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My inability to keep studying theory...

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Katoosie, Apr 16, 2021.

  1. Katoosie


    Jun 12, 2020

    So this is a bit of a different (?) thread here on TB, feel free to skip this one if you don't feel like reading a personal post and you don't have the time to dive a bit deeper into this.

    So I have made a post before about my progress after a year of playing bass. Lo' and behold, here I am with a bass, an amp, an interface and a second bass on the way! Yay!

    Right? Sort of, yes.

    What I am struggling with here is my disinterest in learning music theory. I don't seem to be capable of actually focusing enough to gather enough energy and willingness to sit down and actually study... I'm just too tired most of the time. I work quite a lot, sometimes it's quite demanding and often long without much sleep during tougher days so when I come back from work, after doing all the shopping and cleaning and whatever else, I just... I'm done.

    I'm either falling asleep or don't have the energy to pick up a book or material and start studying. I mean, at least I pick up the bass for 30 min to an hour, sometimes more and I practice and try to play to songs/improvise but I just wanna sleep and/or relax instead.

    I have read posts here on TB about people saying something akin to 'I don't even play bass when I'm tired' or 'No playing for me when I have a headache' and so on so I think it's not unreasonable to not want to study/practice after working for 24hrs or 12hrs or whatever, I just...

    I just kind of feel guilty and I don't really have anyone to talk to about this so I thought I would post here, maybe some people would have some ideas and insights to share as it's always fascinating to read what others have done in a similar situation.

    I've been studying theory on my own before quite diligently, usually a lesson a day with practice afterwards but ever since then quite a few things have changed in life. I have started working somewhere else and a bunch of other things have come and gone and I haven't really picked up theory in a month, maybe 2? I just don't feel any drive whatsoever to study theory, actually the thought of it seems daunting and boring. I would rather rest and do something else with my time, even if it's "not as productive".

    Maybe it's just my mental health, I don't know. I don't even listen to music anymore so it just seems kind of silly that I would be studying music theory and try to learn the language of music while on a day-to-day basis I don't really have much to do with music at all. I'm just busy and/or tired. The only time I actually have anything to do with music in my life is when I read about gear here or when I actually sit down to play my bass.

    Oh this is so ridiculous. I don't even know what I'm asking, I think I'm just venting about music because all this time I haven't studied any theory beyond watching videos from talkingbass.net and others.

    If you have any tips about theory or any good resources, just let me know, okay? Thanks a lot everyone. Honestly, I will take any tips and pointers at this point.
    dasherf17, Slipper, Corto14 and 10 others like this.
  2. flojob

    flojob Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 15, 2011
    Why you asking for tips on something that you have only a passing interest in?
    It sounds like your heart is leading you to other things, and you shouldn't overthink it.
    You don't have to be a rockstar, or the best, or as knowledgeable as someone who has the time to study intricacy of theory. You get that fulfilment from other things, or a variety of things, and that's a great thing. Stop torturing yourself. The whole point is to get out of it what you want. There are no rules.
    Huw Phillips, joeypee, BOOG and 12 others like this.
  3. Acidic Pool

    Acidic Pool

    Feb 16, 2021
    A little bit goes a long way. Stop after scales and arpeggios and you'll have all you'll probably ever need. Or just say screw it and bang those root notes! :bassist:
    k_hardy, legalbass, Mr Cheese and 4 others like this.
  4. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    It sounds like you might be treating your study of theory as an academic exercise, as if you're studying for an algebra exam or something, and therefore (understandably) finding it hard to do when you're tired (or maybe even when you're not!). It might be a good idea instead to take the bits of theory you've learned already and spend your time finding applications for the knowledge. For example, you can use your theory knowledge as a basis for learning your fretboard by, for example, playing arpeggios of a given chord, or entire scales, using different fingerings in different places around the neck. Or, you could analyze songs you know in terms of the relationships between the chords, and how the particular notes used are derived from those chords. Theory is interesting, but useless if you don't find ways to apply it to your actual playing.
  5. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    Music theory isn't like Physics - if you make a mistake in music, it's not like you're making an atomic bomb, and miscalculated how much uranium you can put in a pile without it going boom.

    Certain things sound good to our ears. You can learn how to play good sounding things entirely by ear, if you want, and nobody will be harmed. To some extent, learning music theory after you know how to play decently by ear might make theory more interesting to you - why do these two notes sound good together? Music theory and psycho acoustics together can explain stuff like that.

