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Old 04-20-2014, 04:55 PM   #1
hootie37
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Music Theory related: I know theory, but it isn't helping my playing

OK, I understand numerous scales (pentatonic, every mode of the major, etc.), but when I make bass lines, solos, whatever, I find that I get stuck in this box of just kinda running through the scales and randomly picking notes from the scale.


Instead of actually forming lines that sound good, I usually end up playing things that sound OK, but not really good or emotional, which is what I'm wanting.


I really want to be able to use my knowledge of scales/intervals to create emotional and well written pieces and improvisations, but I feel that my theory knowledge is ultimately holding me back because I get stuck inside this metaphorical box when I play of just following the scale and not picking the next note I play because it sounds good, only because it "works".


When I see guys who are constantly playing things that sound good, it blows my mind because I know I should be able to play like them, but I can't. I am extremely frustrated.


How do I solve this problem?
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Old 04-20-2014, 05:06 PM   #2
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Figure out how some of your favourite songs use the major amd minor scales to make sounds that you like.
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Old 04-20-2014, 05:12 PM   #3
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This is the problem you are faced with when relying too much on theory. Music theory is a great tool, but not on its own, its merely a part of the holy trinity of musicianship. (Atleast thats when i like to call it when i am feeling more spiritual about it).

The two parts you might be missing or having too little of are:

1) A good ear. Getting a good ear is one of the best things you can do as a musician. Being able to learn stuff simply by listening to it is an amazing thing to be able to do, even better with some theoretical knowledge so you can understand what you are playing. I always advocate for a good ear over anything else. There are many ways to go about developing a good ear, everything from ear training exercises on the internet to learning actual music by ear. Personally, i prefer the later one, its more fun.

2) Inspiration, and i dont mean lacking the inspiration to play. I mean you might be abit short on material you´ve learned from the players you admire. Learning songs by the players you admire teaches you many things, what licks sound good, what chord they sound good over, how different instruments work together etc. There is nothing wrong with stealing ideas from your favorite players and take into your own playing, as Guthrie Govan said "If you steal from one person its theft, if you steal from many its research". So learn from your inspirations, take a look at what they played with that scale or over that chord and so on.

I hope that was helpful. I would really recommend you to start learning tunes by ear and start working on using ideas from the players you enjoy in your own playing, it helps you grow naturally as a musician. As said though, dont focus on one player, you dont want to be a copycat.

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Old 04-20-2014, 05:40 PM   #4
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If you just know random theoretical terms, it's not actually knowing theory. You need to know what they mean in practice. That's when you actually know theory (when you know it in practice). So work on your ear. There's no use for theory if you don't understand it in practice. Music doesn't work on paper, it's all about sound. So next time you study theory, don't just learn the names and how they work on paper. Also listen to how different stuff sounds like. For example how major scale sounds like and how minor scale sounds like? What notes make them different? How do those notes sound like? What does an I-IV-V progression mean? How does it sound like? How can you play it in different keys? Do you know any songs that use those chords? Try to find an answer to this kind of questions. Knowing the figerings and the name of a scale isn't knowing theory.
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:04 PM   #5
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Yep, like these guys say, you need ear training to be able to know instinctively what it's going to sound like from one interval to another, so you can "hear" in your head what something is going to sound like before you play it. Music theory is great, but it's not gonna reveal how to properly phrase licks so they sound good to you, any more than it's going to teach you how to two-hand tap.
Also, like these guys say, learn songs by ear, that'll be a big help, and cop licks from players you like. And no, it ain't stealing, everybody does it, especially when practically every lick has already been done by someone at some point. Most other licks are just variations. Learn them by ear, tab, however you can, and actually analyze the licks and see why they sound good.
Ear training is boring, but it'll give you a huge leg-up on the many, many guitarists who don't do it (as well as solving your problem!). Try this:
http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-interval
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:09 PM   #6
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Can you hear a line in your head?
Not a disjointed pattern.

