Book on theory

Can anyone recommend a good book on bass theory. Nothing too deep but something I can read and learn from easily?


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“Music Theory for the Bass Player” by Ariane Cap seems to be the gold standard!


I realize you asked for a book (and i agree with @chris_van_hoven that Ari’s book is highly regarded), but if you’re open to an online course, talkingbass has a new course on music theory for bass.

(You might have to be a member (free) to see the link - not sure. I couldn’t find it on the main courses page)

@markjsmith - just fyi, I couldn’t find any info about this course on your main courses page. Doesn’t look like an offering in the store?



As a TB member, I received an email from Mark announcing this 2-volume course, but I don’t find it listed on the site. Maybe it’s a member-exclusive offer for now?

Music Theory for Bass Players by Steve Gorenberg (Hal Leonard)

Learn Bass Music Theory in 14 Days: A Daily Bass Guitar Theory Book for Beginners by Matt Miller (Troy Nelson Music)

The Ariane Cap book is heavily tied to her online (paid) course.

Music Theory for Dummies is also a good start, even if it’s not bass oriented.

If I go to the shop on TalkinBass now it’s the first course to appear.

Mark had some big site problems about the same time he launched this course and that might have delayed him getting the links in place.

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It wasn’t a site problem with Talking Bass; Mark had a members’ discount on pre-orders in effect until midnight yesterday.

Now that the member discount has expired, the Ultimate Theory for Bass course is available to all.

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It depends, on what you mean by “theory” and if you know any/much theory already? If you don’t, I suggest that you find a keyboard and do theory on piano as it’s much easier to conceptualize in a linear way. Except of learning the fretboard layout and chord/scale shapes, everything is pretty much the same on bass vs piano.

If you want something specific to bass, Arianne Cap’s book is as good as anything.

I think that the best way to learn music theory on bass is to find a problem that requires theory to solve it eg learn chord theory, learn to improvise and/or learn to read standard notation.

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I’m into this one.
John C. Goodman “Bass theory”


Any good?

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I have that one, it is way too “mathematical” in its approach for me. Got it with points from a previous job. Technically it covers a lot, but the execution did not appeal to me, his writing was too dry and presenting info in spreadsheet blocks wasn’t a great choice, imho. But if it works for you, great!

I second Arianne Cap’s books, they are excellent. My only complaint with them is I feel like they would work best in conjunction with her courses. I may spring for them at some point.

I have both the John Goodman and Ari Cap books and pretty much concur with @brik1970 here. The Goodman book is straightforward, but can be a bit dry and has a reference book quality to it. Lots of charts. Some of those charts helped me see relationships I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I prefer Ari’s approach. I keep hearing folks mention that it’s like a commercial for her course, but I just don’t see it. Very useful and informative on it’s own, and there are a bunch of videos that go along with the book, which can be helpful.

I need to be hit over the head about 10 times with the same information for something to truly take hold, so reading these theory books, while trying to learn cool songs, going through the B2B course, and still watching random YT videos, that’s been working well for me. Theory book has been super helpful.

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The videos are the commercials. :slight_smile: Also when going through them sequentially you bump into “sample” videos from the course, when I’ve hit those, I suddenly feel like I’m missing out on something. Good marketing I guess, hits me in the FOMO… lol.

But yes, they are self-contained and have quite a bit of useful and applicable material from just the books alone. I’ve been working through the first one for a bit now and bouncing some stuff off my teacher for additional feedback, although sometimes that feels like I’m opening the flood-gates with his explanations.

Anyways, at the end of the day, its going to be whatever works best for each individual and what clicks with them. Ari clicks for me, Goodman didn’t.

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At a moment, I’m combining studybass with this book. But I got used to Josh, so it’s weird. :pensive: Like I’m on my own, and english is not my first language, that’s not problem it’s even funny cause my son is second year of Elementy music school, guitar, and when I’m trying to help him with theory I don’t know croatian terms, so it funny. ( Mama DUR !!! (Major) Mama MOL !!! Not minor MOL!! :smile:) But , he got 5 (A) in intervals exem last week, so book is good :smile:. I will definitely give Ari a try after I figure this one out. Thank You!!


Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene is a must read at some point.

Ah, gotcha. I haven’t really bothered with the videos and didn’t realize this was the case. That’s definitely a bummer!

