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I need basic music theory help...

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by jbassist17, Sep 29, 2008.

  1. jbassist17


    Sep 20, 2008
    So, I've been learning bass on my own for about 3 years now, never have had any sort of training or anything, just kind of go with it and jam with friends a bit, but have yet to learn one essential aspect that I feel is going to open things up a lot for me: when I'm jamming and the guitarist/pianist says to me we're in the key of (whatever), I've caught on by now that it doesn't mean I can just jam using that scale. What in the world is the difference between keys and scales and how do I use them?

    Thank you,

  2. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    It's not so much about keys and scales - it's more about keys and chords in them.

    As a bassist it is probably more helpful to learn the chord tones (root, 3rd, 5th & 7th) for each type of chord; Maj, min, dim (mb5) & Aug.

    Keys contain a specific number of sharps or flats, to be sure. But these "accidentals" aren't strictly adhered to. This is what makes music sound interesting is using chromaticis (notes that aren't in the key). Otherwise music would sound pretty stale.

    Every chord can be translated into a scale - but even in a chord you may want to use notes that aren't in that chord's scale.

    In jamming if someone calls out a key and it's a Major key the I, IV chord are usually Major, the V chord is dominant (Maj triad 1, 3, 5 and b7). ii iii and vi are usually minor (1, b3, 5, b7). Key of C = C d e F G7 a bø. (capital letters mean Maj, lower case = minor)

    If it's a minor key i, ii and iv are usually minor. III, VI, VII can be Major. And V is usually Dom7. C min - c d Eb f G7 Ab Bb

    This is very general info and I'm painting with a very broad brush. The most important thing is to keep your ears open and learn to hear the different "qualities" of the chords being played. Learn to adjust.

    Scales are important too, but the faster you can learn and lay down basic chords, the better able you will be to back others which is usually the prime role of the bass. (mutedeity is going to kill me for saying this).

    I don't know what style of music you prefer or what your level is. You may find some interesting ideas or advice here. There is discussion on Keys and fairly complete info on building chords and their corresponding scales and some "extra" or alternate notes you can use.

    Hope this helps! :bassist:
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  3. great advice there, but to answer your specific question in hopefully a simpler way, If a Piece is in the key of C Major, then you want to know the chords/notes you can use at certain points that will fit in with C Major, (For example, you would want to know that a G Major triad would correctly fit the fifth scale degree of C major) whereas the C Major scale, is just referring specifically to playing the notes that make up a Major scale (as far as half steps and whole steps) starting on C.

    Playing a scale is just a specific collection of pitches to be played, but thinking in terms of what key you are in is more about understanding the structure of scale degree's and that is a bit more theory intensive, and maybe difficult to understand at first without some theory lessons.
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  4. GassieBall


    Oct 15, 2006
    1+ on the above post.

    Justin, would it be safe to assume that you have no musical training at all? (I'm asking this very objectively and not in a criticizing way.)

    If that's so, perhaps we could just start simply...

    The most common thing to do in a "jam" is play something similar to the blues.

    As mentioned above, you have to get the main chords that would be for the jam. Usually, it's only three (count 'em, three) chords that you use.

    1) Root (whatever key the song's in)

    2) Fourth (the fourth note up in the root scale. Translated in "fretspeak" it's the same fret on the next highest string.)

    3) Fifth (it's two frets up on the next highest string.)

    Go download Stormy Monday and try to apply this.

    If this was waaaay too simple, I apologize and I'm sure we all can meet where you're at, or higher, at which point I have to bow out :)
    CozmoCosty and Julian G like this.
  5. The major scale is constructed by playing two Major tetrachords back to back, which in english means:

    Whole step, Whole step, Half step, Whole step, Whole step, Whole step, Half step.
    (a half step on a bass is simply moving up 1 fret, whereas a whole step moves up 2)

    It doesn't matter what note you start on, if you follow that pattern, it will result in a major scale.

    There are 8 notes in the scale including the octave,

    in the C major scale, the notes are C D E F G A B C (no flats or sharps in C Major)

    each note in the scale is assigned a scale degree or number basically

    C= the root
    D= the second scale degree
    E= the third scale degree
    F= the fourth

    you want to aim for being able to know and understand the different scale degree's of a particular scale, so if you want to play the Major 3rd of C, you would recognize that this would be E.

    Also, in a particular scale, certain scale degrees have certain qualities that go along with them. Which means that if you are in a certain key, it might end up that the second scale degree needs to be minor in order to fit the key you are playing in, and this is the beauty of understanding the theory behind scales.

    so if in the future you see something that looks like this:

    I IV V I

    they are just roman numerals (1 4 5 1) for scale degrees, and this just means to play the root, then the fourth, then the fifth, then back to one, which in the key of C will mean C F G C
    CozmoCosty and ss426 like this.
  6. Tejano Joveno

    Tejano Joveno

    Jun 20, 2008
    San Antonio
    Great thread guys but I hate to hijack this but it seems to relate to it somewhat, can someone explain minor scales somewhat, six years of instruction and I'm still confused by them. Thanks and sorry for the hijack.
  7. gahpg


    Jun 30, 2007
    Brookfield IL
    Basically every third is made flat. For the key of G, instead of the third being B (for G Major) it goes to A#/B flat, and then E is made D#/E flat
  8. As i mentioned, the major scale is made up of two major tetrachords back to back

    The minor scale has a different tetrachord structure.

