Jump to content


Please note: You can easily log in to MPN using your Facebook account!

(The advantages of) Learning scales


EddiePlaysBass

Recommended Posts

What is the advantage of learning scales? And by learning I mean: up and down, down and up, in thirds, fifths and other variations?

 

Case in point is, I KNOW everyone says it'll make you a better player but I'm afraid all it will do is make me better at playing scales - much like they used to say that in order to improve your karate skills you had to go running. All it really did was make me better at running.

"I'm a work in progress." Micky Barnes

 

The Ross Brown Shirt World Tour

Link to comment
Share on other sites



  • Replies 42
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Actually, it doesn't. Especially if all you are doing is covers.

 

Until that one day where you're playing out with a different jazz band and someone inexplicably tells you to solo on the minor pentatonic over the bridge ...

 

But that NEVER happens. Nope. Not at all.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, running doesn't make you better at karate? I guess if all one does is show up to lessons once a week and whack on lumber and throw one's classmates around a room, it's useless. But to make one a "well rounded athlete" (and I would assume that karate is as much athletic endeavor as art), one has to be in "athletic" shape.

 

Same with musical theory. This theory is the written language of our craft. And the cool part is it doesn't mattter what our primary "spoken" language is. If one's goal is to stand on stage and wack on a four string to the same agonizing covers; never expanding their knowledge and abilities beyond what is needed to get slow-witted drunks on a dance floor and collect one's $75 to $125(US) for the night, then scales and theory are a waste of time. If one intends on expanding their craft, then one needs to know the language from with they speak.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Learning scales has vastly improved my ability to learn songs and to create my own lines. When you know scales, you can play any line as long as you know the chords in the tune. It also makes it a lot easier when you have to play a tune in a new key. Plus, practicing scales is a great way to work on finger dexterity on both hands. I actually enjoy playing scales.
"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Luckily I saved what I posted to you on Facebook which didn't make it to your end:

 

D: Phil i have a question for you

 

P: Fire away!

 

D: I am trying hard to get this Q right, as it may appear a silly one. What is the advantage of learning scales? And by learning I mean: up and down, down and up, in thirds, fifths and other variations?

The case in point is, I KNOW everyone says it'll make you a better player, I just wonder if it would make me better at playing scales, much like they used to say jogging was good for practising karate. It only made you run faster and that was that...

 

P: That's true in a way - and one reason I rarely practise scales stepwise anymore. Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. BUT...

The point of practising scales and especially arpeggios is to combine the SOUND and the FINGERING. So, they are sounds that crop up very frequently in all music. And much music is based on them. You have to get the SOUNDS in your head together with the FINGERINGS/PATTERNS so you can hear lalala in your head and play lalala - or head a keyboard play G F Eb and recognise and play that - so the real purpose is connected with the sounds and building a vocabulary.

Like...I practised a diminished scale enough that if I hear a G7b9 I can quickly play the runs I hear in my head (when it works it works, usually it's subconscious, of course sometimes it might be mechanical but I am aiming for SOUND.

The other thing is, I was reading a piece of sheet music the other day and there was this fast run and I just sight-read it easily and I didn't even know how I'd done it or what the individual notes were but then I realised it was part of a scale. So the scales/modes etc are part of the vocabulary of music. If all you do is practise them you will sound like disjointed meaningless copied random phrases and sentences but if you don't know them it's hard to speak fluently as you are speaking word by word.

Here endeth the sermon.

Man, thank you, you really helped me put my thoughts together on that...probably for the first time.

Absolutesly brilliant question btw!

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, you could just learn song after song (the bassline, the melody, the solos and the chords) and eventually you would be able to play anything. You still might not know why certain notes were more commonly used in certain places or you might intuitively figure it out.

 

Or you could practice numerous kinds of scales with a variety of fingers and note orders and you would then find that the learning process given above would go a little more quickly.

 

If you are reading music, you will see a group of notes on the page and without thinking about it, your fingers will know where to go. And if you are playing by ear, you will be able to hear the relationships between notes in a key and you will figure out the part quicker.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess it depends on whether you mean really "learning" scales or "practicing" them daily after you've been playing for a couple of decades or more.

 

I used to think this was essential for every instrument (and I've played several over the years on a serious level, discounting the ones I've just toyed around on). I no longer feel this to be the case.