Put a song on your music player and lay a line over it. Hum the line, whistle.
If you can do that then it is just a matter of getting it from your head to your fingers.

"If you can sing it, you can play it." Best thing my teacher ever taught me.
If you know the intervals well enough to sing the line you have wrapped your head around it successfully.
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:54 PM   #7
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The funny thing about theory is that once you learn it, you're supposed to forget it. When coming up with something, a solo for example, the notes that don't "fit," "theory" wise, are sometimes the sexiest ones to include. Try listening more and don't think so much about the theory behind everything you play. Figure it out after you come up with it, more than likely it will fit closely within the confines of something that is "theoretically" correct.
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:44 PM   #8
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Ok I had the EXACT same problem as you. You need to understand INTERVALS. That is the golden ticket. You are not playing stuff you really like because your ear is not trained enough, simple as that.

You need to understand/hear/feel what a minor third sounds like over a minor chord. (2:18 in video)

You need to understand/hear/feel what a perfect fifth sounds like over a chord etc.
etc.

Check out Tom Hess's free online lessons on this stuff. It helped me.

and FYI, I am in no way affiliated with him at all. Some of his videos are really do provide a unique and clever view on such topics.

You also should learn about all the various rhythms.
And...learn some piano. Yes, piano...

Here

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Old 04-20-2014, 09:53 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Led man32
The funny thing about theory is that once you learn it, you're supposed to forget it. When coming up with something, a solo for example, the notes that don't "fit," "theory" wise, are sometimes the sexiest ones to include. Try listening more and don't think so much about the theory behind everything you play. Figure it out after you come up with it, more than likely it will fit closely within the confines of something that is "theoretically" correct.

This is bullshit.


TS, it sounds like you just muscle memorized the scales rather than actually learning how they sound.
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Old 04-20-2014, 10:15 PM   #10
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Care to elaborate on the alleged bullshit?

Playing notes outside of a scale is bullshit?
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:02 PM   #11
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Here's what needs to be understood about music theory, OP. It does not teach you to write music. The main purpose of music theory (other than as a communicative tool) is that it helps you to know how things are going to sound. The point isn't to know how to run up and down a scale. The point is to know how those notes are going to sound, preferably before you even play them. Theory doesn't tell you "you're in the key of C, so you can only play notes in the key of C." It tells you "you're in the key of C, so it's going to sound like this if you play the leading tone B, or it's going to sound like this if you play Bb, a note which is out of key." Music theory is not made up of rules. It is a tool that helps you predict what your note choice is going to sound like, and yes that includes choosing notes that some people think 'break the rules' of what theory supposedly tells them to do. If I tell you that I am playing in the key of Emin (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D), somebody who doesn't understand the point of music theory will tell me that I can't play a C# because it is not sticking to a scale or the notes of the key. Those who understand the point will know that that's nonsense and realize that music theory just tells me what it's going to sound like if I play a C#. Music theory is only a limitation if you don't get the point.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:05 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Led man32
Care to elaborate on the alleged bullshit?

Playing notes outside of a scale is bullshit?


i think what he really means is that, good sounding notes are never really out of scale, theres always some theoretical explaination behind them, the sharp 7th in a minor, a minor third addition to a major pentatonic and the addition of chromatic passages are all very stable parts of music theory.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:06 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Led man32
The funny thing about theory is that once you learn it, you're supposed to forget it. When coming up with something, a solo for example, the notes that don't "fit," "theory" wise, are sometimes the sexiest ones to include. Try listening more and don't think so much about the theory behind everything you play. Figure it out after you come up with it, more than likely it will fit closely within the confines of something that is "theoretically" correct.

You're treating theory like it's a bunch of rules. It's not.

@TS:
Use your ears. Train them. Develop them. Know what sounds good and what doesn't. Learn how to achieve the sound you want.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:15 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by macashmack
TS, it sounds like you just muscle memorized the scales rather than actually learning how they sound.


