Ok so I've been playing bass for four years or more, but only the last year I've been actually taking it more serious and trying to get better. I'm in a metal band and we're about to release our first EP. I'd say I'm good at my instrument but the other guys are excellent and I want to be able to do more. I want to get better and the only way I think I could excel my writing and playing techniques is to learn some theory and scales and whatnot. Thing is I'm not really sure where to start. I play in drop C (CGCF) so whenever I look up scales I'm discouraged since its meant to be played in standard, I know I could find the corresponding notes in my tuning but I don't really want to do that. So could anyone help me here with some tips or something?
Well; we would need an accurate assessment of your musical knowledge and aptitude at this point. Can you read music in standard notation? Can you read standard notation in both the bass and the treble clef? Do you understand how the "Circle of Fifths" works? Do you know your major and minor scales? Things like that.

When people say that they want to learn "Music Theory," most of them have no idea what they are getting themselves into. This is because while the foundational concepts of music theory are the same across the board, the practical application of those concepts to your specific instrument are often very different. You will come across people who know just about everything there is to know about music theory for, say, the guitar; but they could not begin to write a piece of music for half a dozen instruments because they do not know how the theory applies to those instruments. They could imagine how they want everything to sound, but imagining is a long way from making it happen.

Your best bet is probably to start at the beginning, with foundational music theory concepts. Be warned: truly mastering these concepts is not easy. You need to be able to do more than just remember and recite. And even the most basic music theory books are usually written entirely in standard notation (no tab), so you are going to have to be able to read the notes - at least in the bass clef, that is.

Falstrom's book is a well-thought-of book among bassists:


The books produced by Musician's Institute are also very good:


And there are, of course, many others. Good luck with your studies. What you propose is a lot of work, but it is well worth it - particularly if you plan to make a living from making music.
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If you want to get better at technique, theory is not going to help - you just need to practice technique and play a lot. Theory explains music. Knowing theory can improve your songwriting because that way it becomes easier to figure out what your favorite artists do in their songs. Theory knowledge also makes using your ears easier because you can name the concepts you hear in music. For example if you know that the song is in a major key, it will be a lot easier to figure out the melody. And if you know about chord functions, it is a lot easier to figure out the chord progression by ear.

When you learn theory, remember to use your ears! Sound is the most important thing in music and music just doesn't work on paper. This is why every time you learn something about theory, remember to listen to what it sounds like when played on an instrument. Also, finding example songs is a good way to understand theoretic concepts. You want to hear them in context. For example you rarely hear diminished chords played on their own - they usually resolve to the chord a half step higher. And hearing them in context is just so much easier. Also, without context theory makes little sense.

I would first learn the note names, the chromatic scale and the major and minor scales, intervals and chords (construction, naming and functions).

When you learn about all of this, learn to play it on your bass. For example if you learn about how to build a major scale, try playing it. That way you understand in practice where the whole and half steps are. And you also hear the sound of the scale. Again, sound is the most important thing. You can't really completely understand anything in music without hearing it.
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Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.


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You don't want to learn music theory if you don't want to know where the notes are. That's kind of the point. The theory stays the same whatever instrument or tuning you use and you can apply the lessons to any situation. Exactly the sort of problem you are trying to solve. Knowing how notes and chords relate to each other frees you up from a lot of hard work but needs some effort on your part to learn. It stops you being 'stuck' in one tuning and frees your mind and your playing.

Maybe you just need to look up a few box patterns and incorporate that into your playing for the moment. Some people get a teacher and learn theory from the off but most of us acquire it as we go along and get curious about why somethings work and others don't. Box patterns allow a bassist to jam along with a chord sequence without having to understand much of what they are doing but you'll still need to know where the root notes are.
Last edited by Phil Starr at Dec 31, 2014,
I know it's a really unhelpful sounding thing to say but get a tutor. You're keen to learn, from the sound of it, but you need a nudge (like me for the first 5 years of playing) so get a tutor to be your whip.

Best thing about theory lessons is you not necessarily need a bass tutor and you can also go for cheaper Skype lessons.
Theory is mainly for learning songwriting, and improving it. Plus, you can learn about chord progressions, scales, etc. Hell, you can even create your own chord progressions after you learn theory. The Circle of Fifths is a good place to start out. Maybe you can start by learning and understanding it.
I am sorry that you are going to be so handicapped by your non-standard tuning.

The important fundamental of the Bass Guitar is the fact that it is made originally as the Bass Violin in 4ths across 4 strings.

