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Scale theory and playing. Does a lightbulb just come on or what?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by LoJoe, Dec 13, 2002.

  1. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    After being "self taught" for about 6 months, I started lessons recently. In addition to working on my hand and fingering techniques, my instructor has been drilling scales into me. Major modes, minor modes, dominant modes, arpeggios, all those words ending in "ian". working all around the circle of 5ths etc... This has been less than exciting, but I've been dilligent and have not had any problems with it so far. I keep wondering how this will all tie in to my song playing and he keeps saying "Have patience Grasshopper, just keep practicing them." So...for the veterans out there, will a light bulb just go off one day where I'll think "Oh my gosh, this is what it's all about!!" Or will it just gradually happen over the coming months. In the band I'm in, we don't get notation. We just get a lyric sheet with the roots written above the words.

    Kind of like this....

    He tells me that all this scale theory is going to really help me in making creative lines and riffs instead of just banging out C G C, and I think I'm starting to see that it will someday. Just having trouble with that patience part. Sigh...
  2. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    Thanks Ed! I guess I'll keep plugging away then and my teacher did say that after the holiday break and I had all of this scale stuff down pretty well, we would start working on "interval recognition and your ears" so that sounds like where we're going. I guess the problem now is that I do in fact hear those lines sometimes, but the fingers are still a little chicken to go try them without mapping them out first. He tells me that with patience and time, I will be amazed at what I will be doing spontaneously just a couple of months from now. It's the waiting and working that sucks sometimes...but then that's what life is about I guess. Thanks again!
  3. ZZMorgan


    Sep 6, 2002
    Los Angeles
    You might want to mix your scale exercises with playing along with recordings of songs you like. The process of working out what the bass player is doing and matching it will help you relate your exercises to actual songs.

    Plus, it will give you many ideas of different licks you can incorporate into your own playing. There is no law that says every bass player has to re-invent the wheel and build all his lines from scratch. Taking lines from other players, adding your own variations to them, etc. is how the art of bass playing evolves and remains fresh.

    Soon, as Ed pointed out, your own voice will start to come through and you will find that while the original lick you started with may have come from someone else, you have moved beyond it.

    But stay with the scales and such. Those are your basics. It's like a basketball player spending hours and hours getting his jump shot down cold. Once he has it, he can do it from anywhere on the court at any time.

    After 31 years, I still devote a considerable amount of time to them. They are great warm ups.

    Good luck.


    P.S. One of my early teachers told me the following: "OK, kid, you've got about 5,000 mistakes to make before you get this right. Let's get 'em all out of the way early." I think he underestimated the number.
  4. frederic b. hodshon

    frederic b. hodshon

    May 10, 2000
    Redmond, WA
    Microsoft Product Designer
    don't forget to practice your arpeggios to.

    i got stuck for a while just practicing scales.

    things REALLY opened up when i started studying chord theory.

    instead of


    i'd practice


    it not only sounded more musical, but the fretboard became clearer!

    some of the great walking bassists - ron carter, rufus reid, etc... utilize large leaps in the walking lines.

    mix it up!

    learning tunes and analyzing brings all this together too.

  5. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Practicing scales/modes and learning theory will be invaluable as soon as you start talking with another musician and realize that you can convey your ideas and understand theirs. It will also get you more gigs.

  6. just_a_poser


    Apr 20, 2002
    I wouldn't say it's just a lightbulb.

    More like a series of lightbulbs.
  7. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    Great thread and great replies.

    My experience is that there is never a lightbulb that just on and then everything is great. Light bulbs generally go on, then burn out and are never fun to change in between because you're often in the dark again until you get the new bulb in....

    This player thing truly is a journey. You are as good as what you put into it. It takes work, sacrifice, dedication and yes - talent. Very relative, indeed.

    If you want to be good, I mean REALLY WANT TO BE GOOD, then you are likely blessed with a bit of talent which will motivate you to follow through and practice hard, make your sacrifices, pay your dues, etc...

    Great thread.. bump, etc...
  8. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    Ok, Thought I'd check in. It's 2 months later and I've been scaling my A$$ off! Major scales, minor scales, mixolodian, pyrigian, lydian, even accordian I think. Chord patterns, majors, minors, major 7ths, dominant, diminished, augmented, 1/2 diminished blah blah blah. All around the circle of 5ths, back around the circle of 4ths. All of this ad nauseum to the point of bleeding.

    Know what? It friggin works! The light bulbs started slowly at first, but now it's getting to be like Christmas time. To have only been playing since last June, I sound pretty doggone good now. No more simple root banging. I can anticipate changes, create lines over them, come up with bass lines in my head and put them on my fingers in real time. I can hear scale patterns in the music I listen to(Suprised how many songs rely on simple scale patterns to derive their riffs). In many cases I can hear a song one time, and then play a basic line over it the second time with no charts. Heck sometimes I can do it the first time. Songs that I originally thought sounded good with simple root banging sound incredible now with a little structured creativity!

    My teacher says that now that I have drilled in the basic theory, we are going to start having some fun and learning how to apply it.

    Taking lessons was the best idea I ever had for bass playing. If you're considering it, do it. If you can't swing it, learn some theory on your own. It will pay off one day. Just my opinion and thanks again for the original motivation guys!

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