Hi. Just noticed I got mentioned in this thread regarding the Theory course. Worth mentioning that the complete course is now available (Vol 1 and 2).
The course is a complete summation of pretty much all the theory I digested during 6 years of music college study. It starts from the absolute basics of sound and works through every aspect of harmony in a very in depth way all the way up to advanced jazz harmony (the final lesson covers Coltrane changes). I’ve avoided the dumbing down style of theory that you often get from bassists/guitarists and gone more for the way I would teach at college.
My first teaching post after finishing my degree involved teaching theory, aural, composition and, to a lesser degree, bass. So think of this as a complete step-by-step approach to harmony up to advanced degree level as you would get at a university. For tens of thousands of pounds/dollars less!

This isn’t a spam post to get you to buy the course. It might be the totally wrong fit for many, but I thought I’d let you know what the course is about seeing as I was tagged.

The lessons are as follows:

Volume 1 – Theory Fundamentals

Module 1 – The Musical Foundation

  1. Introduction
  2. The Sounds Of Music
  3. Tuning & Consonance
  4. Fretboard Theory
  5. Pitch Notation
  6. Rhythm and tempo
  7. Music Reading On Bass
  8. Rhythms in Application
  9. Subdivision
  10. Sixteenth Notes
  11. Rests and Silence
  12. The Dotted Note
  13. Tied Notes
  14. Triplets and swing
  15. Other Meters

Module 2 – Scales, Keys and Intervals

  1. The Major Scale
  2. Key Signatures
  3. Scale Degrees
  4. Interval Basics
  5. The Circle Of Fifths
  6. Double Sharps and Flats
  7. Minor Intervals
  8. Alternative Fingerings
  9. Aug and Dim Intervals
  10. Minor Scales and Keys
  11. Relative Keys
  12. Interval Inversion
  13. Compound Intervals
  14. The Pentatonic Scale
  15. The Chromatic Scale

Module 3 – Harmony Essentials

  1. Tertian Harmony and Triads
  2. Alternative Fingerings
  3. Chord Voicing
  4. Augmented Chords
  5. Diminished Chords
  6. Seventh Chords
  7. The Essential Seventh Chords
  8. Extensions
  9. Altered Extensions
  10. Added Note Chords
  11. Suspension
  12. Chordal Inversion
  13. Slash Chords
  14. Chord Simplification

Volume 2 – Applied Harmony For Bass

Module 1 – The Key Foundation

  1. Tonal Gravity
  2. Triads Of The Major Key
  3. Chordal Scale Degrees
  4. Seventh Chords Of The Major Key
  5. Primary and Secondary Chords
  6. Tonic and Dominant Chords
  7. The Subdominant Chord
  8. Melody and Harmonisation
  9. The Supertonic Chord
  10. The Submediant Chord
  11. Chord iii
  12. Chord vii
  13. Cyclic Progression
  14. Harmonic Analysis

Module 2- Minor Keys and Melodies

  1. Expanding The Palette
  2. Secondary Dominant Chords
  3. Secondary Dominant Analysis
  4. Chords Of The Minor Key
  5. Chord Progressions Of The Minor Key
  6. The Harmonic Minor Scale
  7. The Melodic Minor Scale
  8. Modulation
  9. Turnarounds
  10. Blues Progressions
  11. Melodic Devices
  12. Chromatic Notes
  13. Melodic Analysis
  14. Modes Of The Major Scale
  15. Chord Scales
  16. Diatonic Extensions
  17. Secondary Dominant Scales

Module 3 – Jazz Harmony Concepts

  1. Modes Of The Minor Key
  2. Harmonic Minor Modes
  3. The Jazz Melodic Minor
  4. Modes Of The Melodic Minor
  5. Minor Key Extensions
  6. Harmonic Modification
  7. Altered Chords
  8. Tritone Substitution
  9. Diminished Harmony
  10. Diminished Scales
  11. Modal Interchange
  12. The Back Door Cadence
  13. Augmented Harmony
  14. Modal Harmony
  15. Coltrane Changes
  16. Conclusion

Hope that helps


Now that IS comprehensive :sweat_smile:

Just the other day, I was introduced to the concept of “chromatic mediants” - I am almost sure you have it in there somewhere… :wink:

To some extent. I don’t actually cover ‘chromatic mediants’ as a specific topic but I do cover the Coltrane Matrix which is based on the same kind of thing. I prefer to cover chromatic chords like those used in talk of chromatic mediants by way of other functional means. So movement from C major to E major or Ab major could both be labelled as chromatic mediants but I’d be more inclined to look at the context. Secondary dominant/triad and parallel harmony are often more functional ways of analysing that chord movement.
That said, many of those kinds of moves can be considered more stylistic compositional techniques rather than ‘theory’.
I don’t cover serial technique, bartok set theory, fugal writing, sonata form or harmonic projection, among many other things, simply because they are more compositional in nature. They would make for an endless course no bass player would use or want.


Mark this looks excellent, thanks for posting.