Bringing out the emotional impact of every note
By Jon Liebman
Week of June 1, 2020
When learning bass, one topic that continually frustrates students is music theory. Everybody acknowledges that theory is important. They know they need to learn it, and they want to learn it. The problem lies in the disconnect between understanding theory and knowing how to apply it to making music.
One person who has a lot to say on the subject is Alain Caron, my featured interviewee this week on For Bass Players Only. Alain has been immersed in music and bass for decades. The longtime leader of the popular Canadian fusion band, UZEB, Alain is also a passionate music educator, frequently covering the topic with his students.
“I noticed that all students and all beginners are so afraid of theory,” he observes. “They say theory is too intellectual, (and that) music has to be played with heart, with feeling.”
“Of course it does!” Alain concurs. But his thinking goes deeper. “I see music as a language,” he says, “so I decided I’m not going to play one note (if) I don’t know the reason I play that note, the function of that note in the chord, and the harmony, the emotional impact of that note.”
In other words, learning theory has a direct impact on your ability to make your music sound more meaningful and heartfelt. At For Bass Players Only, in addition to all the courses on Jazz, Blues, Funk, Latin, and all the other genres, students learning bass here have made Scales & Theory one of the most popular courses on the site. I’m constantly hearing from FBPO students about how much their grasp of theory is helping them with their grooving, soloing, and ability to build bass lines.
Theory is important when making music, and so is emotion. Alain sums it up with a great analogy: “You can learn all the words in the dictionary, but it won’t make you a poet. You can still say stupid things, so you need both. You need the theory, but you need to have something to say.”
How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Alain here.