Nothing wrong with muscle memory... People need to stop assuming that nobody else knows what notes, scales, and intervals sound like. No one is impressed that you know that the third note in a scale is called a "Third." You won't sound any better for that.

Notes outside of a scale are sometimes used in blues, but not lingered on. Just trial and error those.

And TS, theory won't help your playing as much as it will help your songwriting. Your technique really is from practice and muscle memory. Write down that awesome thing you hear in your head and don't worry about theory until later. Use theory to make sense of it, arrange it, and expand on it. Use theory to turn your one idea into a full song basically. Theory can suggest what note to play next once you already have something, but it's all up to your ears.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:16 PM   #15
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I'll say what I said in a different way, it seems to have gone over everyone's head. There are no scales, only the chromatic scale. Play what sounds good. Have fun. Listen to some jazz and fusion for examples of how to play the "bad" notes in a good sounding way, and again, have fun.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:24 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by crazysam23_Atax
You're treating theory like it's a bunch of rules. It's not.


I started by saying "once you learn theory you are supposed to forget it." I went on to say that he should play what sounds good to him and not let any kind of theory restrict what he writes, and I am saying theory should be treated as bunch of rules? Errmmmmm, how?

Not trying to argue, I just enjoy back and forth conversations.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:44 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Led man32
I started by saying "once you learn theory you are supposed to forget it." I went on to say that he should play what sounds good to him and not let any kind of theory restrict what he writes, and I am saying theory should be treated as bunch of rules? Errmmmmm, how?

Not trying to argue, I just enjoy back and forth conversations.

Because the bolded implies (to me, anyway) that there's some rules you're supposed to follow. If that's not what you meant, fine.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:59 PM   #18
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if everyone played in keys all the time people like kerry king and synyster gates would be out of a job.. those kids chromatic like a mf'er.. knowing what key you're in can be a big help when picking out notes, but the last word is how it "sounds" when you play it.. all the right notes in the world will be correct and boring as balls.. learn when to fudge the key, use a passing tone to keep a rhythm going and move the melody along all while leaving the key. just my thoughts
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Old 04-21-2014, 01:49 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cjohnson122989
Nothing wrong with muscle memory... People need to stop assuming that nobody else knows what notes, scales, and intervals sound like. No one is impressed that you know that the third note in a scale is called a "Third." You won't sound any better for that.

Notes outside of a scale are sometimes used in blues, but not lingered on. Just trial and error those.

And TS, theory won't help your playing as much as it will help your songwriting. Your technique really is from practice and muscle memory. Write down that awesome thing you hear in your head and don't worry about theory until later. Use theory to make sense of it, arrange it, and expand on it. Use theory to turn your one idea into a full song basically. Theory can suggest what note to play next once you already have something, but it's all up to your ears.

Nicely said.

No one thinks of theory while improvising, we think in intervals.

It is nice to know when to use a flat third. The difference between constructing a major scale versus a minor one - good to know where the half steps are.

But that's about it.

When composing it is another story altogether, as cjohnson122989 said. Then it becomes integral.
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Old 04-21-2014, 04:18 AM   #20
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^ The point of learning theory is not to think in theory all the time. It's to learn different kind of stuff that you apply when you play. You learn the theory behind the major scale or keys or whatever and you understand it. And you also use your ears. If you know what a major third is, it is way easier to learn how it sounds like (giving a sound a name helps us categorize it - for example if you know that major chord is major chord, it becomes a lot easier to hear when people use major chords). When you play, you shouldn't think "now I play a major third and then augmented fourth". You should just think in sound. But as I said, knowing what a major third is helps you knowing the sound of it.

And nobody said muscle memory is BS. It's a different thing. Of course you need muscle memory but that's not all there is to music. If you have memorized all the fingerings of the scales, it doesn't mean you can use them. You need a good ear for that. You need to know the sound of the notes in the scale (and the notes outside of the scale) to be able to use them well.

Again, theory is not rules that you need to follow. Theory just explains music. There's no harm in knowing theory well. But if you misunderstand theory, it is going to limit you.
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