Remembering Music Theory

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Justin Urry, Jan 11, 2015.

  1. Justin Urry

    Justin Urry

    Jan 11, 2015
    Hey guys! I'm new to talkbass, this is awesome!
    I'm a young bass player who is having trouble remembering modes and arpeggios. Any tips on helping me or anybody remember these things? I feel like I could take my bass playing and writing to the next level with these things stuck in my head.
  2. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Don't even try to memorize, but rather learn. If you can't remember a scal, you don't know that scale.To know a scale means you know how it's constructed ( you know the whole-steps and half-steps), you know how to figure out the notes in your head and on paper in all 12 keys with correct enharmonics (you not only know that G has an F#, you understand why, and why it's not called Gb), you can figure out the fingering over to octaves at least ascending and descending, and you know what each note sounds lik BEFORE you play it. Same with arppegios.

    Learning this stuff in an organized and logical order is how you learn instead of simply regurgitating memorized bits and pieces. Search the TB General Instruction forum for "order of theory" for reliable and accurate guidance. If you learn that the diatonic major scale is WWHWWH, that we use each note onc and only onc, and that C hs no sharps or flats, then you can determine FOR YOURSELF the correct notees in all the other keys.

    If you learn how chords are built in thirds by harmonizing the major scale, you learn not only the four primary 7th arppegios (Major 7, minor7, dominant 7, and minor 7 b5), but you also lean WHY I and IV are Major 7; why ii, iii, and vi are minor 7, V is dominant 7, and viii is minor 7 b5, AND how ii V I ties a chord progression to a key so you don't think of them as three discrete unrelatd entities.

    zontar and hintz like this.
  3. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    ^ That...and forget about modes until you get the basics down.
    KickingBass likes this.
  4. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    Before I provide suggestions, I will say that one of my least favorite direction given to musicians is "practice your scales". It's not that I don't think they're worth learning, but rather that it doesn't explain how to get the scales to be fluid and usable in a musical setting. I played them ascending and descending, and tried to "memorize" them, but they never seemed to stick. I thought it was just me, although I did do well in other subjects.

    Now I realize that playing ascending and descending scales in all keys is not the answer to the question of how to know them in a fluid and usable manner. And it's not me.

    There's a saying when you know something well, you "know it backward and forwards, and inside out". That's actually not a bad way to think about learning scales and keys. Practice them mindfully, in many different ways rather than just playing the same thing over and over. Each time you do them a different way, you have to pause and think about what you're doing. This is so much better than the mindful repetition that many of us have tried, but found to be not very helpful.

    There are many ways to add variety
    Practice scales with different fingerings. For a major scale, start with the first finger, then start with the second finger, then start with the fourth finger.
    For multiple octave scales, practice different locations for shifts.
    Start ascending, then descending one day. Start descending then ascending the next day. Play a different fingering ascending and descending.
    Play all the notes of a given key in every position on the keyboard (e.g. go up the E string, then up the A string, then up the D string, then up the G string. Then do descending, for each string, or alternate ascending/descending on different strings, etc).
    Play them while saying the note names. (can be done with any of the above)
    Play them while singing the note names. (can be done with any of the above)
    Play them while saying the scale degree. (can be done with any of the above)
    Play them by singing the scale degree. (can be done with any of the above)
    Play them by different intervals (e.g. thirds- play 1-3-2-4-3-5-4-6-5-7-6-8, then do 4ths, 5ths, etc.)
    Play the triads, starting with each scale degree. Name the notes, name the triad, and the intervals (e.g. Major third plus perfect fifth equals major triad, AND major third, then another minor third makes major triad). Like above, vary ascending/descending
    Play the 7th chords.

    Don't start by doing everything all at once. Try the first set of variations (fingerings), then as they start to feel familiar (you stop thinking about what you're doing), then add a variation. The variations will make you focus, and that's what you want. They will slow you down, and make you think. This is what you want. If you practice mindfully and regularly, fluidity will come.

    You need to do something with them every day, or nearly every day. Practicing regularly is more important than spending a lot of time in a single session.

    You can also do mental practice when you're away from your instrument, like waiting in line or when you are about to go to sleep.
    hintz, Whousedtoplay and AMp'D.2play like this.
  5. justbass57

    justbass57 Supporting Member

    Forget about the modes for now.

    First learn a major scale fingering, then learn the minor scale fingering.

    Learn the notes for each scale, the C major scale is the easiest (no sharps or flats; the C minor scale will introduce a Eb though)

    Don't get hung up on the names of the notes, it'll come with repetition; just remembering the fingering is easier and at first more important.