    I have classical training (played violin many years ago). I learned how to play bass almost entirely by ear. I have the luxury of knowing enough theory that I can understand certain things that those without that knowledge wouldn't, but I also have the opportunity to ignore what I don't find really useful.

    If you want to play jazz, you NEED music theory. If you're playing in other genres, and you learn well playing by ear, go for it - theory can wait. Although I see both sides of the debate, I'm not someone who preaches that you'll be lost without theory. I'm also pretty certain I could have all the gigs I currently do (I'm pretty busy) without having learned much theory at all.

    There's a thread goin around where Dave Grohl explains how he wrote "Everlong" - the guy has essentially no musical training (he says that a lot). He seems to be doing just fine without music theory. In many genres, lack of formal training is not a limiting factor.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2021
  6. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Music theory is boring. Like world-stopping boring. So don't bury yourself in theory unless you want to Know theory and be able to apply theory.

    If you want to grow as a musician it is necessary. Just as calculus is a necessity if you want to be an engineer. It's a structural building block.

    2 things that come to mind regarding strategy.

    First, try to separate musicianship from music. Listen to music that you enjoy without thinking of it in terms of bass or guitar or mechanics. A cause of burnout with any artist is the inability to appreciate one's chosen art. If you don't enjoy listening to music it is likely that you are focusing on it as task instead of a pleasure. Put on your headphones and listen to songs that transport you or make you want to dance around the house. Do not pay any attention to what the bassist is doing. Better yet, play music that is not focused on a bassist. Just try it.

    Next, try to play songs that you like to play. Pick up a guitar or other instrument and make some noise. Or thump your bass for fun instead of for work. If bass or theory doesn't pay your bills do not treat it as something you are obligated to do. Play. Or put it down for a few days. And break into theory one small bite at a time. When you want to.

    The more you understand about how music works and how musicians communicate the further music can take you. But don't sever your relationship with music at the expense of expertise that you aren't benefiting from. Enjoy what you are playing and learning and you'll find yourself wanting to learn more.

    My dumb opinion.
  7. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Must have been typing at the same time! This is true.
    Katoosie likes this.
  8. bass12

    bass12 Basking Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Why do you think you need theory? How is your lack of knowledge (theory-wise) holding back your playing? I’m all for learning theory (and I can relate to your struggle) but I also know that a lot of people feel pressured into learning theory when, honestly, they would be better off just relaxing and having fun on the instrument. It all depends on your goals. Remember, there was a time when not every musician went into lifelong debt completing a college music degree. :laugh: It sounds as if there are other things you’d rather be doing and that music is not your livelihood - so don't sweat it, just have fun.
    Katoosie, LBS-bass and Killing Floor like this.
  9. bass12

    bass12 Basking Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Not dumb - well put. :)
    Katoosie and Killing Floor like this.
  10. Let me ask you this: When you play, are you able to pick out things by ear well enough to create something that's enjoyable for you?

    The reason I ask this is that there are some people who do seem to have a pretty good ear and will be able to hear their way through a piece of music much more quickly and easily than they'll be able to learn from a book or paper.

    For a person like that, it's like learning to speak when you're little. You don't learn grammar and syntax and the alphabet and how to read a book before you learn to speak. You learn how to speak first.

    If that's how it is for you, don't sweat it. Learn at your own pace and enjoy what you have, because it's rare.

    If that isn't how it is for you, then maybe re-evaluate your level of interest here. As was mentioned earlier, learning theory is boring. It takes some discipline to sit down and devote, say, a half-hour or an hour each day to study. This is a big part of why so many people put music aside during their career days and pick it up again in retirement.

    To keep it from being too boring, I suggest splitting your time between study and play. Study for 20 minutes, and then just play to have fun for 20 minutes. Or whatever suits your schedule. That's the only way I know to keep making steady progress without losing your mind :)
  11. I would stop and think about why I decided to pick up the bass in the first place? Is it for fun or do you have aspirations towards a higher level of musicianship? If it's the latter, you will need theory. If it's the former, grab your bass when you feel like it and learn/play along with your favourite songs. Have fun!
    BBassBassington and Katoosie like this.
  12. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    The end of a 12 hour day is the perfect time to be exhausted.
    Wake up earlier and practice before work.
    you won't passively get the energy & time: you must actively make it.

