No theory?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by WarwickFRK, Oct 22, 2001.

  1. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    Never had a lesson in my life but I can play what I hear. I've been playin by ear for 10 years now. I own over 300 jazz cds and listen to them religously. I don't know what a time sig is, yet I can play in 13/8, 9/8, 3/4, etc... fractions make no sense to me... don't know what a note is.

    my question is, what happens if i start to learn theory now after all this time. A lot of people (including teachers and pro bassists who have heard me play) tell me to stick with my ears. If I begin to learn by the books it could hinder my creative mind and ability to play as a bassist. What ya think?

    Jazz music is very book oriented it seems but i can play it. but being a musician is a never ending learning experience...
  2. can you improvise a line over changes to a tune you've never heard before by looking at a chord chart? if not, you can't be much of a jazz bassist.
  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    That's BS in my opinion.
    It may be true that some people sound like robots and solo nothing but their scale exercises, but that's their own fault.
    You don't have to forsake your ears in order to learn theory. Both concepts are not antagonistic per se, but can complement each other.
    As always, it's in how you utilise it.

    Theory helps you to grasp concepts and to communicate them to others.
  4. Well it sounds like you have an exceptional ear, which is quite a blessing, but I can't understand why any pro or teacher would discourage you from learning theory. There have been plenty of threads here with spirited discussions on this matter, so I would check some "theory" archives to get a number of colorful perspectives.

    I think the real need for some formal theory is in improvising and in communicating the "language of music" with a variety of other musicians. If you are able to do that with just your ear, my hat is off to you, but many of us need to really understand what we're doing.

    I'd really recommend checking it out. I seriously doubt you'd lose your creativity, in fact I think you would see it enhanced because you would have more ways to express and share it with others.

    Good Luck!
  5. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    I agree what has been said, having a great ear , is a great thing to have , and which you seem to have....however...not knowing any theory whatsoever (I doubt you don't know any if you say you can play jazz tunes by ear ...maybe you dont even know of it) will definately limit your possibilities.

    And as dancehall said a jazz bassist who doesen't read notation or chord charts is pretty worthless in most ensemble type of situations.

    Knowing a few scales (or many rather), chords and basic music theory in general is definately my advice is learn some :)

  6. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    Well I've played with acomplished jazz musicians in my area and they are amazed at the way I can play by ear. They always ask me, "Were you brought up in Harlem in the 40's?" One jazz drummer said that exactly, "How the hell do you improv over line changes to a song you've never heard, not knowing what you're reading?" I actually do LOOK AT the sheet music, no idea what it means but I can I guess understand what's going to happen soon....I don't know, maybe I'm an idiot.
    I do not know what I'm doing but I'm adapting myself to the song. A lot of the jazz cats tell me I am in reality playing scales and arpegios and I don't even know it.

    I'd like to learn theory but I have little time because of the job I am in. There is one professor that teaches jazz improv. at the University here that told me to stick to what I'm doing. Its a good idea to have theory background but he says the way I play now I should just stick to what I'm doing. He tells me I just have a love for music and I "get it".

    I might consider lessons to put the whole picture together but we'll see if time lets me. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm some kind of virtuoso (far from it) or whatever, its just that music has always come to me by the ears. I love music, like you guys. Got to keep practicing!
  7. Bass Guitar

    Bass Guitar Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2001
    You're not an idiot. You have a gift. You're doing things right without knowing why. When you learn theory, you may find out why when you play a certain pattern it fits into the song. I suspect that when you do decide to learn music theory you would find it easier than you think, as you seem to have a rudimentary grasp of the basics already. It can only help you.

    I would be interested to know how you trained your ear so well - do you have tips for others who may want to learn to play like you?
  8. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Yeah, I would like to hear a sound sample too. Electrons are patient.
  9. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    I think its from listening to thousands of jazz, rock, death metal, fusion, alterno, etc... cds It must be the passion of music. I listen all the time. I always hum parts in my head and when I get my bass I transpose the humming onto the fret board. A lot of it is just screwing around on the bass. Things just come out. As for playing with a band I just listen and start to improvise. I know a lot of the times I like to watch videos. I like to see how other bass players play. Its all very interesting. I pay attention to the smallest detail in a video. So maybe I learn from visuals also.

    I don' t think there is any rhyme or reason behind what I do. I think anyone that has determination will "get it". I just love music. But I mean its not easy. I practice a lot and get frustrated a lot. But I just keep goin. I'm by no means a master at the bass. I wish I was but I'm not.

