A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

TalkBass thread: Learning Chords vs. Scales for beginners

For those of you starting out (like me) there’s a really good thread on the Talkbass forums about learning chords vs. learning scales for beginning bass players. A lot of the more experienced players have voiced opinions (with rationales) on one way over the other, and a few have said that they’re different sides of the same coin.

The thread can be found here:
Learning Chords Vs. Scales for beginners

I offered a little slice of what I’m doing, to help return it to a beginner’s perspective in post #42 and a poster named JTE responded with a really well-constructed outline of how to progress with theory as a bass player in #43.

Here’s the text of what was said (in case the forum is ever inaccessible):

vishalicious @ 01:56 PM on 9/27/2011

Hi All,
I’m a beginner bass player and this thread has really intrigued me. Like the OP, I have the Hal Leonard method (which I really like a lot) and some other books. I’ve also seen Carol Kaye’s video interview snippet on Youtube a few times. For some reason, that video relaxes me, so I watch it now and again when I’m not practicing.
Anyway, what I’ve been doing, after first seeing this thread a few days ago, is practicing scales, as I’ve been doing for a little while, but afterwards, I take a short break and then practice chords based off of that scale. My hope is that it gives me the best of both worlds, along with going through the Hal Leonard book and trying to learn songs.
Does this make sense to do, because its basically what I’ve been doing recently:
1. Warm up with an exercise in which I move up the neck 4 frets at a time on each string.
2. Practice scales for about 10 minutes.
3. Practice chords (just triads and then 5ths and then 7ths and then 5ths with octave) for about 10 minutes.
4. Do a lesson in the Hal Leonard book (the one with all 3 books combined).
5. Practice figuring out a song (right now, its Stand By Me, because my brother-in-law is practicing that).

There are days in which I don’t do #5 and just do 2-4 more, depending on how my head is. If time permits, I do 1-3 more than once during the day… when the wife isn’t making me fix something.

The main question in my post is then, does it make sense to practice scales and chords at the same time?

JTE @ 02:36 PM on 9/27/2011
It absolutely makes sense to see scales and chords as two bits of the same puzzle, rather than create a dichotomy. But that’s because I have pretty rigid definitions of what it means to learn scales…
Now to me, spending time running a bunch of different scales is not nearly as productive and useful to a beginner compared to practicing arpeggios and learning about chords, or reasons generally clearly outlined already by others- because most music we play is essentially chordal in nature AND because if you know where the chord tones are you’re very close to finding other useful passing tones quickly without having to resort to scales, modes, etc.
There’s a progression to learning theory that’s important to development as a bassist and I think it’s this…
From an earlier post of mine (with thanks to mambo4 for creating the framework)…
Theory can seem like a quagmire to those who are starting out, and it’s often difficult to know just how important a particular aspect of it is. I will say that learning how chords are built from scales is the most important aspect of theory. It is far more useful to understand chord construction than to memorize all those “Scales A and B go with chord X” formulas.

I’d say the logical progression learning music theory is this:

1.) Learn the major scale, and how it’s constructed
2.) Learn how basic chords are built from the major scale- e.g Major is 1,3,5, minor is 1,b3, 5, etc.
3.) Learn how to harmonize the notes of any diatonic major scale by building chords / stacking thirds.
4.) Learn arppegios/chord tones
5.) Learn to look at common chord progressions as “numerals” (eg, I-IV-V ect) to understand how the chords relate to the song’s key.
6.) Learn the Natural Minor scale (a/k/a Aeolian mode) and the dominant scale (a/k/a Mixolydian); And learn how these relate to the major scale (i.e.; its the V and vi mode)
7.) Understand how other 4 modes of the major scale are derived (less important to memorize these other modes at first)
8.) Dive back into modes for more detailed ideas about what “goes” with what chord.

Bass playing is basically a matter of knowing what to play over various chords. It may seem daunting at first, but my practical experience (bass in pop/rock) has been that I mostly use Major, Minor, and Dominant 7 related bassline patterns, usually based on chord tones and pentatonics. Even if you’re playing some guitar oriented riff-rock, each riff is going to imply a chord of some kind.

85%+ of the time, you will be going from root note to root note as the chords change. The trick is learning how to do it with a groove and feel that is stylistically appropriate to the song. The best way to reach stylistic understanding is to learn songs you like and pick them apart to see how the bassline relates to the chords. I cannot emphasize this idea enough: The answer to this common question is to LEARN AND ANALYZE BASS LINES BY THE MASTERS. Once you undertand what Jamerson (for example) did with a particular set of changes, these ideas become added to your tool set, to use, change, blend and create your own voice.

I highly recommend Edley’s Music Theory for Practical People as well.
Play, Learn, Music, theory, instruction, books, piano


5 responses

  1. Pingback: TalkBass thread: Learning Chords vs. Scales for beginners II « Ugly Bass Face

  2. Pingback: Scales, Chords & Arpeggios « Ugly Bass Face

  3. ask

    Hello very nice web site!! Man .. Beautiful .. Wonderful ..
    I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds also? I am satisfied to find a lot of helpful information right here
    in the post, we need work out extra strategies in this regard, thank you for
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    April 18, 2015 at 12:22 am

    • vishalicious

      Thanks. I don’t have any feeds, but I hope you find the blog itself useful.

      April 18, 2015 at 2:08 am

  4. Pingback: Reading the fretboard & notation as intervallic shapes | Ugly Bass Face

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