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memorizing scales, etc

Discussion in 'Ask the Berklee Bass Department' started by Anthony White, Feb 2, 2014.

  1. I have a question I'd like to put to the Berklee Bass Department about memorisation of what can be loosely grouped as 'jazz theory'.

    I'm a double bassist. I've reached the point in studying jazz where I clearly need to memorise a bunch of stuff. I'm thinking particularly of the seven greek modes, the five common modes of the ascending melodic scale, etc. Then moving on to tritone subs ... there's just a lot of stuff that it strikes me requires rote memorisation, before it is internalised well enough to use musically. I think someone famous once said, "Learn all of your scales. Then forget them."

    So I "understand" all of the theory at the moment. I know, for example, that the phrygian is the third mode of the major scale, and that (thinks a moment) it is therefore spelt 1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7, etc. And that, thus, in C it is (thinks for another moment) C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, etc. But those "thinks for a moment" moments don't work when I'm actually playing.

    I need to get from understanding it in an intellectual way, to knowing it so that it is at my fingertips, tip of the tongue, tip of the earlobe, without having to think about it.

    So, is there a pedagogical consensus, or a set of leading opinions, on the most efficient way to memorise this stuff?

    At the moment, I'm doing a combination of the following:
    Playing each mode on the double bass, singing the scale degree as I play it. Same with the arpeggio of that mode, up to the 13th.
    Doing the same at the piano.
    Some writing out of the name of the modes, their distinctive degrees, and the associated chord, longhand repeatedly over a page of a notebook. eg, Lyd, #4 (#11) Maj7#4, Maj7#11

    I feel like I should add the note letters as well, somehow, so that when I'm on, say AbMaj7(#11) I know instinctively not just that it's lydian and has a #4 or #11, but that the #4 is the D. Without having to go to the piano like I just did to complete the example.

    So, does anyone have a system for memorising this stuff?
    Should I pick one mode, and learn it in all 12 keys first, or pick one key, and learn all 7 modes in that one key first?

    I'm not really expecting it to be anything other than a memorising slog, I would just like to be sure that if I'm spending hours doing this a week, that I am doing it the most efficient way possible.

    Thanks for any help,
    Anthony White
  2. Steve Bailey

    Steve Bailey

    Feb 15, 2013
    Short answer now.. hopefully long answer later.

    If you were my student I would have you playing all of those scales in a musical context… something with a groove and harmony. Then create baselines in the mode, do sequential exercises.. (123, 234, 345, or, 13,24,35..) those kinds of things .. there are hundreds of permutations.

    Bottom line is learning to apply them. So often, and one of the downfalls of a lot of pedagogy is teaching them "by rote" but not making music with them. MUSIC is first. Simple is cool. Melody rules, so take those modes and apply them.

    Also you can practice them by visualizing them on the fingerboard… helps you learn the fingerboard as well. (more on that later)

    Oh… and your phrygian needs a b3… ;-) or else its a mode of the harmonic minor. You tell me which one…
  3. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    A continuation of the scale question:

    I've used tetrachords to learn the scales on electric bass, but have recently purchased an NS EUB, and I'm wondering if the same technique is advisable on an instrument with a much larger scale?