This has eluded me!

I don’t know about you, but the reason I want to learn theory from a teacher is that it is a f*ckton easier than figuring it out for yourself :slight_smile:


Yes, sure, there are people like that… but, I am sure you’d need more than “a bit of talent” to be successful like they were/are.

I still think there is lots to be gained by learning more about theory (and it has never been “easier” than perhaps in our day and age), but, of course, as almost everything: it is a choice!

@howard put it very succinctly :grin:


I agree with this

And I disagree with this.

To play, you need to have huge ears.
No one needs to know the rules of grammar and spelling to be able to speak well - at whatever level.
Wisdom is communicated through careful words and thoughtful responses.

Wise bass playing is communicated through experienced ears and thoughtful choices. It can work in any genre.

Theory and modes and scales and the circle of fifths help all genres equally.
Because jazz is the non-classical music taught in schools, it gets the theory crown. But the theory of jazz is pop music theory. All music theory.

Theory doesn’t make you a better bassist, and in my experience with students, it can just as easily lead to an understanding of theory for theory’s sake (bad) as it does to a deeper understanding of practical/applied theory for musicians.

I agree with this in theory, but in my experience, the players that have learned by ear flourishes and have explored their bass by ear to play their own little flourishes are 100% better players than people who are making choices based off of learned scales, patterns, or being told ‘these notes work - use these’.

I do love this. Thanks @joergkutter .
Theory can be a way to break through an obstacle - often the obstacle can be broken through with listening / transcribing - when it can’t, it may be knowing and understanding the underlying structures is what you need.

Y’all are rad folks, and I love these discussions.
On my BassBuzz Forum Bio / Character Sheet, my theory alignment would be:

Chaotic Good.

Chaotic - because I believe (as @John_E points out above) that the playing can still happen without the deep theory dives…
Good - because I know how rich and wonderful the world can be when the theory starts to hold together and make sense.
It helps with composition, it helps in transcribing and analyzing, it helps in communicating to musicians, and it is indispensable if you’re ever trying to read a chart.

Dive in when it can help… but it’s not the secret bass-hack that some folks make it out to be. The secret bass hack is spending bazillions of hours playing and performing and transcribing bass lines on your bass.


OOps :slightly_smiling_face:
Thanks for spotting that.
I corrected it to F♯ in the post.


Prince Charles plays Bass? Who knew


This sums it up for me @Gio and I want to thank all of the people that are knowledgeable about this issue for posting. It always amazes me how fellow musicians can post things that I meant to say but could not find the words for :slightly_smiling_face:

As stated earlier I did start another topic directly related to this so as not make this one go off topic.
Here is a link if interested:


I have a good friend, Stafford Agee, who is a trombonist in the Rebirth Brass Band, they play a type of jazz that is steeped in ‘collective improvisation’ - basically the heart of tunes past the ‘head’ or basic melody, is that every person in the band (8 of them) all improvise differently but collectively at the same time. Stafford doesn’t know theory, and a lot of New Orleans musicians don’t either…but they have HUGE EARS.

They get the huge ears from spending countless hours around and with other musicians learning and listening. As @Gio stated, they do so well because they have learned by ear and have internalized so much of their instrument (over innumberable hours, 10,000+ if you go by Malcolm Gladwell) that theory is irrelevant.

I think I shared before after a Rebirth show in NYC some guy came up to Stafford and asked why he chose to play a certain note and progression in one of the songs that night. His response was “I played that? Cool.” The music pours out of him like we speak our native language.

It can be done with time and opportunity (exposure to other musicians and lots of them). This is again something Malcolm Gladwell points out, you need the interest in a thing and the opportunity to flourish in it. Talent is ‘almost’ a non-starter. Sure it helps but is NOT needed. I think Josh even commented on a book about how talent is overrated in one of his videos, can’t remember the title though.

None of us are in this position (at least I think) to give this bass thing 100% of our time and expose ourselves to all the outside influences others have.

I would much prefer this than a single drop of theory.


Thanks for putting some perspective (based not least on your immense experience as a player and teacher) to our often “not fully perceived” truths, @Gio !

Music (and language) are not exact sciences (that’s a good thing) and they can be stretched, moulded and shaped, but I still think it helps to know the rules to break them properly.

This, I would agree with

This, I would question. To speak well (and communicate well), knowledge of what works when and how is almost essential. Otherwise, why would we need grammar in the first place?

