#1
Since my music theory knowledge is so limited (I can judge if a song is major or minor, know the most basic pentatonic scales, and can determine what note a given fret is with some concentration) I've been reading up on the topic.

It seems over whelming to say the least. With so many different modes and keys and scales the entire undertaking seems lengthy.

I realize this has probably been posted before. Regardless, would you say music theory is worth the effort? From my point of view, it seems like a formal way to acquire the ears of a long-time player, who can identify patterns of sound.

What do you think bass forum?
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#3
Well since it's in the Bass Guitar forums, I'm guessing you are a bassist.

So No. Lol jk. It's good for everyone to have really. If you don't use it, at least you will have the knowledge.
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#4
Mind elaborating.... ?

Why is it worth the trouble?

I can see where it would be handy if you wanted to write in a particular style and save the time of working out the song by hand on your instrument, but other than that...
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#6
i dont play bass..but i do consider myself a musician, so it still applies. But to answer your question...YES.

and if youre overwhelmed whenever youre first starting and it all seems like too much, just remember to take a little bit at a time.

Here's what i recommend learning in order:

1)Enharmonics. All 12 notes. A,A#,B,C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F# etc etc
2)How to build up the major scale using whole and half steps. Whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. So a C maj scale is CDEFGAB. C to D is a whole step. D to E is a whole step. E to F is a half. Etc.
3) Learn key sigs and circle of fifths and order of sharps/flats. This is useful because it helps with stuff like: E major or C# minor consist of the same notes. 4 sharps. Order for first four sharps are FCGD. So E maj scale is EF#G#ABC#D#.

Just a starting point for bro. Good luck
by the time you read this you will be wasting your time because it doesnt say anything
#7
Quote by akarith
From my point of view, it seems like a formal way to acquire the ears of a long-time player, who can identify patterns of sound.

Could you speak English or write coherently and eloquently if you never learned the language? How well would you be able to read, write and talk if you never learned how?

Music theory is important, and while you might be able to get by with minimal versing in the subject, learning it will only help you to be a better and more well-rounded musician, and will help you to better communicate with other musicians.

So yes, it is worth it.
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Last edited by Tostitos at Dec 7, 2011,
#8
I feel like you coulda searched that question on this site and found a trillion arguments both ways. Yes music theories worth learning, however, it isn't necessary for growth. If you just wanna "slappa da bass," or what have you than theory isnt important. If you wanna be a serious musician than I'd say at least a rudimentary knowledge is a must. I say rudimentary because no matter what anyone says you do not need to know what a phrygian half cadence is
#9
Quote by akarith
It seems over whelming to say the least. With so many different modes and keys and scales the entire undertaking seems lengthy.

Yes, it is a VERY lengthy undertaking. I've been studying it since I was 12 (now 20) and I'm only just getting to a point where I think I 'truly' understand (although I'm sure in a few years I'll realise I'm only scraping the surface at the moment). It's very much worth the bother though - it's by no means necessary, but there's nothing like listening to a piece of music and instantly knowing pretty much exactly what's going on. It makes improv and writing in a band a lot easier, too.
Last edited by korinaflyingv at Dec 7, 2011,
#10
if by "I can judge if a song is major or minor" you mean "I can tell if it's sad or happy", you really need to crack open a music book.

most contemporary musicians (drums/guitar/bass/vocals) don't learn how to read standard and they miss out on a lot of theory information that you could have got just by playing a horn in middle school and because of that you really need to catch up to be able to operate in a professional setting around professional musicians. if you want to play with good players, you need to put the time in yourself. if you have no long-term musical goals, it doesn't matter, but it's still in good taste to understand what you're doing to help develop musically - you have to know the rules before you can bend them.
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#11
The short answer is yes, it is definitely worth it.

I've realised that a lot of the things which I once found really complicated, now seem like basic knowledge to me. Bit by bit, things will click into place and you'll find yourself saying "Ohhh! Now I get it" and you'll appreciate the benefit of knowing all the modes and all the possible chords and endless amounts of other knowledge. You'll even forget the time that you didn't understand what you've learnt.

Although, because there really is an endless amount to learn about, what you should learn might depend on what you want to get out of playing your instrument. After all, it's only 'theory'. Essentially you can do whatever the hell you like. Music theory is really just an idea of how to do things. Jazz players learn it all and then decide, they're going to play whatever they want in whatever order they want.
If you only want to play classic rock and blues, then the pentatonic scales and the dorian mode might be enough to serve you well. But if you see Satch (I know it's a bass forum but I'm not familiar enough with great bass players) and think "I want to do that!" then you need to learn a lot more. Plus a lot more if jazz is your thing. So it can depend on the purpose.

