To read music or not to read music? Definitely to read music. However, in my view learning music theory first is better and it can be problematic to attempt to learn both at the same time.
I recently got this question about my new book Music Theory for the Bass Player:
What if I don’t read music?
It’s a very common concern actually. And my answer is part of why I wrote the book. In my experience there are many bass players (and all kinds of musicians in many styles and fields) that feel they are barred from learning even the basics of music theory because they can’t read music (standard notation). So I wrote the book to be entirely accessible to you if you do not read. (And in the videos there is no score involved anyways, so book or not, fear naught! And you do not need the book to follow along with the videos.) The book contains countless fretboard diagrams as well as some TAB in addition to where standard notation is used. I came to the conclusion this is best because:
I have seen music theory books that start with a brief explanation of the elements of how to read music, and then proceed to pages and pages of explaining scales, chords, harmony and so on using standard notation as the main graphical device. I can imagine how hard and frustrating this can become to somebody new to how to read music. Often electric bassists do not have a reading background that supports that, or maybe come more from their ears and feeling the notes on the bass, rather than their eyes glued to a written page of music.
So, are you saying no need to learn to read music?
Learning to read is of course a vital skill (You absolutely DO DO DO want to learn to read – score, charts, number system… gets you more gigs, makes you a more well rounded player and a gazillion of other reasons – we’ll explore that in later posts) – but I think it is a skill best learned AFTER you have a good understanding of basic music theory. Attempting to learn how to read music at the same time as learning about note lengths, intervals, scales, triads and chords is overwhelming for many, it means biting off more than one can sometimes chew. No wonder some get frustrated and overwhelmed! Reading – in such cases – becomes a distraction, an unnecessary stumbling block.
Maybe you are not used to read music or are not comfortable with a score in front of you. Don’t fret 😉 Many bass players benefit much more from hearing sounds or figuring out the shapes illustrated on the fretboard diagrams. Maybe you understand concepts better by hearing them and executing them, getting them under your fingers. A lot of bassists come from that tradition rather than a more classically oriented one. I wanted to make sure that if any of this describes you, you can work through the book successfully and have a good time while you’re at it!
And, another thought: if you know music theory, it becomes much easier to read music. An interval, a scale a triad… you will instantly recognize it on the page and start to read music in ‘chunks’.
I can read music just fine, will I get something out of this?
My goal is for you to understand how concepts are realized on the bass in shapes and patterns that you can get under your fingers and into your ears and then expand on creatively, rather than give you pages and pages of scales to read down in all 12 keys. I am more interested in giving you the tools to figure out how the concepts work so you can transpose them yourself.
If you are an advanced player you may find yourself plugging some holes and looking at a few things in different ways. Let me know how it is going for you as you follow along the videos.
Video Bits are starting soon!
That’s it for the Q&A section today. Please send me your questions and experiences as you work with the book or videos.
Praise for Music Theory for the Bass Player
I’m so thrilled that I got this book to where it is right now. It’s my first self published book, took me almost three years to put together. and it was and still is a great journey. I keep learning about the publishing business, what it takes to put a coherent book together and give it a satisfying design. It’s exhausting and exhilarating. I love it. I am already getting some very positive reactions to the book. Here is one from a dear friend, great musician and overall great guy, Kai Eckhart:
He took the time to read my book and then sent me this:
“If you are serious about exploring the bass guitar while making the best use of your precious time, this book will be an essential asset to your creative journey. Ariane has accomplished nothing less than a flawless road map from the microcosm of basic building blocks to the macrocosm of advanced comprehension. The book’s holistic methodology skillfully combines the unavoidable facts of music with an elegant psychological approach to the art of learning itself. Music Theory for the Bassist will take you right to the edge of your nest from where you can jump into the unknown with a powerful set of wings to fly by.”
Kai Eckhardt, Bassist, Composer, Bandleader