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Memorizing chords, scales, modes and keys?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Kurisu, Dec 14, 2003.

  1. Kurisu


    Nov 19, 2003
    Saskatoon SK
    I've been trying to read as much as I can about how scales and modes relate to chords, and I'm finding so much useful information here on talkbass. Thanks everyone!

    But what I can't find is a great method for the beginner to memorize scales, modes and the components of a given chord. In many places we're told to "memorize the scales up and down the fretboard", and I guess it's just assumed that we also have to memorize each key signature, and hence also the circle of fifths, as well as each mode of each scale, right?

    But how does one go about doing this? How do you get to the point where given a chord in text form, eg C#mi7(b5), you can instantly know what notes are in it, which scale it's from, which notes are in that scale, and which mode it's in? (does that make sense? I'm still learning, sorry!)

    It's just that I get so frustrated and discouraged when I see a chord name and I have to pause to work out what notes are in it, let alone trying to memorize each key signature and what notes are in a given scale. Is this just a "practice makes perfect" sort of situation, where I just have to grin and bear it and eventually I'll be able to list scales and modes effortlessly while drunk and hopping on one leg? Or is there a really good excercise out there that will help me understand all this?

    I have a feeling I'm gonna get a bunch of answers that amount to "Just go do Pacman's sure fire way of learning scales." :) Is that all I have to do? Am I making it seem more complicated than it really is?

    Thanks everyone!
  2. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Practicing the scales is not going to increase your ability to look at a chord and know what notes are in it, nor is it going to put the notes of those chords under your fingers. Practicing playing the notes of the chords, Maj7, min7, °7, min7b5, 6, sus, etc., and the inversions, will get you to a point where when you see a chord, you know what notes are in it, but more importantly it will get you to a place where you can play the notes of the chord ascending, descending and from any note of the chord.
  3. bassmantele


    Jul 22, 2003
    Boston MA USA
    Back in the day, when I was playing sax and dreaming of jazz, I printed out manuscript paper and wrote out each key signature until I knew them all - B is F#, C#, G#, D#, A#. Then I wrote out the scales without the key signatures - B, C#, D#, E, etc. Then I wrote out the chords - major, minor, dominant, etc.
    As a result, 30+ years later I still remember most of it, although I didn't play for years, and I can figure out what I need to know right quick. The good thing is, it's all connected. If you know major seventh, then you know dominant seventh, and minor seventh, and minor seventh, flat five. Each of those chords has one note of the previous chord lowered by a half step.
  4. In Flames

    In Flames

    Dec 11, 2003
    :confused: I wish I knew what you guys were talking about :p This goes to show how much help I need lol.

    Good luck man
  5. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    The Chris, one thing you may not know is that every scale, chord and mode has a pattern on the bass fretboard. Hence, every major scale has the same pattern. Every minor seven flat five chord has the same pattern. Every Phrygian mode has the same pattern. Every minor pentatonic scale has the same pattern.

    Each of those patterns has variations, too. But if you learn the most common pattern for major scales, for example, you can play every major scale up and down the fretboard using that one pattern. Doing so, you won't have to "stop and think" about every note in each of the major scales. Just find where the root note is and play the pattern. I hope I am making myself clear.

    The same thing goes for chords. Each type of chord has its own pattern. Each mode has its own pattern.

    I am NOT saying, however, that you will want to always be a pattern player. Eventually you will want to move on and learn the formulas for each type of scale, chord and mode. You need this especially in chords so you can play inversions of those chords.

    I'm just saying for starters, learn the most common patterns and then you can play without having to know each and every note.

    Too, even knowing patterns, you still have to know your fretboard, because you will have to start your pattern on the root note (unless you are playing a chord inversion.)

    A book such as "The Bass Grimoire" by Adam Kadmon shows you common patterns and variations. But other basic and beginner bass instruction books do too.

    You will learn that some patterns overlap. I mean, for example, the C major scale and C major chord share notes in common. The chord's pattern looks just like the scale's pattern with some notes left out.

    Learning patterns greatly simplifies your playing at first. Eventually, however, you will want to delve deeper into those patterns and variations and learn the theory, not just the pattern. It all comes with time, dedication and perseverence.
  6. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    Working a great deal with ear training will open up new doors. Practice intervals up, and down and two in unision. Sing scales and then play them on your axe. Sing chord arpeggios. Start with triads if you're not used to this kind of practice.

    Generally speaking, chord arpeggios are more important to hear than scales IMO, atleast for starters. If you want to work on knowing which note your on, sing out loud on letters like a Bb maj7 chord

    Bb - D - F - A

    Don't bother with diminished scales, whole-tone, superlocrian etc until you feel somewhat comfortable with basic scales like the modes of the major scale.

  7. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    It's gonna take time (like a lot of time) to know all these squillions of scales and chords by heart. Take it from me, I'm as still very much a learner myself!

    There are a few tips I found really helped me remember this type of stuff:

    The order in which notes are added to a chord
    This means that every chord will have notes in added in that order with sharps/flats depending on the key signeture, or altered tones.

    This combined with knowing the 7 chords that make up the key of C major, CM7, Dm7, Em7, FM7, G7, Am7, Bm7b5 - means I can determine what notes are in a chord relativeley quickly in my head.
    For example, C7b9... I know that C major is CEGB, I know that a dom7 chord has a minor7, and I know the 9th (also the 2nd)is flatted so the notes in C7b9 are C,E,G,Bb,Db. Sounds long winded, but your brain can work pretty quickly once you get into it.

    An-other thing REALLY worth getting your head round is the circle of 5ths/cycle of 4ths. Without going into detail, understanding how sharps and flats are added as you move rouns teh circle really helps understand key sigs better.

    Also, thing is the modes - learning them as scales in their own right is vital, but understadning how they relate to the parent major scale is useful also... phrygian is aeolian with a flat second etc etc.

    also, learn modes by the limdapl method


    you start with "the most major" scale(lydian) and you flat one note each time. dead handy for understanding the modes i think

    merry christmas! :)
  8. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    In a word: yes.

    The best way to do this is PLAY. Find some friends and get together and PLAY, and try things and decide what sounds right. A teacher will also help.

    There's a lot to learn, and you have to expect to put in some hours before this stuff ebcomes second nature. How many times does a beginning skateboarder hit the ground? How many times do you go back to the beginning in a video game? Lots. But if you spend the time and the effort, you get better and quicker.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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