    I would like to learn theory but am afraid i'll be lazy and drop it. I don't know, I don't have much time as is to take lessons. We'll see. I'm sure you guys are better at the bass than me. I wish I could study the way you guys play!!!!! :D
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - it all depends on what you're playing. A lot of Jazz stuff is in a very few keys, as horn players are lazy and gravitate towards the flat keys - like F, Eb,Bb,Ab etc.

    I have read things from Jazz educators which have said that 90% of Jazz is very easy - but the other 10% is very very hard. By memorising patterns on the neck you can "get away with" quite a lot of Jazz tunes, but you will never master them and there are always parts of songs which you can "skate over" but your ability to deal with these parts is often what determines how you are viewed in Jazz circles.

    So far It sounds as if you have been very lucky to only meet fellow musicians who are supportive and positive - they're not all like that!! I have been to gigs where it's clear they're trying to catch each other out.

    So in a particular incident I have mentioned before - a very experienced and well-respected Sax player is leading a quartet at my local Jazz club. They are playing all standards and the pianist and bassplayer are very relaxed and start stretching out on solos as the gig is going very well.

    Then the Sax player reaches for his bag and pulls out two sheets of dog-eared A4 sheet music and plants them in front of the pianist and bassplayer - before they have a chance to even glance at these he has launched into the head of the tune which is an original ballad with some "odd" changes.

    So the head over - the Sax player heads off-stage and leaves the trio to play solos - by now the bassplayer is looking very worried and going ever redder in the face as he struggles to cope with what has been put in front of him...the band keeps going but only just and the sax player returns with a smug look on his face! ;)
  11. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Man, WarwickFRK, I'd really love to hear some of your work. How about posting a sample?
  12. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    I would also like to hear some examples of your work. Surely, you have something you can post.
  13. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    I would if I could but I don't have that option to post mp3's.

    Maybe people are getting confused. I don't play "swing" or straight ahead jazz. Its fusion. A mixture of rock, jazz, alterno, metal. Don't think I'm some kind of bass gifted player because I'm not! I just like playing bass by ear.

    I originally started out playing in a death metal band back in 1993. Then I was turned onto jazz and fusion in 1994, I remember the first "Fusion" cd I bought. The bass player is Jimmy Johnson. He is the person that got me into jazz if you will. From 1995-today I've been an advid jazz listener/player. I dig "traditional" jazz but that is not my forte. I can't play no walking bass line (some I can yes but) with a swing band or a big band. The players I play with are from the music school here. They play everything from jazz to rock to pop.

    I mean I learn something from everyone. But I only know how to play by ear only. Its been like that since 1991. I mean I learn things from your posts everyday with suggestions, comments, tips, etc... so I thank u all for that.

    I mean there must be others out there that play by ear only and are good. Granted from the few gigs I've played thus far the bass players in these nu-metal bands are pretty damn boring to my ears. And I talked to one of them who "assumed" I studied music, he takes lessons and couldn't really play nothing but the root notes of each guitar chord.
  14. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    oh trust me, i've met A LOT of "music" students who love to show off and make me mess up, its annoying. i hate to say this but don't you think people that attend HARTT or Berkley are kind of lets say, POMPOUS? :D its just music, they should calm down and have fun..... that was one of the reasons why i didn't take lessons or take courses in music, its so competitive. Oh well....:oops:
  15. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The kind of jazz players that I like are the ones who tell me I sounded great on the gig when I know I really sounded like sh*t :)

    When you're just learning how to navigate endless sequences of ii-Vs at 240 bpm it's nice to have bandmates who are tolerant of your inadequacies.
  16. Uh I think I actually agree with the kid:eek: I mean I just went through my top 50 favorite bands and I don't think any of them had "formal Training" They just play what sounds good. Rock on WarwickFRK ;)
  17. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    That’s exactly right, play what feels and sounds good. I mean I am no Jimmy Johnson, Michael Mannering, etc... etc..but I did someway somehow learn through the ears from them. I will admit back in high school when I first picked up the bass I didn’t want to take lessons because I was lazy. I saw what I had to do and said, “NO WAY, I want to play NOW!” So who knows, maybe I should have taken lessons back then, I’d be a better player today!
  18. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    email it to me, I'll host it for you.
  19. It sounds like you're into a lot of a-tonal stuff. To play more harmonic music (straight ahead jazz) I think you're going to run into a road black sooner or later. To me you are probably playing "outside" without having been "inside" first.
    There's a big difference, but as always the bottom line is playing music you enjoy and having fun at it.
  20. WarwickFRK

    WarwickFRK Guest

    Oct 14, 2001
    i wouldn't consider the music I play is a-tonal. But yes you are correct, I've been frustrated many of times trying to play with the "real" jazz cats as they are called.

    University's sometimes look down upon "fusion" artisits such as Jimmy Johnson, Alan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, etc... I do not know why? Music is music.