! it's also such a great sounding device that it's somewhat of a cliche (but we all do it :) ) a major bass arpeggio over a minor chord usually sounds horrible, so if you're momentarily floundering during your big solo spot, and aren't sure if you should be major or minor... you're safer going minor :) this is why lazy rock guitarists live in the 'land of pentatonic minor' (and why not? it's a nice place to visit every once ina while :) )

    erm.. I'm rambling.. what I should have said was.. get someone to go through the basics with you because the only hard part of learning music theory is knowing what you can afford to forget learning about until later!
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think the point is that you need to be working towards something - how are you going to use this knowledge?

    So - just studying a subject as an academic exercise, can be very boring and frustrating, as you have found!

    If you are not using the knowledge you gain, then it will drift away and you will lose it.

    I know - this happened to me.

    So - at school, I did a lot of music and could read music pretty well. But then going into punk/rock/pop bands for about 10 years - I never used theory or written music - I lost the ability to read and any theory I had ever learned.

    I tried an Open University degree in music and found it really dull and boring.

    But about 5 years ago I started to study Jazz and you need theory to be able to construct walking bass lines, you need theory to be able to play a solo, to re-harmonise a tune.

    I enjoy playing Jazz, so I can see how the theory is applied and studying it is fun - if I wasn't playing Jazz, I doubt I would have had any idea?

    I'm not saying you should play Jazz - just that you have to see a point to what you are doing - to see how you will use that knowledge - maybe in writing tunes..?

    But anyway - having a practical application, helped me immensely in making theory stick.
  6. I found all the explanations of modes I'd seen very confusing until I saw this diagram on the cyberfretbass site and the accompanying mode pages-


    -and then I was finally able to go and re-read all the tuition books, lessons etc. and make sense of them.
  7. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    Thanks everyone, keep it comming! My problem is I can play and I have chops but in order to do this thing right and not half a$$ it sort of speak I want to learn thoery because eventually I want to get more into blues and jazz I am finding after 15 months of playing a lot of rock unchallenging. My instructor is a good player but I have a problem connecting with his teaching style so I am going to make a chnage in that area which will help. I'm just trying to see how everyone else learned out there maybe someone learned in a way that would make sence to me. It's frustrating and I know I will get it eventually but I am trying to find a way to learn effectivly sooner rather than later. Thansk everyone keep posting!
  8. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    I know it's a mini rant and I know I will eventually get this, I'm just trying to find the key or routine to unlock this thing in my mind, I have not been able to see the big picture yet and I can't wait untill I do.
  9. Melf


    Mar 20, 2003
    Starkville, MS
    Ric, have you got a good "ear"? One of the main things that helped me honestly WANT to learn theory was buying a few ear training books that focused on ear training through knowledge of music theory. So if you've got the basic rudiments down, or at least a book/person that can help you understand it, then you could train your ears and practice theory at the same time. It works for me :)
  10. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Check out the link in my signature. It's a good idea to know this information so well you could teach it to 20 different people if needs be.
  11. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    Wow Jazzbo thanks, I'll be looking for your book when you publish this stuff...LOL. Seriously very nice thanks!
  12. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    That's my strongpoint Melf. My ear got me this far so maybe I will look into some books to build from where I'm strong.
  13. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
  14. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    chords & arpeggios first, because the bass player's primary role (traditionally) is to provide the harmonic & rhythmic foundation for the rest of the band to do their thing...

    for each chord your guitarist/pianist/whoever plays, there are 12 notes you could choose at any one time (forget about playing more than one note simultaneously on the bass for the moment!) to play on your bass... the first thing a bass player needs to learn is how to decide which of those notes are appropriate, and which aren't...

    as the 'fundamental harmony' provider of the band, your role is overwhelmingly to provide the real obvious notes that outline the chords.. which is always the root, fifth & 3rd

    obviously, this isn't ALL a bass player ever needs to do, but it's the meat & potatoes work of bass playing

    you could simplify this further and start by ONLY playing root notes, and this will suffice for certain types of music, but since our goal is to be a good musician who happens to play good bass :) it's not going to be good enough for very long

    I suppose you could start out from scratch with a modal approach, where you try to marry modes to chords right at the beginning of the 'learning to play bass journey', but A. it gets complex pretty quickly, as much modern music gets its harmonic momentum from 'breaking the rules'.. bringing an often complicated set of questions you dont need to worry about as a learner B. that approach could easily fool you into thinking many notes in the mode have equal value over a chord, when in fact, the 'root-fifth-third' tones will still require the same emphasis as ever

    ok.. 3 note chords & arpeggios: (forgive me if this sounds too basic or patronising.. i'm really just trying not to overlook anything...)

    the definition for 'arpeggio' is simply 'a broken chord'... instead of playing all notes of a chord together, you're simply playing them one after the other.. so if a chord of 'C major' (just called 'C') is made up of C, E & G, while your guitarist is playing all those notes at once, an arpeggiated bass line might play the following notes in order: C E G E... in fact, play it & you'll recognize it as the kind of thing you'd hear in old rock'n'roll

