How to learn theory...

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by toman, Aug 2, 2003.

  1. Ok, having been a 'somewhat' accomplished classical bass player for around ten years, I feel the need to learn something more than basic theory. I struggled my way through highschool theory and jazz band, and just about gouged my eyes out in college freshman theory; now I want to know how all the rest of you guys learned it. I've listened to almost as much jazz as the next guy, been around jazz musicians for years, but no matter what I can not seem to grasp anything more than basic scales, modes and chords. Am I ********? Or am I just missing something... everyone I know just seems to intuitively come upon this knowlege, while I beat my head agains a wall tying to understand 'theory for dummies'. Do I need to learn piano? This seems like it would be a logical step in the right direction, and I know it couldn't hurt even if it done't help my theory. So what gives?
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I'm sure that there are folks around who would like to help, but I bet some more specific information from you would help get the ball rolling. What specifically are you trying to do jazzwise these days? How far are you able to get before you feel you hit the wall?
  3. Well, actually I was just kinda interested what some other people had to say about how they came to learn theory, i.e. practacal experience from just playing and listening to music, or some kind of classes, book, those sort of things. I'm not playing a lot of jazz these days, so it's not like I need the practical application right now, but I would like to learn what I can just for the sake of musicianship and because it would help a lot in whatever classes I decide to take in school. So anyway, not looking for theory lessons here or any techical stuff, just other's experiences.
  4. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Put down the bass, grab a pencil and blank music paper, sit down at the piano.
    1. Compose. Anything. Write phrases. Songs.
    2. Take existing lead sheets and experiment with different harmonies within the basic chord. See how a 9th sounds, try it flatted, augmented, etc. Try everything. As you pick up ideas, keep going back to 1 with your new knowledge, then repeat the loop.
    3. Write bass lines under tunes.

    This is for starters. You can learn alot about bass playing without playing the bass.
  5. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    4. Get a piano. Or some sort of keyboard. It really makes it so much easier to work out the examples than trying to play an F7b5add3.14/B on the bass....
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I've had the problem you seem to be describing - so I used to do music at school and am a big classical music fan. I wanted to learn more about music theory and signed up for an Open University degree - this is a scheme in the UK where you can do a degree part-time, over a longer period than if you were doing it full time at college.

    I just didn't get on with it at all and gave up after a year - it was very dull and nothing seemed to be sticking.

    About 4-5 years ago, I started a Jazz course on Saturdays at my local University and I feel that has helped me get a lot more music theory to stay in my head - but for me the big difference is actually playing a piece and studying it. So it is in the playing that the theory is applied and it tends to stay with you more.

    I find that the more I play Jazz with other people, the more I am motivated and actually enjoy putting theory into practice - whereas when I played rock/pop nobody was talking about it at all and when I tried Classical theory it was too abstract, too theoretical!! ;)
  7. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Austin, TX
    Some days I practice without ever touching the bass, doing transcriptions, learning tunes on the piano, etc. I don't know if this will make you feel better or worse, but for me this is a very incremental process - almost as if the only way to truley learn alot of this stuff is VERY slowly. You can't just learn some weird chords, you have to learn how those weird chords work in relation to a bunch of other weird (and some less weird) chords and a melody. Retaining something usually involves an "AHA!" for, but defintely should be taken slowly/seriously.
  8. Interesting thought guys, thanks.