This allows the instrumentalist to learn the instrument while also learning the continuity of the Major and Minor patterns across the board.

Being Handicapped by the dropC tuning leaves you in a position that forces you to re-write scales and discover these patterns within the limitations of your selected tunings.

As a student, and as I would have any student of mine do, I would press to have them personally write the fingering patters out in 4 and 5 fret widths.

The fact that you appear to be unwilling to do this one single function " I know I could find the corresponding notes in my tuning but I don't really want to do that. " I believe that you are doomed to remain in the condition you are in.

In my opinion after 8 years of classical straining, 2 years of Jazz Performance Studies, and 4 Years of institutional improvisation courses, it is my opinion that whether the student is a Novice and on 4 strings standard, or experienced and expanding into the 6 String Tuned in 4ths [as I did] that the student must at least one time go through the exercise of rendering the scales into tableture from open string start to 12th Fret start, in order to begin a corresponding spatial relationship with the entire Board and all of the strings.

This provides a tactile as well as visual, discovery and familiarity, with the range and abilities of the instrument.

My Dad is a DBV 5 string player. Only knows the first 5 positions/steps on the lowest 4 strings and only knows about 10 steps on the HighC.

He is stunned and amazed about my ability to consume and use every position on the 6 String Bass Guitar.

When I explained it to him, it did not change anything for him, nor his amazement and respect for me, as he refused to commit to the exercises of hands on board and pen exploration of the Board.

Theory is yet a whole other thing. It is much harder than what I have described, and without an understanding of the relative patterns of your tuning to the Major and the Minor, you will be sidelined.


I suggest you get at the one thing that is going to help you the most from this day forward, and write it yourself.
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I'd start with learning where the notes are on the neck. In the beginning it seems utterly pointless, but once you learn how you can construct chords, it's such useful knowledge. You can ask me pretty much any common arpeggio (for instance Am7) and within a couple of seconds I'll pump out A, C, E and G for you, on multiple parts of the neck.

Theory is a big beast though. In the beginning you'll feel like "what am I learning? Am I even learning at all?". However, dedicate some time to it every day (for instance 15 minutes) and after a couple of months you should be able to get a grip on the basics in your favourite keys.
I make backing tracks for bass and guitar players. Check 'em out here.
If you want to generally improve your theory there's a series of books by a brand "poco" which basically goes from really basic theory at grade 1 to grade 5 or 6. I used them and they really helped
given your string tuning CGCF you might start your theory study like most do with the major scale. Take this pattern up and down each string from open to 12th fret. You have a series of 7 ascending and desending notes with the 8th note being the octave. Here's the layout of intervals, and there are only 2 to chose from with the major scale.
whole step
whole step
half step
whole step
whole step
whole step
half step
Now you are at the 12th fret playing the octave.
Try going down the scale from 12th fret ending on the open string. Get this sound in your head. The reason folks learn scales, and benefit by them, is that they help to codify the sounds of the individual notes. Moving forward, you can play broken 3rds, traids, a series of broken 3rds culminating in major, minor and diminshed chords...yikes....it's all ear training, and it will help you learn fretboard geography, even with your tuning. I think this will be great for you. Next take the scale and move between strings, establishing patterns. Best of luck, and it's real hip that you are intrigued with theory. Go for it!
Dude this thread was already dead and revived and dead again. And op never even came back. I think he might have read that you have to actually learn things to learn music theory, and ran to the hills, like so many others who were expecting a simple "do this and it'll be awesome" kind of answer.
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Dude this thread was already dead and revived and dead again. And op never even came back. I think he might have read that you have to actually learn things to learn music theory, and ran to the hills, like so many others who were expecting a simple "do this and it'll be awesome" kind of answer.

Pretty Much

Oh! No! Wait! The Tonic!? Jimi Hendrix "Fire".....aaaaggghhhh wrong again!
Ibanez BTB 1006 Fretless and 405 (no Barts)
456 & 455(w/Barts)
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Boss: SYB-5, PS-2, OD-20, EQ-20, PH-3,BF-3, CE-20, DD-20
Morely A/B
Last edited by Sliide90027 at Apr 27, 2015,
If you take tuition to learn theory you will learn not to refer to intervals as steps
Tone Tone Semitone Tone Tone Tone Semitone.

Learning your intervals is very helpful, you'll learn how every interval except octaves, fourths and fifths inverts major to minor
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Last edited by John Swift at Apr 29, 2015,