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When to learn theory?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Huge94, Dec 22, 2012.

  1. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009

    First of all, I've been playing bass for about a year and I'm about to enter my first band. I would really like to learn to read, listen and understand music so as to go to the next level. My question is: when should I start learning theory?

    Now before you all say ''the earliest the better'', I would like to state that I feel I'm still really learning my instrument. I can play simple bass lines without too much effort, but I would say that I'm still in the ''beginner'' phase since I still work very hard to learn songs and play them correctly.

    Considering I practice anywhere between 1 to 3 hours everyday, I don't know if I can fit music theory in addition to all the exercises and songs. Should I wait before I am really at ease with my bass and can play consistently without problem before taking the next step?

    Thanks very much!
  2. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    As soon as you plan to play music rather than just play an instrument.
    I don't mean this in a sarcastic way, to me it is the truth.
    Numbers are fun but notes are even more.
  3. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    No. If you want to learn theory, that should be part of your daily routine. There is more to learning to play the bass than knowing where the notes are on the fretboard.

    Read this, then read it again. You'll never get better advice. Also, just an observation, but most of the people telling you not to worry about learning theory will be the ones that don't know it.

  4. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009
    I totally understand. Fact of the matter is, I don't think I am ready for that now. The band I'm soon to enter is a cover band, so no need for compos for now.
  5. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009
    The funny thing is that it is this comment that lead me to ask this question.

    Right now I'm still at the stage of knowing the names of the notes I'm playing. As in, I can play a succession of notes without problem and in good rythm, but I have no idea which note I'm actually playing...
  6. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    It's never too early or too late to learn. And learning theory has nothing to do with cover vs original bands. I've played primarily in cover bands my whole career and I've never been in a band where I didn't use knowledge I learned from studying theory.

    It's really quite simple - do you want to be the best bass player YOU can be? If the answer is yes, start devoting time each day to learning theory.
  7. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    You'd be amazed at how much a bit of theory helps decyphering and learning covers.
    You don't need much really.
    Keys, scales, chords, how they interact with each other, a bit of harmony and you're done for a long way already.
    Contrary to the popular belief, it's a lot of fun.
  8. hgiles


    Nov 8, 2012
    Once you know enough theory, you'll realize there are only about ten or so songs in the world.

    I find that much easier than trying to learn millions of songs.

    I'd suggest as a first step determining and identifying when you are on the I chord, when on IV, and when on V.
  9. Even if it's just basic, practical theory, and you save the advanced stuff for later(or never bother), I say start working it in as soon as possible, and try to pick up something everyday.
  10. bassistjoe93

    bassistjoe93 Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2011
    The earlier, the better man. If you don't have access to an educated bass teacher (which would be my first recommendation), I would suggest getting a book like this:


    It starts out very simple at the bare bones basic and systematically works up to pretty advanced stuff. It teaches notes, scales, how to read, and how to apply what you learned. It's the book I started out with, and I still learn something new from it when I go back through it. Ed Friedland is the man!
  11. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    I have some very complicated guidelines to learning theory, timewise:

    If you have been playing for a long time, and don't know any theory at all, the time to learn theory would be, according to my formula, NOW.

    If you are just getting started as a player, and don't know any theory at all, the time to learn theory would be, according to my formula, NOW.

    If you are thinking about getting started, and have started looking at pictures of instruments, or banging on some pots and pans, the time to learn theory would be, according to my formula, NOW.

    If you are in a cave, and a bear is rushing you, and you have a weapon, you may want to check your local hunting laws, as far as season, but I would say there's a chance you may have to shoot the critter. I hope you have some very powerful ammo, and are able to get off more than one shot, but once the bear is dispatched, and you are out of danger, the time to learn theory would be, according to my formula, NOW.

    Do I have to go on, or is anyone starting to see a pattern?
  12. Now - start now!!!

  13. I have one called Music Theory for Guitar, bought back when I was playing more guitar than bass, and while it is guitar centered, most of the fundamental stuff still applies to bass. It's also published by Hal Leonard, and has been an excellent resource.
  14. BassIsFun17

    BassIsFun17 Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2006
    i started becoming interested with music theory when i was 15 or 16, i started playing bass when i was 14, and im now 22 going on 23 in the summer. it has definitely taken my ability to compose and improvise music to amazing levels. There is still alot that I am learning obviously, theory is a continuous learning process in my eyes. Music theory can go so much deeper than just being able to pick up any instrument. It becomes your whole subconcious. it becomes your form of communication.

    i wrote a blog about it here:

  15. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Tampa, FL.
    I'm going to go against the grain and say that the best time to start learning theory (besides learning basic scales and arpeggios) is about a year after you've already been playing. My thought behind that is that theory can be very hard to grasp and understand unless you already have some ability to apply it to your instrument. Otherwise you're just learning concepts without having an real direction or ability to apply them to anything, which means you're more likely to get frustrated learning them and you'll be more likely to forget them.
  16. JohnMCA72


    Feb 4, 2009
    As noted by others, having a good basic understanding of music theory helps in ways that are hard to imagine for those who don't have it. The thing is, you never stop learning. It's not like you can spend a month (or a week, or a year, etc.) learning theory, & then you know it all so you're done. For the rest of your life, there will be new things to discover.

    Music theory is all about understanding why things work the way they do & how to take advantage of them. Would you think about designing & building a bridge without a good understanding of structural materials, stresses, capacities, methods, costs, etc.?

    Last week I showed a bandmate how to play something on their instrument, an instrument that I had never touched before in my life. I was able to do that because I have a decent understanding of music theory.

    I started when I was 7. I'm nowhere close to being finished learning.
  17. SlowMike


    Nov 28, 2012
    My screen name isn't out of false modesty or a misnomer. When it comes to music, I'm not a natural. Slow fingers, slow brain, etc... I always try to apply what little theory I know to what I'm playing or learning. The better I understand a song's (or even an individual bar's) structure, the more likely I am to remember the tune and find the right notes with my fingers, which is always a challenge for me.
  18. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009
    Thanks everyone for your answers.

    You lot have really convinced me to start doing it, even though I'm still learning my instrument. I do think I have a basic understanding of how a bass works, now I need to know how those things called notes work!

    I have just purchased the Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory because I saw great reviews about it. Have anyone learned from that particular guide? What did you think of it?
  19. You speak of learning how to play and learning theory as if they are two different things. They're not, you can't have one without the other. In your particular instance you're just not as aware of the formal theory. You know it, you just don't know the formal names of things. You need to learn at least the fundamentals of theory, or you'll never get anywhere with learning how to play.
  20. You should know just a bit more theory than you can use. If you think you don't need it, there is far more to it than you think. I'm college educated about theory and there is a load of it I can barely understand in real time.