    Learn a easy tune, as you learn, try to learn the notes as well. This is more fun than learning dry scales.
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Just to reinforce the point that INTP made about scales....

    OP here is a link explaining the importance of CHORD TONES. The site itself is well worth working on from the beginning of the lessons.
    Yes, scales are important, but equally so are chord tones.

    I also agree about leaving the modes until you have the basics down.
    static0verdrive likes this.
  7. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Lots of great advice already. Ill just add WELCOME TO TALKBASS! :thumbsup:
  8. Remembering something in isolation (without context) can be hard.

    I like finding songs that use the arpeggio or mode, and then you can associate the sound of that scale or chord or arpeggio with that song. For example, the melody of Steve Vai's "The Riddle" is predominantly in Lydian mode, so getting familiar with that gives you a sense of what it sounds like, and then you can noodle along with that until your ear knows Lydian mode.
  9. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    This, too. I was into blues early on and the mode that stuck with me was mixolydian, due to all those 7th cords.

    The goal of learning scales and modes is so that we can apply them in context.
  10. I'm a pattern person. But instead of a zillion patterns I use one. The major scale box and then I alter it to get the chord, arpeggio, scale or mode I need. For example the spelling for the major scale is R-1-2-3-4-5-6-7 if I want Lydian I sharp the 4 and if I want mixolydian I flat the 7. Cmaj7 chord coming up; its spelling is R-3-5-7, want to use the natural minor scale for this song; flat the 3, 6 & 7. Yes it's that simple. Course you need to know where those 3's, 5's & 7's are and that is where the box comes into play. And you will need to know the spellings for what you intend on using.

    Post # 14 of this string will give you the box and spellings I talk about above.

    Good luck.

    BTW I ditto the others remarks about leaving modes alone until you start taking lead breaks. Modes confuse. There are more important things you should be spending you time on. Of course IMO.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2015
    bassbully likes this.
  11. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Just repeat these things, playing slowly and calling out each note whilst you play it. If need be, start whilst reading the information until it sticks.
    Don't rush.
  12. radioface


    May 2, 2013
    Practice daily and integrate modes into your practice. Listen to music and play along, using the modes that you have learned. Go to jam sessions and see if you can remember the modes you have learned while under the pressure of playing in a live situation. Talk to other musicians about modes and how they (the other musicians) apply them in their playing.
  13. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you really want to take your playing to the next level find a good teacher.
  14. deste


    Sep 14, 2009
    Bologna, Italy, Europe
    Endorsing Artist: GullanskyLab pickups
    All suggestions above are right and very useful.
    Usually when teaching I try to use "real" songs, "real" bass lines to explain the "real" use of scales (and theory): i.e., I teach Bob Marley's "Stir it up" to explain major scales and major triad arpeggios.
    A good exercise could be finding where a certain interval/arpeggio/scale/whatyouwant is used in a song.
    Anyway a teacher is always a good way to start: he(she) can tell you haw to do the right things, but most of all how to avoid the bad things...
  15. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    Yes. Study and practice. Ain't no shortcut ... no secret formula, no magic incantation.
  16. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    +1 to what Malcolm said. A lot of playing is just pattern, in different places on the neck.
  17. Pillsy


    Dec 28, 2014
    As several of the posters have recommended, think of the notes as number positions. I, III, V, VII, etc. Learn the difference between Major III vs. minor III, bV (flat V), Major VII vs. Dominant VII. Remember the Major scale is: W,W,H,W,W,W,H. (Whole and Half steps) When you practice arpeggios', try playing each one in all keys using the circle of fifths. (C, G, D, A, E, etc.) Also play your arpeggios' and scales in 2 octaves and try using different fingering positions.
  18. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Start with the very simplest concepts and don't move onto another concept until you've completely mastered that one to where you can recite it in your sleep. It's better to spend 5 minutes fully memorizing and absorbing one concept about music than it is to spend that same 5 minutes trying to absorb 5 different concepts. Even if it takes longer than 5 minutes, stay with it till you've got it down pat.
    hintz and INTP like this.
  19. Arabic numerals for intervals or notes in a scale: major 2nd, perfect 5th, triads made of root, 3rd, 5th, etc.

    Roman numerals for chords in a key: ii7 - V7 - IM7 turnaround is made of the minor 2 chord, the dominant 5 chord, and the tonic or one major 7th chord.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2015
  20. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I agree with this. It's better to be slow and steady.

    One of the frustrating things about going too fast is that you get an illusion of fluency, which is to say that something looks familiar, but you don't really know it. As you build on it, that gap makes you feel frustrated that you're "not getting it". Doubt and frustration seeps in and since you don't feel any progress, you stop doing the work, etc.
    JimmyM likes this.

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