It’s… complicated :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


There’s a difference between speaking to your buddies in the beer tent at your local county fair, and giving a lecture before a distinguished audience… and every shade and flavour in between. The appropriate grammar gives you access to each group, not even in terms of belonging, but simply being understood.

I suspect it’s the same with music. Chugging roots will work well with the garage band playing a local pub after hours. I suspect it would fall somewhat ekhm! flat at the local Bach concerto recital.

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Ah, this is where (I think) the ‘pop/rock/country is simple’ etc debate comes in. To a classical player steeped in study (maybe they are your lecturer) they may think pop music artists (like perhaps, our beloved Poppy) is swigging Labatt’s Blue in a beer tent. Or the bebop or hard bop jazz guys (lecturer) say traditional New Orleans jazz (Abita in a beer tent) is basic and simplistic music.

Which brings us back to it all depends on what your goals are and what you are trying to do.
Gene Simmons bass lines are simple.
Victor Wooten bass lines are insanely complex.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.

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I see what you did there.

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Totally understood and I agree and take your point.
My meaning was more that if someone is paying attention and listening to wise, well-spoken people talk, they will model themselves on correct grammar and brilliant vocabulary without knowing the names of the verb tenses, what direct objects are, or how to punctuate their sentences.

But if they had to read… or communicate for posterity, or write a letter etc…

The learning of these things should help one to speak/play well, yes!

I drone on and on with this stuff because I want to be obnoxiously and insistently clear that beginning players should be focusing on their ears and their fingers, not their eyes and their analytic, puzzle/problem/pattern solving brains.



It is really very “meta”… we only need names to be able to talk about it. However, in the long run, I find it helpful to start understanding the underlying concepts.

By all means! While I am still in an early stage of bass playing, I have been exposed to music for many years, and hence my perspective here is probably a bit skewed…


I find that playing bass requires more theory than most instruments. Now this is going to depend on what you’re playing, but often you’re not going to be given the bass line to play, so you might have to create one from a chord sheet, a piano bass line or maybe the vocal melody. With guitar, you can pretty much get away with just using pentatonic scales but with bass, it helps to have a better knowledge of scales/modes and how to improvise over chords. Playing a melody is pretty easy, the accompaniment is what gives the melody context.

I don’t know what “a ton” of theory is, I’ve never seen anyone talking about any really advanced theory ever. If you go to r/musictheory on reddit, the majority of people there are not bass players. The biggest problem I see with how people learn theory is they learn scales, they learn modes, they learn chords/arpeggios but they don’t learn how to put all of that theory together and use it… because most people are trying to learn the solution without having a problem to solve. If you want to learn theory, start out writing a song or start with a song you know and use theory to understand how the song works.


Have a look at this video Learn music theory in half an hour

Then get yourself a keyboard of some kind or a DAW and a plugin like Scaler2 and experiment with chord progressions. You’ll find that many of the progressions are familiar from the music you’ve listened to.

Except this isn’t true and it becomes very evident when people learn a second language like English<>Spanish and the order of words becomes confusing because people try to learn the 2nd language based on the first language they know.

As with music theory, people who speak a language already have learned a lot of grammar implicitly by the time they get to school and start learning it formally. As an example, describe a physical object… do you have to think of the order you put the adjectives in? You may never have studied the order that they need to be placed in because you’ve been hearing it since birth and you learned to do it as soon as you started talking… but it can be very difficult when learning another language which is not structured the same way.

How non-English speakers are taught this crazy English grammar rule you know but have never heard of

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Well said :+1:

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Yep yep. Like I said above, “playing the accompaniment” doesn’t just mean roots and fifths.

Just ask Bach :slight_smile:

Classical has a lot of good examples where the accompaniment is actually a complex countermelody. It’s definitely still secondary, and the accompaniment, but it definitely isn’t the simplest part of this piece.


@howard: Just out of curiosity, as a person who has not studied music, I looked up the “¢” symbol (c with vertical line through it) shown after the flats in the Bach example. Apparently it indicates “cut time,” (2/2 time), and a plain “c” means common time (4/4). I wonder why those symbols are used instead of writing 2/2 and 4/4?

I’ve seen 4/4 used often, so maybe these symbols are something used more often in classical music?


No idea. Tradition maybe?