What is the Minimum Amount of Music Theory A New Bass Player Really Needs?

Can someone please tell me how much music theory the average Bass player should really know well and what parts of music theory Bass players should concentrate on?


The answer is going to depend on your goals. Where do you intend to go with your music?


I would say knowledge of intervals, keys (and their signatures), and chord tones are probably the most essential for a bass player.

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Just did a huge response on the “this has eluded me” forum thread.

Hope it helps.
It would fit better here.


I thank you for the response in the other topic.

I do not recall any of your posts that did not help and I agree that the posting you refer to would have fit better here.

To be clear I think maybe I should have called this topic “What is the Minimum Amount of Music Theory a New Bass Player Needs”, the words Minimum, New, and Bass Player being the main things missing from the tile of this post. I will try and change it.

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After reading your post I decided to change the title of this topic to narrow this down to New Bass players.

The reason I am doing this is because in my teaching new players, albeit guitar and ukulele, so many times I have been asked about things like Modes, Chord Inversions, and Intervals etc, during their first lesson.
My answer has always been the same and seems to work - I tell them “These things are very important and will be covered when necessary but to start with let’s just get you playing along to a complete song”.

Most of my students seem to be women for some reason.
When I started this about six years ago I decided the following:

1 - I wanted students to be able to play their first song right through, within a week, from memory.
2 - I provide them with a lead sheet showing the Chords, Melody, and Words for both “Happy Birthday” and “You Are My Sunshine” and go over the songs with them, focusing in the first lesson on Happy Birthday. I tell them if they practice them they should have enough to keep them busy for a week.
3 - In week 2 most of them are so happy to be able to play a complete song right through. The ones that were struggling had typically not practiced since the last session. I tell them that I can only supply the material to play but cannot force them to practice and if they are not willing to practice they will not improve.

I also tell students to keep a notebook and write down any questions or thoughts they may have.

I picked Happy Birthday as the first song because, as I said, most of my students are women and this is a song they can play at their children’s, or friends, birthday parties.

What this has led to is the formation of three local jam sessions a week, in an area that had 0 to start with, with each session consisting of about 10 people. Of course this was prior to Covid but I still stay in touch with them.

A lot of my students went to conventional guitar teachers prior to meeting me but quit because it was too much for them and after playing for several months, and paying out on average $200, and still could not play a complete song.

A lot of local teachers despise me because I do this for FREE and it cuts into their income.
This is not my problem and could not care less what they think. I do it for the love of music .

The bottom line here is that I just want NEW BASS players to realize how simple playing Bass can be, BUT THEY HAVE TO PRACTICE. Josh’s B2B course is great for this and I recommend it to all that want to learn Bass.


I knew I was doing something wrong !


I would say as much as @JoshFossgreen has in B2B.
To me this is just enough for a new player.
From there a new player can decide what the goals are for themselves.

Gene Simmons famously touts he can’t read music and knows zero theory.
He’s not playing/improvising over any Mingus pieces easily but I think he did ok anyway.


This guy plays Bass as well. I’m learning a lot today.


That’s my thought also :slightly_smiling_face:


the difference between a major and minor chord, circle of fourths, circle of fifths, chord intervals, major scale, and relative minors

I say thats the minimum because that all I know and I’m playing and creating bass lines, albeit rudimentary they’re mine…LOL. I know a bunch of bass players that play circles around me all day long that don’t know much of what I listed. They play by pattern, have developed a great ear from learning material off the record and getting plenty of neck time. The more you know is gonna make your life easier for sure, even a little comes in handy when someone says “this is a II-V-I in C” or says, “hey I got a sax player coming in so half of these songs need to be transposed to E flat”.


In 10 years of playing violin, bassoon and trombone in stage bands and orchestras I used all those things zero times because i just played sheet music. I never even heard of inversions until i started playing piano about 20 years later and had never heard of modes until i started watching music videos on YT about 5 years ago.

It depends what a person’s goal is… Intervals are useful to know, modes are useful for improvising over chords, inversions are useful to know about but probably less useful for bass than they are for instruments playing chords. If one just wants to get together and jam with friends or play covers, you really don’t need to know any of that… like pretty much all guitar players :smiley:


haha, this is not a thing, and if it is, please give me their number!

The first lesson should be how not to ruin your instrument and how to make a sound, hahaha.

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I had to look this up…LOL
Why is sax in E flat
The use of the saxophone in marching bands was much more popular than in orchestras so the Bb and Eb lived on and the C and F saxophones became extinct. The use of Bb and Eb simply meant that people writing charts for marching bands only had 2 keys to deal with.
Every time we had an alto sax player sit in we ended up having to play in e flat or b flat…I had no idea why I just made the adjustment on the charts and played. Unfortunately a lot of the music the director asked us to play had horns in the original arrangements so a lot of the music was in e flat. I reminded him that we don’t have brass so we could bump it up a half step but that never happened.

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Typical ‘guitar keys’ are just about the hardest keys for sax players as they use more of the more difficult to finger notes.
The sax is about as imperfect of an instrument as you can get, which is one of the biggest reasons it sounds so damn good. It’s got personality, but at a price.


We had set up an afternoon of playing and the drummer said, “I’m bring over this sax player”…I was like, do you have to and told him about my experience with playing gospel music with this director and the occasional sax player. He assured me it was gonna be OK, and the guy comes in and said, lets do some blues and loosen up and see what we’re working with…I asked what key…any key. After a couple of songs I told him about having to play in E flat…he laughed and said, “oh those alto guys”…LOL


Eb is just mean.

Eb minor is fun if you have a keyboard player. It’s like the anti-key, all black keys except for F and Cb (aka ‘B’).

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I play all saxes, but my least favorite is alto, however, my most favorite is bari, also in Eb.
I can’t think of a single song I have ever played that is actually in Eb though.

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Yeah. It would be like a bass player demanding that all songs are in E.