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Chords vs. Scales?


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I started by learning scales & modes, but I saw one posting that suggested learning chords first, then later learning scales was the way to go. I understand the theory & relationships between scales/modes/chords - my perspective here is that of emphasis & practice.


Can folks here comment on what works best for you? I realize learning bass-lines by ear, tablature & standard-notation fit-in somewhere, but here, I'm interested in "chords vs. scales".


FYI - I've been playing since the 70's, but I'm not pro, or even semi-pro. Over the years, I've personally emphasized everything EXCEPT chords, but I'm thinking that was a mistake.

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I just wanted to point out a cool concept in Rufus Reid's Evolving Bassist that helped me out with Jazz Walking Lines (which spilled over into my other music as well). He gives many types of walking bass lines: 1)Scalar, 2)Chordal, 3)Chromatic, 4)Scalar-Chordal, 5,Scalar-Chromatic, 5)Chordal-Chromatic and 6)Scalar-Chordal-Chromatic. I started out like you and really hit the modes, but when I started playing jazz there were too many implied key changed to just play like that. I went to a more chordal-chromatic approach. One of the things that helped me develop my ear for this approach is simple passing tones. Like if you play D-D-G-G-C-C-F-F in swinging quarter notes (vi-ii-V-I turnaround). Play this instead D-Ab-G-Db-C-E-F. You are putting a passing tone on the weak beats (2-4). Anyway, hope that helps a little.

We must accept the consequences of being ourselves-Sojourn of Arjuna


Music at www.moporoco.com/nick

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A lot of this depends upon what kind of music you are playing.


The concept is the same from country music to jazz, it's just a lot simpler with country. You only need the basic chord triad for much of country...in jazz soloing you need the full chord with all extensions. I haven't learned enough of that yet.


We support harmony by playing selected scale tones from scales that harmonize the various chords. The more you understand the chords, related scales and etc..the more "correct" notes you can choose.


(Quote from a good jazz friend: "There are no wrong notes in jazz. There are only better choices.")


So, here is a great book from a bass player in the North Texas area. It's tiny, 30 pages or so...but is the best approach I've ever seen for building scales to chords.


"Bass Lines in Minutes" by Kris Berg. is a pretty good resource.

"Let's raise the level of this conversation" -- Jeremy Cohen, in the Picasso Thread.


Still spendin' that political capital far faster than I can earn it...stretched way out on a limb here and looking for a better interest rate.

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Charlie Christian did not play scales or modes but built his solos around Chords. Then there is Django Reinhardt who couldn't read or write never mind scales and modes etc. I bet if you did a study you would find quite a lot of excellent accomplished musicians didn't read music or play with a knowledge of scales etc, 'course the other side of the coin is the amount of musicians who did play that way and were some of the best around, so I'd say horses for courses, whatever suits you best.

All the best


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Yeah, who knows--maybe you'll be that one-in-ten-million musician who can do it all without knowing music. Just like Django. Feel lucky?


Didn't think so. You are therefore wise to seek out some answers here. Do a search on this, as there have been a few good threads on this topic before. Generally, I think you'll find people saying that you need to know your scales, since chords are built from intervals in the scales, but in the end it's really chord theory that's going to move your playing forward.

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Without chords, there are no scales. Without scales, there are no chords. It's a yin/yang, chicken and the egg kinda thing. Scales spell out chordal harmonies, and chords delineate scales. And if you've been playing that long and are even halfway good, it doesn't matter one bit where your focus lay for all that time. All you can do is just learn the stuff you don't know yet. Knowing the theory is important, especially if you want to be even slightly serious about your instrument, but the most important thing is the sound that comes out of your instrument and into the listener's ear. Either it works or it doesn't.

"I had to have something, and it wasn't there. I couldn't go down the street and buy it, so I built it."


Les Paul

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