Shapes and Scales

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bassman2020, Nov 19, 2013.

  1. bassman2020


    Dec 8, 2010
    Here is my instructor’s explanation as to why it’s important to know the notes not just he shapes of a scale. Your thoughts?

    “Eventually we're going to take the scales and use them to create arpeggios. An arpeggio is a chord with the notes played individually instead of all at one time. As a bass player, you absolutely have to have the same knowledge of chords and arpeggios that a guitar player and a piano player would have so that you are able to create bass lines that support those chords.

    If you're like most bassists, someday you want to improvise over something that you already know how to play very well. In order to improvise you will have to know the various scales and their modes which are germane to the song. The modes can be a little challenging but this will be exacerbated without a solid note name foundation.

    Also, someday you're going to find yourself in a room playing with other musicians and someone will get the bright idea to change one of the songs that you're playing by adding an extended intro or outro or lengthening the middle section for a jam, etc. You might be asked to play a repetitive pattern of notes that occurs over a four chord sequence. Without knowing your note names, you would probably question why you were playing that repetitive sequence but if you know your note names then you would be able to see that the notes in the pattern are contained in all 4 chords.

    Lastly, knowing your note names makes the process of learning songs so much easier. As you build your repertoire you will need to remember the parts of songs and trust me, after you've learned your fifth blues song, they all tend to blend together. Without knowing your note names, your entire frame of reference for learning songs will be geometric patterns. That's fine for memorizing one particularly tricky lick but is not a reliable methodology for retaining songs in the long run.

    Bottom line, you're learning how to be a better musician so you need to learn the language of music and it all starts with note names. It would be the equivalent of trying to learn English by learning the shapes of words but not learning the 26 letters in the alphabet.”

    Hope this helps.

  2. Zootsuitbass


    Mar 13, 2011
    Gospel… trust him.
  3. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    He's right on most of it, but the language learning parallel is not in place (as a linguist, I wonder why so many people reach for it when they take at least a half of the equation for granted). namely, YOU CAN learn a language and be illiterate in it. After all, most kids can talk their mother tongue quite fluently long before they learn to read or write it.

    Anyway, the importance of actually knowing the where individual notes are on your fingerboard is essential and indisputable! Shapes are what they are, and they make certain aspects of playing easier, but as such they should help you, not confine you.
  4. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I'm a pattern guy. I think in scale degree numbers and box patterns.

    Now if you use standard notation you will need note names and where the notes are on the fretboard.

    Both are related and both have their place. However a lot has to do with the type of sheet music you will be using.

    I'm never handed standard notation, fake chord is what is pass amount musicians in my World. So I use it with Roman numbers for chords, Arabic numbers for notes along with Nashville numbers and the major scale box.

    I can function with note names, I prefer to play another way.
  5. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    A little light bulb went off last night, that knowing patterns and scale and note names is all of some importance, but it doesn't really come together unless/until you know the root (name and location) of the chord you're playing against currently and where the root (name and location) of the next chord (up or down) is in relation to that root.

    I think if I can get that in mind and working for me I'd be in a better way towards playing walking lines 'on the fly', instead of just learning/reading patterns from a book.

    Even if you choose to hit an inversion note of the chord on the 1st beat of the change measure it's awfully good to know what root you're playing to.
  6. Yep that's good stuff. I studied with Jeff Berlin for a one week intensive and not once did we ever discuss a shape or predetermined fingering for anything. We talked strictly about notes. You have to really know your fretboard, key signatures etc. to be able to do this. But it really helps to free one from patterns and licks.
  7. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    There is a world of knowledge out there in music. Note reading, theory, knowing your instrument, understanding styles, music history... all kinds of stuff. If you're really interested in music, and want to play, why not learn as much as you can about all of it. Patterns help, if you need to transpose key quickly, knowing notes and where they all are on the neck is great information also. Anything you learn will make you better. If there are two ways to do something, why not learn them both?
  8. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Shapes restrict you. Knowing the notes opens up the world of possibilities.
  9. Papa Dangerous

    Papa Dangerous

    Feb 1, 2011
    I agree with both sides. Knowing the shapes is really helpful because it becomes reliable. Knowing the notes allows you to expand beyond those shapes. But then again... if you think about it... no matter what you play, you will more or less form a certain pattern to some degree. So these ideas can intertwine together and compliment each other in your playing.

    How about this notion. If you do not know the notes on the fretboard and exactly how to find them (which is why it is helpful to have a general idea of where they are); just knowing how to spell chords, knowing their different qualities and how these fit into scales (key signatures) may be all you need until location of the notes just becomes second nature. So its something learn and internalized without necessary making practice of studying the fretboard.
  10. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    But you are confine in your box and never get out from what I gather from various post of yours.

    I also know how to deal with chord ( most jazz music is like that with the melody written in standart notation ) but I can also read standart notation in treble, bass and a little in tenor clef. I also can tell what I'm doing or where I could play different thing, not limited to the 5 first fret no matter the song.
  11. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    You can play music without knowing how to read or even the note names ... but as an illetrate, you are limited to what you know and what other tell you. You can't expend by yourself.