Yet, I would still encourage anyone to learn whatever they can even if it doesn't apply to what they want to play. Curiosity is a great thing and it might lead you to some music which you would have never listened to before and find that you love! That's been the truth for me. My interest and taste in different types of music, and my study of theory have both fed each other and brought me to new places.

When it comes to notation, my opinion is closer to "do what you like". I think notation is great! But as much as any music theory, it is just an idea. In some cultures they teach everything, including music, entirely by ear. They don't write a single thing down. Plus, a well trained ear is a great skill to have!
However, if you have aspirations of being a bassist in any kind of professional setting you would often find that people would put sheets of music in front of you and expect you to play it.

Theory, is a formal way of learning, I suppose. But I don't see what's necessarily wrong with that. You'll find in most cases, any great player who has been playing for a long time, has done their music theory homework. And I know it can seem like a really boring thing at times, but it doesn't have to be. I think teachers sometimes forget to point out that music theory is not music fact and that it's there to aid you in making music, not to create boundaries in how you make music.

On the one hand it is easier and more fruitful to learn what interests you. So learn what applies to what you want to play. But also I really do think it's worth all the effort as long as it doesn't bore you to putting your bass down and watching TV instead.
#12
Depends how much your into music. If you were REALLY into music, youd want to learn it if it was worth it or not
#13
Okay... wow. Thanks for all the quick responses.

I play mainly for personal enjoyment and for the occasional jam session, but I do take music very seriously so I suppose I better get crackin'.

hammettrocks, I'll follow this until I feel comfortable directing myself.

If anyone is willing to share some good links, I'd appreciate it, if not, google's free haha.

Thanks again
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#14
Quote by akarith
Okay... wow. Thanks for all the quick responses.

I play mainly for personal enjoyment and for the occasional jam session, but I do take music very seriously so I suppose I better get crackin'.

hammettrocks, I'll follow this until I feel comfortable directing myself.

If anyone is willing to share some good links, I'd appreciate it, if not, google's free haha.

Thanks again


If you ever have any questions, head over to the music theory thread. There are some really smart dudes in there who seriously know EVERYTHING theory wise. I like to think i know a lot of theory, but some of these guys answers sometimes just blow me away by how accurate and elaborate some of them make them sometimes haha
by the time you read this you will be wasting your time because it doesnt say anything
#15
Music theory for a bass player is at least as important as for a guitarist, in fact, probably more so.

Even though you're playing one note at a time, you need to know the notes contained in the overall harmony, and what step of a chord the note is you're expected to play.

A guitarist gets to play the whole chord, and can oftentimes ignore which notes are contained within the fingering. The bass player need to know every note in the chord, and its scale degree.

For example, a "5" (power chord) for the guitar contains only the root and the 5th notes of a scale. It's not really a chord, since it needs a 3rd to make it a full triad. So quick, what's the 3rd of Ab Major? See, you need theory after all.
#16
Quote by akarith
Mind elaborating.... ?

Why is it worth the trouble?

I can see where it would be handy if you wanted to write in a particular style and save the time of working out the song by hand on your instrument, but other than that...



Immersing yourself in theory will just make your whole brain more musical, and you'll grasp everything more quickly even if it's just listening by ear and reading tabs. Obviously there are more tangible benefits when you need to read music, compose, or listen to other people explain their ideas, but beyond that it really does just shift your viewpoint in a way that makes you more musical in the long run--the phenomenon is hard to describe or explain, I can't think of a better word for it than "immersion."

I recommend learning piano for the same reason: it's like magic in how it allows you to re-conceptualize how music works and gets the actual structures of chords, rhythms, intervals, and the rest into your head. I took a year of piano and neglected my bass playing while doing so and actually ended up a much better bass player at the end of the year--I just understood everything more clearly and my brain had a much easier time turning an idea into a set of actions.
#17
Quote by Captaincranky
Music theory for a bass player is at least as important as for a guitarist, in fact, probably more so.

Even though you're playing one note at a time, you need to know the notes contained in the overall harmony, and what step of a chord the note is you're expected to play.

A guitarist gets to play the whole chord, and can oftentimes ignore which notes are contained within the fingering. The bass player need to know every note in the chord, and its scale degree.

For example, a "5" (power chord) for the guitar contains only the root and the 5th notes of a scale. It's not really a chord, since it needs a 3rd to make it a full triad. So quick, what's the 3rd of Ab Major? See, you need theory after all.