    (note… you’ll often hear 3 note chords/arpeggios referred to as ‘triads’)

    the 'C' is the 'root' note, the note that gives its name to the chord... the root is the strongest and usually the most obvious note to play under a chord... but roots alone can also be a bit boring as they give you no other harmonic information

    the 'G' is the 'fifth' note, so called because it's the fifth note of the major scale... harmonically, it's very 'transparent' because roots & fifths alone give you no idea whether the chord being accompanied is major or minor

    the 'E' is a 'major third' note.. so called because it's the third note of a major scale... the 3rd gives the chord/arpeggio its basic character... if you wanted to play a minor arpeggio, you would play the note 'E flat' (Eb) in place of this 'E natural' (E)... Eb is the 3rd note of a minor scale

    the two other types of 3 note chords are where the 5th is either flattened (lowered by a semitone) or sharpened (raised by a semitone)... probably the easiest way to understand these is to compare the notes in the following chords of C:

    C major: C, E, G
    C minor: C, Eb, G
    C diminished: C, Eb, Gb
    C augmented: C, E, G#

    play the notes & listen to the sound they make and the shapes they make under your fingers... a diminished chord is like a minor chord, but the 5th note is flattened.. and augmented chord is like a major chord, but with the 5th sharpened… the symbol for C diminished is written as C°, and C augmented is written as C+

    the last thing I can think to mention is the 'suspended 4th' chord... often written as something like 'Csus' or 'Csus4'.. this is a major chord but with the 3rd sharpened... when you sharpen a major 3rd, you get the same note as the 4th note of a major scale... eg. if you sharpen the 3rd of our C chord, the 3rd, the 'E', becomes an 'F'... so a Csus4 arpeggio is C, F, G

    with the above information digested, you should have no problem finding the right notes to play over the majority of chord charts you might get given... at this stage you can forget about extended chords like 7ths, add9's etc.. just work out what the basic triad is & use that

    your next stage should be to look at major and minor keys, and what types of chords are usually formed on each scale tone (but the first step is to get the above building blocks woodshedded)
  15. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    Thanks Cowsgomoo!!!! I took it upon myself and learned the major triads last night, I found three basic forms of the major Triad my fingers made. Now to work on the minors etc... How does one know which traid to play major, minor? You mentioned chord charts but say you don't have them, by ear? Say I understand basic scales and triads what would you recommend to tackle next? I need to goto the shed and nail these techniques and all the different types of scales and traids what would be the next logical step? Thanks again, your insight is very helpful, everyones is!!
  16. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Take the Major scale & build it up in THIRDS-

    Now, based on Major/minor, assign Roman numerals & memorize.
    Upper case = MAJOR
    lower case = minor

    C-E-G-B-D = I Major
    D-F-A-C-E = ii minor
    E-G-B-D-F = iii minor
    F-A-C-E-G = IV Major
    G-B-D-F-A = V7 Dominant 7th/9th
    A-C-E-G-B = vi minor
    B-D-F-A-C = viio Half-Diminished

    Now, if someone sez, "Play a 2-5-1 turnaround in C Major...you're set.

    Someone else can tackle the minor stuff.
  17. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    ii-V7-I in minor? Sweeeeeeet.
  18. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    that's really the next step I mentioned: 'what types of chords are usually formed on each scale tone'

    keep in mind that musical mojo often comes when the 'rules' are broken, and the info below applies only when the harmonic environment is strictly 'diatonic' i.e. there are no deviations from the key you're in... this is the first step, because you need to know what the rules are before you can know when they're being broken....

    if you're playing in a major key (we'll use C major as the example), the chords formed on each of the scale tones are always the same...

    each tone of a scale is given a roman numeral... this helps because, like JimK did, you can talk about chord movements without being tied to one particular key... so in a scale of C major, the tones are named as follows:

    C - I
    D - II
    E - III
    F - IV
    G - V
    A - VI
    B - VII

    on each 'degree' of the major scale (each tone, in other words), the triads formed are as follows:

    I - major
    II - minor
    III - minor
    IV - major
    V - major
    VI - minor
    VII - diminished

    so, in any major key, the root, fourth and fifth chords are always major, and the second, third and sixth chords are minor

    to distinguish major from minor when using roman numerals, it's conventional to use upper case for major & lower case for minor (with lower case and an 'o' on the end for a diminished triad), so the chords in a major scale would be written like this:

    I - ii - iii - IV - IV - vi - viio

    from this, it's easy to work out what the chords should be (in diatonic harmonic environments anyway) in any major key...

    when you start getting used to where the major/minor chords are in relation to each other, and start thinking of chord movement in terms of things like 'I - vi - IV - V' or 'I - iii - vi - V', you'll quickly spot that many songs follow very similar chord sequences, and you'll get used to knowing what bass you can provide after one or two times round the chord sequence
  19. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    Everytime you guys add something to it I print it out and take it to the woodshed...thanks.
  20. Lewk


    Oct 19, 2003
    She said "There's something in the woodshed
    And I can hear it breathing -
    It's such an eerie feeling, darling."
    He said "There's nothing in the woodshed - oh wait hang on yeah its ricplaya with his bass."