 

When you're playing all the time, and soloing now and then, you're kind of practicing your scale theory on a regular basis, in the way that matters most: tactile memories. Although there will be songs where I need to maintain a vivid consciousness in intellectualizing a progression, mode, or harmonic theory.

 

As for sight-reading, I would disagree with Phil: the MOST important thing is capturing all the rhythmic elements as closely as possible. Next most important is to not play any BAD notes. Only after that comes "playing all the RIGHT notes" (a "wrong" note can still be a "good" note). I first learnt this rule in national band competitions back in high school, and it has done me well ever since.

 

Here's something funny: If I'm thrown a complex bass line in the treble clef, I have more trouble sight-reading it than if it's in the bass clef, even though I play multiple instruments and am also used to reading Grand Staffs and even Alto Clef! It's all about context, as that's how our memory works.

 

The most important thing about scales is becoming familiar with the full neck, so that you can instantly jump an octave and a half, two octaves, or whatever, without having to "figure it out" on the fly. Once you develop a memory map of your entire instrument, you've achieved the goal (though it should be reinforced).

 

Knowing your scales also helps when in modal or ambiguous tonality. Much of rock music is neither traditional major or minor (Mixolydian is common). Certain idioms tend to flat the 7 (at least coming down) even when otherwise in a major key. There are too many variants to list, and the topic of modes is quite controversial anyway as some would maintain that modes are non-transposable (this has to do with the harmonic ratios of certain pitches if using Just Intonation, for example).

 

At any rate, if you don't already KNOW your scales, then LEARNING them is a MUST! And if you DO already know them, make sure your playing reconfirms that fact. Otherwise it's time to dig out the old scale charts again. :-)

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i dont see y i shud hav to lern scals i can git any tab i want of th intrawebz wenever i want n i can spend all day wachin yootoob starin at feildy lef hand and lern everythin i need to no yo guys r jus old an dont git it

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Words of wisdom from our resident Bass Instructor. :-)

 

As for YouTube, I need to find the time to start using it as a learning aid (less for bass than for some exotic instruments I own, and probably also for my new upright bass). I wouldn't put it down; I wish I had that tool when I was starting out, vs. depending on the idiosyncracies of one teacher in a small town.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow...that seemed more coherent when I typed it last night!

 

Now I understand why I constantly saw you typing :) Still don't understand why I did not see the result. Bloody technology! Sounds pretty coherent to me, though, mate :thu:

 

As for the nature of my question (and this is partially directed directly at SnF :) ) I was cleaning out my desk, on which I had piled a heap of bass instruction books, tabs and Bass Player magazines, and I found this bass scales instruction I had downloaded from some free lessons site recommended by one of our fellow LDLD'ers (for the life of me cannot remember who it was at this moment, sorry).

 

So I started reading through it and one of the first things it suggests is to not just play scales note per note up and down, but to make music and vary. So whilst I should have been studying for a work-related exam I took the Squier from the wall and started working out the C major scale in thirds. I had a small light bulb moment about the minor and major chords in that scale (would need to verify if I am right, but it makes sense anyway) and I reckoned I need to incorporate this stuff into my practice routine.

 

But I am one of those people who do not necessarily see the good or bad of any given thing, unless it is pointed out to them. Hence my original question to Phil W via the FB chat. I am glad it didn't work and I ended up posing the question here. You have all offered a great insight and for the record, I wasn't discarding scales, I was just curious as to the wherefores and the whys.

 

As far as karate goes, I used to practice 2 to 3 times a week for years on end, and it was actually enough to keep me physically fit and able to throw around my peers :) Running, whilst interesting in itself, to me did not feel like a complementary training. Having said that, perhaps it did help. I stopped practising karate and continuously restart running (only to quit after three times and vow to start over - like I will come Monday) so perhaps I never took it far enough to actually see, feel and experience the result. Guess I will start to incorporate scales into my daily routine, and hopefully take it far enough to hear, feel and experience the result in my overall musical growth.

"I'm a work in progress." Micky Barnes

 

The Ross Brown Shirt World Tour

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I really enjoy playing scales. I play the Major scale, modes and various arpeggios. I find it helps my ears and it keeps me physically fit on the Bass. I only do it in burst though normally when I'm having a go at writing a line or when I'm learning something complex.

 

They help me link hands heart & mind together, they have only ever made me play better. I do exercise Jeremy's thought though and try to forget them when playing. I like it when sound rumbles forth.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

EPB - I have a whole shelf full of the stuff myself. Bass Guitaur Grimoire, 15 Hal Leonard Books, some of Ed Friedlands suff. When I started playing again about 10 years ago, I self-taught and bought all this stuff and never use it.

