In this bass guitar lesson, I want to give you 5 tips to finally understand how music theory works with the bass guitar...
Music theory is super important because it’s what gives the ability to communicate with other musicians and crucially understand what we’re a doing.
Imagine a trip to France, this is what gets you out of the phrase book and actually starting to speak French fluently.
One thing I’ve spotted with so many students is they learn the theory and have trouble applying it. A little like learning all the French grammar and not being able to order an ice cream in Paris.
In reality the theoretical and practical are both important. Here are 5 key steps that will help you start learning and applying music theory to create fantastic bass lines, out in the real world!
1. ‘Learn’ To Name Every Note On The Fingerboard
A common misconception is you have to be able to instantly name every single note on the bass straightaway. With over 80 individual frets on a standard 4 string bass that’s quite a tall order to begin with and can be quite overwhelming.
A little bit like travelling from one place to the next using a map, memorizing every single village would be quite a task. Instead it’s better to learn and navigate by using the bigger towns and cities. Then start closing in on the exact location you are looking for.
We can do exactly the same thing by using the dots on the neck. These give us the important ‘landmarks’. We can then use shapes and patterns to workout the exact notes we are looking for.
You can discover more about this concept by watching this tutorial:
2. Learn How To Construct & Play The Major Scale
The Major Scale is the backbone of everything we need to theoretically understand on the bass. You can trace pretty much all pop and rock songs back to it in some capacity.
So it make senses we should get super familiar with how it is constructed. Scales don’t exist in isolation and all to often musicians think of them as separate thing to bass lines, fills, riffs and grooves etc.
The reality is we tend to more often than not use fragments of scales rather than complete 8 note major scales. So next time you are playing a run or a fill see if you can relate it back to any of the theory you already know. The chances are it’s highly connected!Click here to find out more about the major scale
3. Understand Diatonic Harmony / The Nashville Numbers System
Once you are good with the major scale the next step is to understand ‘Diatonic Harmony’. Diatonic in simple terms means ‘derived from the major scale’ and it’s the same concept as the Nashville Numbers System or Roman Numeral Chord System.
What this allows us to do is build chords off each step (or degree) of the major scale. You can then start building chord sequences using numbers (rather than letter names). Soon, you’ll start to notice how similar many songs are, especially in styles such as pop, rock and country music.
4. Learn Simple Frameworks & Systems To Start Applying Music Theory
The best way to start applying the theory you learn, is to use simple frameworks and systems. Once you have system to try ideas out, the application becomes considerably easier.
I’m so passionate about this as a concept I wrote a whole course called ‘The Rock, Pop & Motown Bass Line Creation Course’ which shows you exactly how to apply simple frameworks (or bass line creators as I call them) to your favorite songs, grooves and chord sequences. To give you an example here’s a straight forward system that will allow you to start creating fills really easily:Watch The Two Note Transition
5. Analyse & Transcribe The Greats
Transcription is one of the most powerful ways of learn how the greats do what they do. Try and get inside every single nuance and work out ‘how on earth they do it’.
My personal preference is write a transcription out in musical notation wherever possible. Then analyse what’s going on with the chord sequences, groove, bass lines and fills. I credit transcription as the most powerful thing I ever did to learn the language of music and start creating my own ‘voice’ as a bass player.
Lesson Wrap Up
That concludes our "5 Tips to Finally Understand Music Theory"! Putting all of these tips together and you'll surely be able to take Music Theory a cinch!
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Good luck and get stuck in!