    Pretty much like learning English or any other languages, you spoke English way before you learn to read, spell words, learn how a sentence is build and a bunch of other stuff that in the end let you speak like an adult and have a discution on a complexe subject without sounding like a kid or learn stuff about your job.

    Same thing with music, you can pretty much fonction in rock and roll without knowledge of anything but once you gain knwledge you can expend to some kind of music that would make absolutly no sense otherwise. You can learn music that never been intended to be played on bass etc.
  12. oleskool


    Sep 27, 2011
    Detroit, Mi.
    What I am finding is, first you pick up a bass. You fiddle around on it learn a few of your favorite songs. Then you start craving more information. I asked a much better player that I met in a music store, what should I learn next. His answer was know the notes on your axe, then get yourself some cord sheets and learn what that's all about. Then if you have been doing some note reading along the way, you will be able to play with anybody. To me that's the same thing the OP's instructor was saying.
  13. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Sooner or later, you're going to be in a playing situation where you will be pulled out of your shapes, and you will end up lost. The OP speaks gospel here. Shortcuts will eventually backfire on you, and shapes are a shortcut.

    Also, bringing up the language thing where it's possible to speak a language without knowing how to read or write it is a bit of a red herring. Nobody is ever immersed in music playing to the degree that babies are immersed in a spoken language, so I don't even get the comparison, quite honestly. A more apt comparison is learning a second language after you learn your first. For me, I'm not immersed in Spanish like I was English, so it was much harder to get anywhere with it. It's much the same with music.
  14. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    Relying on shapes can get you into hot water when you must immediately make a key change. Musicians who rely on shapes endlessly gripe about changing keys because they are locked into the tyranny of shapes (or "licks"). Basically, they only know one way to get the job done.

    Funny thing is by dispensing with shapes and REALLY learning your fretboard, you can come up with innovative ways to play those same licks with more efficiency, and unlock cooler ways to link cord changes in your basslines.
  15. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    + 1,000 "For some bass players it's enough to know just the patterns and shapes in order to have fun or play Praise & Worship music."

    I'll add Country to that.
  16. The point the instructor makes is about playing new music with other people. We have to have a common way to communicate what we're playing, and expecting others to play with you by ear isn't reasonable. So you should know note names as a basic way of communicating.

    I'll also add something that really helped me learn new things:
    People absorb information in three basic ways - Hearing Feeling & Seeing
    But almost everyone has two strengths and one weakness. In my example I know I feel and see, but hearing is my weakness. Pitch takes a lot of work for me to get, i don't remember exactly what people said, or how they sounded saying it, but I do know where they were standing and what they looked like.

    With the bass (or any instrument) I can feel the shapes and how my fingers move and replicate that motion much better than I can hear what I was playing in my head.

    I'm pointing that out because it helps me get over a lot of negative feelings when I'm learning. I also see people skip the basics, like what your instructor is saying about notes and names, only because their strengths don't play to that approach. But if you're an ear and eyes person I would imagine it would take you a bit to learn to get your fingers to hit just above the frets, or to play a pentatonic scale anywhere one neck maybe. I just feel that it's important to take time working on your weakness.
  17. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Hey suit yourself. I always assume that people are actually trying to better themselves. I'm probably wrong. That's fine. There's enough competition out there where we don't need anymore, and that helps weed them out.
  18. Manichga


    Aug 13, 2013
    Get familiar with the circle of 5ths/4th. Using that, you get to understand the relationships betweens keys, order of sharps/flats, relative majors/minors etc. know as much theory as you can I say. Nobody was ever a worse player because they understood what they were playing.
  19. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I think you do best knowing both. Certainly you need to know the note names on the fingerboard. Then, when learning chord theory you get to know what makes up each chord. Personally, however, I don't think of the name of every note I play. Mainly, I think of the name and location of the root. From there I understand what the function of each note in the pattern is, and that is mostly how I think while playing. But If I need to also know what the names of the notes in the pattern are, I also already know that. It's just that I don't have to concentrate on their names while playing. I just play in relation to where the root is, whether I'm playing the root or not. I also have a degree in theory, so I understand both sides. When I was teaching I often showed students a pattern and explained what the fuction of each note is (like, ya gotta know where the roots, thirds and fifths are, for example). If they wanted to dig deeper we would need to discuss chord theory in order for telling them the names of each note to have any meaning beyond just a note name.
  20. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    First, I totally agree with the notion of learning to play an instrument being comparable with learning a SECOND language - and that is what so many people out there readily misunderstand, including the greats like Victor Wooten, IMHO. That is why they use the analogy of scales being the alphabet, whereas it is more of a phonological system...but that is not the point here.

    I do not even think that learning the shapes or notes is really exclusive! I see the two as complementary and there is a lot or value in learning both. Heck, even some great educators, such as David Baker, are proponents of fingering patterns for the purpose of easier transposition etc.

    In the end, it all depends on how far you aim in your approach to playing music :)