 

That doesn't mean it still isn't a good idea.

 

I don't run. My knees sound like two bags of fish tank gravel smacking together whenever I walk.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

SNF, thanks for bringing up the Grimoire books -- I've long wondered what people think of them but they've been off my radar for a long time. Did they help you in anyway that you can pinpoint and/or do you still use them?

 

BTW the word itself is derived from "grammar" and yet literally means "textbook of magic". Go figure.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In a sense, yeah. When I was starting out again, I spent a lot of time with chord and scale theory. The Grimoire was a good source, but I'm only really concerned with the "big 7". I don't have a need often to play Arabic b4, Hindu #2 or Perverted b5.

 

Nice backgound in how and why the scales are what they are ... if one is interested in that sort of thing (which I am).

 

Haven't used it lately, but spend a bit of time with it when I was getting into the whole jazz thing. Being stuck with no knowledge of the music and having only lead sheets, I had to learn how to write, construct and improvise bass lines. The writings on polychords and scales was indeed helpful.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, cool, I didn't realize they get into the Arabic and Hindu scales, which is EXACTLY what I am looking for! Thanks, I'll check those out!

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cool -- I wouldn't have known had you not told me, as I just checked on-line and can't find an index of what it covers; just general overviews and user reviews.

 

I'll order this now, as I am working on some Middle Eastern and South Asian soundscapes and themes where I would like my flowing and undulating bass lines to be a bit better informed vs. merely intuitive.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just placed the order with Amazon, qualifying for free shipping by adding the reissue of McCartney II (what an appropriate companion purchase; especially as he goes into some weird modes on that album!).

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are a lot of great responses and links here.

 

Since EPB is not a native English speaker, but his English is really good (much better than my Flemish, Walloon or French), I'll suggest that learning scales is like increasing one's vocabulary in a foreign language, and also learning the colloquial (conversational/slang) form of that foreign language in order to become truly fluent.

 

This ties in to Ross's post about taking lessons, scales are a method by which one can break out of the rut of familiar patterns and learn something new, and learn to accompany, improvise, or solo, in ways that one hadn't considered before.

 

 

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.'-Hamlet

 

Guitar solos last 30 seconds, the bass line lasts for the whole song.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

This ties in to Ross's post about taking lessons, scales are a method by which one can break out of the rut of familiar patterns and learn something new, and learn to accompany, improvise, or solo, in ways that one hadn't considered before.

 

 

Crap, that reminds me, I have to practice...

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can give you a reason to know at least a few scales...

 

A friend's asked me to contribute a guitar solo to a song on his band's upcoming album. Obviously, I was flattered to be asked. I popped over to his house to demo out my solo for him. My solo will land on a downward modulation after his solo, and then he and I will swap phrases over the next section, which modulates back up for four measures. Then we come together and play a melody in harmony while the band modulates down again, and the song fades out.

 

We sat down to work on it, and he immediately admitted that he knows nothing of scales or harmony, so he was totally depending on me to come up with this section. He basically tools around with notes until he finds something he likes, but he has no idea why it works, and it takes him a long time to figure out things like this.

 

Now, I am no master of scales, but I know a thing or two, and I was able to sit down and blast out a guitar solo for my section in a take. We both liked it, and he was impressed that I could improv something and have it sound good right away. When it came to writing the "back and forth" phrases, I wound up freestyling both of our parts, and I just taught him his phrases in order to record the demo. I took about 10 minutes to write a harmonized section for the end of the song, and I taught him his parts there, too.

 

End result? I basically wrote about two minutes' worth of HIS music because he had no idea what to do with it. Now, granted, he DID ask me to come by and play on the record, but I was expecting to throw down an eight-measure solo, not the entire melodic content of the end of his song. When I left, he told me that he could never have written anything so cool, and he was really, really thankful that I made everything happen so quickly and naturally.

 

So, the point is, even with my extremely limited scalar and theoretical knowledge, I was able to bust out something that made a song better in very limited time. That's why knowing scales is useful.

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent refs, thanks!

 

I've been heavily influenced by John Zorn these past couple of years -- though I can't afford to keep up with his voluminous output.

 

The third link in particular, gives me a good framework for understanding what is going on with that music.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...