Implying bass = playing one note at a time
#18
I remember seeing a film on Bill Evans and one of the points about learning musical theory was that by learning and internalizing it, playing and making decisions on playing choices become internalized, and you aren't doing a rote mechanic movement.

I think immersion is a good term. Its like learning to drive a car, after a while you don't think about the mechanics and why you do things certain ways--you concentrate on where you want to go and how to get there comes second nature.
#19
akarith, I definitely hear you when you mention that music theory seems overwhelming. I felt the same way for years. But, over time things eventually became more and more clear, and now it all makes sense!

One of my mistakes was trying to delve into the more complex stuff a little too early. If things seem overwhelming or just aren't making sense, you might be studying some things that are a little beyond your grasp in that given moment.

My only other recommendation is to practice, every day! It's better to get 30 minutes a day than to get 3 hours every 3 days. Your brain and muscles will learn much faster with daily exposure, even if you get a little less practice time.

I really like anarkee's points about immersion and internalization. Think of music as another language. People learn new languages fastest when they are immersed in them. So, immerse yourself in music as much as possible by practicing every day and listening to as much as possible. One day you'll wake up and realize that many things about music have become automatic for you, to the point that you don't even have to think for an instant when playing!
#21
Quote by Captaincranky
As often as not, yeah.


We're not in the olden jazz era, it's not one note per chord. Listen to those old Jamerson motown lines and bask in the groove a bass can pull off with simple intervalic theory.

And as much as I advocate learning theory, honestly I think a lot quicker to the fret position relative to the root rather than the note relative to the root when I'm playing bass.

I also don't really...well, ever see the bassist forced to play a 3rd over a guitarist's x5 dyad to form a chord. Typically the lack of specificity is intentional and the root emphasizes and thickens the sound a lot more, and if you're in a situation where a guitarist is playing chords (particularly jazz settings) the bass is typically situated closely to the root because it's the easiest voicing for the guitar to leave out on extended chords with challenging changes on lead sheets.

really just nitpicking out of laziness as i agree with your sentiments, strong aural theory and reasonable grasp on intervals will serve you well in terms of practicality. the more theory, the better, obviously, and you should have your circle of fifths and triads memorized, but when i'm actually writing or performing i'm not thinking "okay playing a c!" it's just the 3rd of the chord.
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#23
Quote by korinaflyingv
have you ever listened to music before? bassists most usually play one note at a time. if they didn't, most music would sound horribly muddy.

he meant one note per chord change.


...i hope
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#25
Quote by korinaflyingv
i can't find the bit of his post that says that, i think it was just assumed. maybe i'm wrong though. he's essentially correct, either way.

considering the example, i really couldn't find any other meaning, because it seemed kind of random to say 'bassists don't play chords so you need to know your intervals to fill out a guitar chord'
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#26
Quote by Hail
considering the example, i really couldn't find any other meaning, because it seemed kind of random to say 'bassists don't play chords so you need to know your intervals to fill out a guitar chord'

you can fill out a guitar chord without playing the same note for the duration of the chord. even a momentary 3rd in a bassline will add the necessary colour to a power chord. i certainly hope he wasn't suggesting turning every power chord in a progression into a 1st inversion... maybe you're right though, i could just be misinterpreting what he said as useful information
#27
If anything, music theory is good to know just to impress people as well as being a well rounded musician. It's really easy to learn a lot of it. Especially if you play at least one other instrument.
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#28
So, I found (what seems to be) a fairly reliable knowledge source.

So far I've read on building the major scale (and what sets is apart from other scales) and enharmonics.

I understand enharmonics in it's entirety. As for building scales, I'll post what I think I know for some clarification.

The major scale (as hammettrocks said) is w-w-h-w-w-w-h and then Minor scale is w-h-w-w-h-w-w.

The root note is the first note of the scale (correct?) and the major/minor 3rd is the 3rd note of the scale (duh).
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#29
Quote by Themoleismad
If anything, music theory is good to know just to impress people as well as being a well rounded musician. It's really easy to learn a lot of it. Especially if you play at least one other instrument.


+1 to playing at least one other instrument.

I found it much easier to understand music theory while sitting in front of a piano rather than playing a bass. It's a lot easier to play chords on the piano and hear how the different notes sound along with each other.

akarith, it sounds like you have found a good source for music theory, everything you recited is correct. Now you might want to start practicing the major and minor scales in different positions all up and down the neck. Also start playing them from different scale degrees. That is, play them from the root to the root, then start on the 2nd and play them from 2 to 2, etc.