    I am not sure if you are familiar with modes, but the minor scale is just the 6th degree mode of the Major scale. The minor scale IS the Aeolian mode.

    what this means is, if you take a Major scale, and play through all of its notes, but starting from the 6th and playing through until you reach the 6th again,(instead of starting on the root as usual) you have just played a minor scale, and whats more is that you have also just played the RELATIVE minor scale of the major key you started in.

    example: you take C major, the 6th scale degree is A.
    so you take the notes that make up C major and play them starting on A:
    A B C D E F G A
    This gentlemen, is what you call a mode, and it is the aeolian mode, or the minor scale, and it will share the same key signature as the C Major scale (same number of sharps and flats, in this case none for simplicity) Also note that this is what a relative minor is. It is the minor scale which uses the same notes (sharps and flats) as a the major key it is relative too.
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  9. to expand more upon this mode thing for the hell of it...

    as I said, if you play through the major scale starting on the 6th instead of the 1, that is the aeolian mode (minor scale)

    There is a different mode for each scale degree.

    if you start on the 2nd scale degree, that is the Dorian mode for example, and so there are 7 different degrees to start on in the major scale (the first being the Ionian mode, which is just the normal major scale starting on the root.)

    SO when somebody tells you to play in D Dorian, you should be able to realize that the Dorian mode starts on the 2nd scale degree, and thus C would be the root. Therefore, you would use the key signature (which would actually be called a Modal Signature in this case), of C major (use the notes of the C Major scale)

    C Major Scale....

    Starting on C = C Ionian (MAJOR SCALE)
    Starting on D = D Dorian
    Starting on E = E Phrygian
    Starting on F = F Lydian
    Starting on G = G Mixolydian
    Starting on A = A Aeolian (MINOR SCALE) << relative minor of C Major is A... see why?
    Starting on B = B Locrian.

    ALL of those modes use the SAME notes... just in a different order depending on what note you start on.
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  10. Tejano Joveno

    Tejano Joveno

    Jun 20, 2008
    San Antonio
    At last someone explains it in a way I can understand, along with modes to boot, thanks guys.:)
  11. i am very glad you were able to understand :D
  12. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Not to be a know-it-all or anything, but maybe you mean a major triad would fit the fifth scale degree in the key of C? The triad G B D would fit well, but a G Maj chord containing an F# is going to sound very interesting in the key of C. Although a #4 with b7 is fairly common for V7 in jazz and pop.

    I feel maybe using/borrowing the scale from F Maj in C would give you a little more mileage as far as not hitting clashing (dissonant) notes. Especially in rock and blues styles. But again you might want to raise the Bb to B when playing the V7 (3rd degree of G7 = B)
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  13. yes thank you I did mean triad :bag: though of course yea, there are plenty of instances where you will find almost any note in almost any key or situation for whatever reason
  14. Kuchar


    May 31, 2006
    Dang, I've been playing bass for 3 years and I don't really understand much of anything in this thread except for the post about the roman numerals T_T

    Just a quick question. Do I REALLY have to know all of this? I mean, since the day I bought my first bass I was in a band. After 3 years of being in bands I don't feel that I really need to know any of this terminology.. Someone says key of C and I just start and C and use the notes that, from my experience and listening, go well with C. Is this a bad way of going about it?

    I feel like if I knew this I would play like a robot, doing formulas in my head that dictate what notes I need to play :meh:
  15. GassieBall


    Oct 15, 2006
    OK, guys, I'm henceforth posting with utmost respect. I totally appreciate your (plural) theory knowledge (although thus far, I'm able to hang with you guys). But I think that the problem that most people have with those who know theory is that it gets sort of complicated for the uninitiated really fast.

    It's sort of like me asking Einstein an algebra question. :)

    Perhaps we should see where the OP'er at rather than launch into calculus (or quantum mechanics, for that matter.)

    On the otherhand, I could only wish I had as much theory knowledge as jsingles seems to have.
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  16. all depends on what you are doing I suppose. I am at music school right now so of course they are drilling all of this into my head.... but i guess I would answer no. you dont "NEED" this stuff especially if you have a good ear, but I can confidently tell you that this stuff can only help, and it would not act against you to know it. But don't feel like you are aren't a real bass player unless you know tons of music theory.

    I would also add that if you ever wanted to get into say, jazz, you really would need to have a pretty good understanding of theory. Like I said, it depends on what your personal situation is.
    CozmoCosty and Old P Bass Guy like this.
  17. brivello


    Jun 27, 2008
    Just the opposite, learning and practicing scales/chords/intervals will give you more ideas, and put sounds in your head that you would not have had before.
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  18. yea to be honest I am always afraid that I am trying to explain things too quickly... which is why I am relieved to see some people understanding it, but I do make an effort to explain things in a way that makes sense. If you need any clarification on anything I would be glad to slow down.

    I am no theory expert by any means, that kind of thing comes with years of experience, which I don't have much to speak of. Theory can seem scary at first but like most anything, begins to seem alot less threatening when you realize how helpful it can be when it suddenly all starts to make sense.
    CozmoCosty likes this.
  19. GassieBall


    Oct 15, 2006
    I understand scales. I understand modes...

    Could you please tell me how to feel and use them???
  20. Knowing theory can actually make your playing a lot less robotic. If you know more theory, you will know more of the options you have, and you will see more opportunities to play different things that you will understand fit into the context of your playing.

    If you know very little theory, it will be easier to get stuck in a kind of rut, like be stuck just playing in one scale or position, as opposed to knowing how to move around your bass (particularly with walking bass parts)
    CozmoCosty likes this.

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