Why learn scales?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bluebyrd, Apr 12, 2003.

  1. bluebyrd


    Jun 12, 2000
    Hi All. I've been playing a while (a couple years), but haven't had any formal instruction. I'm thinking about taking lessons, but it is costly.

    Anyway, what is the reason for learning scales? Does it really make it that much easier to figure out a song? I'm just a casual player, not in a band or anything. If I hear a song I like, I'll sit down and figure it out, but it takes me awhile unless it's really easy. Will learning scales speed up this process? I only know the major scale now, but am learning more. I am also learning to sight read standard bass notation (not tab) from sheet music.

    Also, can anyone recommend a good book or book/cd combo from which to learn? I have a book called "Serious Electric Bass" by Joel DeBartolo. A great book, but slow going for me. I think I just need to spend more time with it, and my reading will get better. Are there any complete courses out there for electric bass?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. Jason Carota

    Jason Carota Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2002
    Lowell, MA
    Scales in and of themselves will not help to speed up the process of learning songs. Most songs do not contain any scale played note-for-note. Learning the theory and function of scales (along with chords) will help, however.

    There are many books on this subject. Most of them are very good, including the one you mentioned. Do a quick search and you will find many reccomendations. My favorite happens to be "The Jazz Theory Book," by Mark Levine.

    This forum is a great source of materail, too. Make sure you check out this article created by TB's own Jazzbo.
  3. 5stringDNA


    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    A second on what Jason said. A quick serach will bring up lots of books, and jazzbo's article is excellent. As far as the scales, I am goign to humbly disagree and say that knowign your scales alone can make it easier to learn songs for one reason- You have a certain set of notes to work with instead of all the notes, and simply by eliminating notes not in the scale you are steered more quickly to the roots of the chords. Of crouse not every note used in the song is always goign to be in the scale, but the majority of the root chord tones will be. But like Jason said-scales only help so much, and you need to learn how chords are made from the scales, etc., for them to be useful as more than just "hints".:)
  4. I think learning scales will help you learn songs because it will help you recognize certain patterns and 'hear' them better. As for scales in songs, there are lots and lots of jazz tunes where an entire scale is played within a walking line; you also might check out some of Chris Squire's (of Yes) early work.

    An aside on this is interval training. You should be able to recognize a major second, minor second, major third, minor third, etc. Why? Because a bass line, broken down, is just a series of intervals in some rhythmic fashion. I think this is a very important yet overlooked part of learning how to play an instrument.

    As for a book, not really sure. Others may be able to help.
  5. why learn scales? WHY LEARN SCALES? they are the bassics of just about everything. If you ever want to be a serious bassists you definately want to learn them. They will help you recognize patters, make you able to improvise, allow you to write songs of your own, and make it so that you understand what other people are talking about.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Y l3rn th3 appl3b3t if u alr3ddy rit3 grat3?
  7. bluebyrd


    Jun 12, 2000
    I'm starting to get the picture. I just didn't recall any songs that I could readily pick out a certain scale from. I guess most songs use parts of scales?

    This is new to me, so sorry for the dumb question. I find scales rather dry and boring to practice, which is probably why I don't practice them as much as I should. I've been trying to think up little riffs and tunes when I practice them, and that's been helping.

    I really don't understand Pacman's method of scale practice either, though I've read it more than once. I hope I'm not hopeless....

    Thanks for everyone's help.
  8. Ben Mishler

    Ben Mishler

    Jan 22, 2003
    San Jose
    They are important to learn as they really make up a lot of the foundation of bass playing. Of course, they are more important to some one who plays in a band and writes music, but they should be important to everyone as really are a big part of the basic fundamentals of playing.
  9. Don't worry, I doubt anyone finds scales any fun to practice. But it's definitely worth it.

    And don't worry if you don't understand Pacman's method yet, just try and get that teacher for now. You'll eventually understand it.
  10. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    There really aren't many songs out there, outside of classical music and some jazz, that I can't readily find scales in. Nearly all modern rock music fits into major or natural minor scales. Remember, a scale is a series of notes; they don't have to be played in a particular order or anything. It just lets you know what notes are available and what notes are most likely to be used.
  11. Thor

    Thor Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    There are a couple of compelling reasons to learn this.

    1} Physical training - scales work your fingers and get them used to moving in certain patterns and force you to strengthen the muscles in all the fingers of your left hand.

    2} Mental training - scales both major, related minor and their derivatives force you to examine the basics of the building blocks of musical theory.
    A good working knowledge of theory is essential to a musician's development.

    Bass playing encompasses both the mental capacity to create and the physical ability to play music. As an artist, you owe it to yourself to avail yourself of every possible tool to further your musical abilities.

    Playing scales is like practicing tackling in football, you don't need to spend the workout doing it, but you are a poor player if you ignore it altogether.

  12. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Learning scales in and of themselves will not make you a better player. Learning how to use the scales properly and then integrating them into your style will make you so much of a better player that you won't know how you got along without them.

    Unfortunately, that is the hard part. One way to get started on integrating the theory is to listen to some of your favourite lines carefully and see how scalar lines fit in. Getting a teacher will help tremendously with this, as they will be able to see exactly where you are at and give you exercises to overcome specific problems.

    Is practicing scales boring? Yes. Unfortunately, you do have to know them better than the back of your own hand in order to use them properly. To make it more interesting, once you know your scales, make them musical - ie, play them with different rhythms, harmonize in thirds, as opposed to straight up-and-down runs. But don't get ahead of yourself - if you find yourself hesitating, you need more basic scale practice.
  13. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Let me throw in this additional idea to the discussion. The building blocks of scales are intervals. Intervals are the sonic distance between scale tones. If you understand intervals and can begin to recognize intervals, such as a perfect fourth or a minor third or a major seventh, you can better be able to pick out the notes you are hearing.

    By learning the stucture of a major scale or a minor scale (or any others), and learning the intervals they contain, you will get a much faster fix on what you are hearing in a song.

    I'm not just whistling Dixie on these statements. None other than Gary Willis in his "Ear Training for Bass Guitar" starts out by working with identification of intervals. Other ear training programs do the same.

    The other point is that scales are the mothers of the chords. Modes also come from scales. If you do not learn the patterns of various frequently used scales, you will greatly limit your growth and versatility as a musician.