    Also, do not despair at failing to spend hours a day at it.
    If you picked up your bass for only 15 minutes today, it counts!
  13. Vitamin D

    Vitamin D

    Jan 29, 2021
    Just as mambo4 said above. Doing theory when your brain is fried sounds hard... I can't really focus on that stuff at the end of the day. I can't even "do a lesson" -- I might watch a youtube lesson but then I can't sit and try it. All I have mental space for is playing.

    My mental acuity and attention span will be much stronger early in the day. Either do the brain stuff early in the day, save it for the weekend... or let it go! Just play. If you actually want to learn theory, you will have to find/make time. But don't feel it's a requirement that anyone else can put on you.
    Katoosie likes this.
  14. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    San Diego, CA
    You’re not into it anymore. It happens to a lot of people.

    Move on.
    Kendescending and Katoosie like this.
  15. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Music is something that should be fun. I am all for theory, and for me, the fun began when I learned it well enough to understand why it was so beneficial. But I was a kid and I had nothing else to do :D The good thing is that music will still be there when you're ready for it. If not, that's OK, too. But it does take work to get good at it, and it's OK if you don't want to do it anymore.
    Matty Koff, GregC, drumvsbass and 2 others like this.
  16. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I have never had the right combination of time, interest, disposition, attention, diligence, etc. to learn theory in depth. My goal since day one has been to rock out as hard as possible, so I have always attached myself to projects with more virtuosic players and learned bits and pieces over time about the science behind the massive riffs that bring me joy.
    Katoosie likes this.
  17. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    I'm all for learning as much about everything as you can, but you have to be motivated to do so or it is torture. When you have a need to know situation in your musical life, you will want to put the time in to learn theory.

    Remember, there was music long before there was music theory. Theory explains why musical things work, but is not necessary for those things to work.
  18. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    When there's something you really want, you'll come up with a way, otherwise, you'll come up with excuses.

    Take a hard look at what you really want.
    Liam Wald, red_rhino and Katoosie like this.
  19. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    People seem to get very bogged down worrying about theory. Maybe I learned it early enough in my life that it is just second nature to me now, but theory is just a tool to help figure out why things sound good or perhaps guide you on what to do next if you're creating a line or a song. It's not a rulebook.

    Scales and arpeggios on their own are not really theory, they are exercises to train your fingers and to help you identify the "proper" notes in any given key or mode. Yes they can help get your ear used to certain elements of theory, but they are not really theory. Scales can help you figure out how to tie two chords together and are especially helpful in learning to improv.

    Theory is much more about understanding chord progressions and is just an explanation as to why certain progressions tend to sound good to us. Once you understand this, it can be much easier predicting what the next chord will be when you're transcribing a song by ear or when you are writing a song.

    To OP: Don't beat yourself up about not wanting to drudge through your theory studies. It sound like it's clearly not a priority for you right now, so don't stress. Go back to it when you feel like it. Maybe even take a couple of days off from practice altogether - it may help rejuvenate your desire. It really is amazing what a breather will do for your mind and soul.
    Katoosie and LBS-bass like this.
  20. GuitarPaul


    Dec 25, 2019
    Theory is kind of a stupid word for what we are probably talking about.

    Nuts and bolts would be a better description.

    Theory is how music works, whatever the music you're trying to play. A lot of the theory that you're supposed to be learning (like classical music theory) really doesn't have a ton of application in non-classical music (other than jazz, where it sort of fits to an extent).

    You should know what V-I (five one) means. That does count for a lot.

    For me, theory started becoming a lot more interesting as applied to tunes. And jazz is a good way of understanding theory and tunes, because it sort of bridges the gap between classical theory and everything else (rock/soul/funk/etc etc).

    If you find the Bruce Forman top ten tunes you should learn podcast and then go find those tunes, if you just learn them and memorize them, you'll learn a lot about theory in the process.

    Calling it theory is dumb. Like...harmonizing Amazing Grace 5 different ways (a simple way, a rock way, a gospel way) is sorta "theory" but really it's just about learning to play music.

    I also think it's hard to really learn theory without a keyboard or piano with a few octaves. But then it gets fun anyway.
    Katoosie likes this.
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