Is Music Theory Important for Bass?
It depends! What I mean by that is the level of music theory to learn.
There are many life situations where you will need to know certain aspects of music theory and others where you will not.
BECOMING THE BEST BASSIST
If you want to become the best bassist ever, you should learn all sorts of music theories.
This can be from learning about modes, different types of major and minor scales to ear training and reading sheet music.
This does not mean that you need to know advanced theory, such as inversions and transposing unless you want to learn them.
Here are a few things to learn:
- Major Scales (Pentatonic & Modes)
- Minor Scales (Pentatonic, Harmonic, Melodic & Natural)
- Circle of Fifths
- Reading Sheet Music (time signatures, key signatures, bpm)
- Ear Training
Knowing beginner to advanced music theory is a good idea if you want to teach. As a teacher, you need to be confident in what you are teaching and answer any questions your student may have.
You don’t have to go to college to become a private lesson teacher but taking courses in all levels of theory will help build your foundation of music.
If you wanted to teach academically, you would need to go to college and do all the requirements for that degree.
If you want to play in a jazz ensemble or a more formal group, it is a good idea to learn all levels of theory. You will be reading a lot of sheet music and sometimes it is on the fly. It is good to decipher what key, time signature, and any accidentals, and other changes occur in the music easily and quickly.
GIGMASTER / OPEN MIC MAVEN / JAMMIN’
If you are playing in front of people on your own or in a band, it is a good idea to have a basic understanding of music theory.
Sight-reading and tablature require some understanding of music theory. You need to know the time signature and key signature you are in, as well as the duration of each note, rhythm, etc..
Even though tablature is not as sophisticated as sheet music, you still have the same elements of time and key that you need to know how to play with.
In all of these cases, you should learn ear training. This is crucial so that you know what notes to play, the tempo, and when to improvise, and when to play simple bass lines.
For ear training, there are different methods that you can use to get better at hearing notes.
I tend to listen to music and then try to play along with it as my form of ear training. You can play individual notes on your bass and hum them to try to remember them.
If you are unsure where you stand, have no fear! Just pick up a great music theory book (hint: I wrote the No-Nonsense Guide to Music Theory, Scales, and More! available on Amazon) and watch some videos from your favorite bass players.
You will not only be motivated to become a better musician but also learn a lot!