Also, remember to keep your drills and exercises musical and interesting to you. It's not nearly as helpful to play boring, mechanical-sounding exercises all day.
#30
I think it definetly worth, nut i agree that if you go and look for information on the subject, it seems overwhelming. And for that, i HIGLY RECOMEND to start classes with a teacher. this way, you'll have someone that will guide you through the whole process, and give you all the information in little pieces so you can assimilate them.

hope this answers your question.
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#31
It's not worth the trouble of not learning music theory.

As for the fuckton of info out there, while having the A-Z all encompassing bumper encyclopaedia of music theory is dandy, even if you're not bothering with a teacher or classes, there's plenty of well written, structured self-tuititon websites out there that can get you there if you've got the discipline to work at it properly unsupervised.
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Last edited by Caustic at Dec 8, 2011,
#32
Really useful thread people!

I asked a similar question on Basschat. I'm still not clear on the answer. Like the OP says the idea of setting out to learn formal music theory is just so daunting and it is so easy to put it off. I know where the third of Ab is because the major third is always in the same position on a bass, do I really need to know where the sharps/flats are in the scale? (That's a rhetorical question, please don't answer it specifically)

On the other hand musician friends who do know theory can do things that seem like magic to ignorant people like me. Our keyboard player can hear a song once and play it back in six note harmony pretty much first time. My guitarist can play the chords for any song pretty much straight off too. I want some of that badly. I know it isn't magic but someone once said that any technology sufficiently advanced will seem like magic to those who don't understand it.

That's how it looks to those of us at the base of the foothills of music theory. There's a huge mountain to climb, the path is confusing and whilst we know the people at the top can see further than we can the instructions they are shouting down aren't much help in choosing our first steps. Help!

What I really want, I suppose, is some guidance as to where to take my first steps and someone to tell me how those first steps will help my bass playing. At the moment I can't see through the undergrowth.
#33
I've finally gotten the circle of fifths comprehended. A mnemonic device from the Musician thread helped me a lot.

FC Gdaeb for the sharps, it sounds like a football team from the Mid East (in my head it's FC (football club) Guh-day-eb.

For flats, BEAD GCF.

Now that I understand the circle of fifths, what practical applications can I give it? I suppose in knowing in, I could write and stay within a specific key?
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#34
To the OP, I would say that learning theory is not needed, but helpful.
It can help you add colour to your playing, as well as your ability to write songs for other instruments, and help your improvisational skills.

Saying that, not learning theory is not the end of the world, and you don't have to learn every part of theory under the sun to be a good player.
#35
Quote by akarith

Now that I understand the circle of fifths, what practical applications can I give it? I suppose in knowing in, I could write and stay within a specific key?

Well now you can find out what key signature your in if you're given a sheet of music with some weird amount of sharps or flats.
#36
Its also a good tool to determine what chords can sound "good" together and chord progressions.
#37
Quote by Tostitos
Could you speak English or write coherently and eloquently if you never learned the language? How well would you be able to read, write and talk if you never learned how?

Music theory is important, and while you might be able to get by with minimal versing in the subject, learning it will only help you to be a better and more well-rounded musician, and will help you to better communicate with other musicians.

So yes, it is worth it.


This entirely.

Think about "Joe Shmo" down the street. He probably has a good grasp of language and can communicate well with others. For all intents and purposes, what he knows is suitable for him and others.

But then compare him to masters of language (writers, poets, playwrights, scripwriters, authors, etc.)
They can communicate with others as well.

I think the comparison by itself will help.

A little worse analogy - It's kind of like the difference between driving a high performance sports car and the family clunker that was handed down to you. They both get you from A to B but one gets you there in a slightly different way.

Essentially, it's all about communication. Knowing theory can only help you communicate better with other well-versed musicians.


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#38
Quote by Zeelod
This entirely.

Think about "Joe Shmo" down the street. He probably has a good grasp of language and can communicate well with others. For all intents and purposes, what he knows is suitable for him and others.

But then compare him to masters of language (writers, poets, playwrights, scripwriters, authors, etc.)
They can communicate with others as well.

I think the comparison by itself will help.

A little worse analogy - It's kind of like the difference between driving a high performance sports car and the family clunker that was handed down to you. They both get you from A to B but one gets you there in a slightly different way.

Essentially, it's all about communication. Knowing theory can only help you communicate better with other well-versed musicians.


This is a flawless explanation. Thank you.
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