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how much theory is ESSENTIAL?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Dragonlord, Jan 28, 2001.

  1. Dragonlord

    Dragonlord Rocks Around The Glocks

    Aug 30, 2000
    Greece, Europe
    First of all,I know this sounds a little stupid...and maybe it is.But,what I always see at Talkbass,is that some of the most common advice to someone who is just starting out is "learn theory".OK,I know that SOME theory is essential,but approximately how much?I mean,you can be learning theory for all your life...I also know that it depends on what you want to play etc.,so just tell me what theory do you think is essential for someone to know,in order to be a bassist instead of a bassholder.I know it depends on many things,so I don't expect a strict answer,I just wanted your opinion...
  2. Well, you'll probably get a bunch of different answers, from "none" to "all of it". :D

    I'll give my opinion, with the understanding that's what it is, just my opinion:

    Major Scales & Modes, Relative minors

    Chord structures & arpeggios of all the forms of 7th chords

    Relationships of chords to each other, i.e. what chords belong to each key, and how they resolve

    Solid basic understanding of rhythmic patterns and their notation up to 1/16th note subdivisions

    Being able to at least sit down with a piece of music in standard notation and get through it (but not necessarily sight-read it)

    Of course, these things themselves would take some time to get and there are many intermediairy steps along the way...
  3. Let's put it this way, the more you know, the more doors that will be open to you.

    Learn all you can. None of it will harm you in any way.

    I've got tons of theoretical knowledge under my belt, and I can sight read some pretty difficult stuff, but it certainly does not harm my abilty to play a great solid bassline line like 'Another Thing Coming' by Judas Priest (which is definitely in my Top 10 favorite bass lines list!). The thing is so simple, it's brilliant.
  4. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    As Gard the Prophet said, someone would come around and say "all of it'.

    I suppose I would be the one.;)

    (Of course, I'd be able to foretell the future too if I used my omniring:D

    Anyway, the feeling I get from people who want to know the essentials is that they want to get away with knowing the bare minimum. In my opinion (and that's all it is), you should never feel content with what you know. If you work continually to improve your knowledge, no musical goal will be unreachable to you.

    Granted, you might not be able to learn everthing there's to know. That takes a lifetime, but the satisfation you'll get from knowing you're improving every day is worth it.

    Will C.:cool:
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I guess my answer to the question, "how much theory is essential" would be, "as much as it takes for you to be happy with your playing when you honestly and objectively consider the issue". Some people are happy doing what they can already do, while others like to be adding to their vocabulary regularly. It depends on which type you are, and I don't think there is a "right" or "wrong" answer to that question for everyone.

    In my opinion, though, the greatest skill that any musician can master is the art of transcription. When you learn to transcribe (and by this I mean not only learn how to play something that you heard, but also to write it down in notation and analyze it to discover what it was about that sound that turned your crank in the first place), it means that you can "own" anything that you hear if you feel like putting forth the effort. Once you can do this, you are well on your way to teaching yourself to be a better musician within the realm of your own personal tastes for the rest of your life.
  6. backtoschool


    Oct 24, 2000
    A question I've wanted to know is how do you apply this knowledge.

    I know the major and minor scales front to back but am still at a loss on how I'm supposed to be applying this knowledge. I haven't made the connection with knowing the scales and making them useful. I can sit down and play a song but I just can't figure out if knowing these scales has helped me at all with playing this song (right now, the answer is they haven't).

    Could someone please help me with (what I hope to be) and important bridge in my playing.
  7. Well, one important aspect of knowing scales is probably more that you understand key signatures and consequently what notes are likely to occur in a given key.

    A friend of mine has one of the best musical ears I've ever come across, but his knowledge of theory is virtually nil. When we are jamming, he constantly makes errors in what notes he grabs, not because he doesn't hear it, but just because he doesn't know what notes/chords most commonly appear in whatever key. If knew his keys better, he'd be able to find notes instantly. Instead, although he can sing you the pitch no problem, he has to hunt and peck his way around the guitar to find the notes sometimes.

    Once you learn your scales/keys, you'll start to hear recognizable patterns, so when you hear a descending line from the tonic note, and you know you are in the key of A flat, you'll automatically know what notes to play without having to think about it. Of course, if you are reading music, you need to know these things because they don't write sharps or flats in front of the notes if they are already acounted for in the key signature.

  8. backtoschool


    Oct 24, 2000
    Thanks Rob W. Do you or anyone else have any suggestions on good books to read about theory?

    I'd appreciate and look into any suggestion.
  9. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Gard is just always right on about things, but I'll pare down his list just a tad for the bass player newbie who wants an absolute essential bare bones working knowlege to get started. Keep in mind, however, as others stated here, the more you know, the further you will go.

    1. Know how to play the major scale, up and down, in very key.

    2. Know how to play the relative minor scale up and down in every key.

    3. Know what intervals occur in those scales.

    4. Know how major and minor chords are formed at each interval of these scales.

    5. Know how to arpeggiate triads and seven chords of these chords, up and down.

    (I say up and down because I knew a teacher once who told me he has students who can play scales up, but not down. Go figure.)

    That would be a bare to the bone beginners' list of essentials.

    Oh, I know a teacher who starts his students off with the major and minor pentatonic scales. I don't think that is as informative as the major and minor scales, because that doesn't give you a clear understanding of where chords come from and how they are structured.

    jason oldsted

  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I've played all sorts of music in the past and have looked for theory books and never found anything that got me into this. But when I started playing Jazz I picked up on Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory" book and this makes much more sense than any other theory book I've tried. It takes you logically through from the easiest stuff to more "esoteric" concepts and gives you examples along the way to play from "real songs", so you can see how the theory is applied.

    The vast majority of this stuff is applicable to any type of music you play, but Jazz gives you better examples to work with and I think this book would be useful for anyone - no matter what music they wanted to play. I think it would be well worth the money for anyone with a passing interest, or more, in theory.

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