Having a strong knowledge and foundation of how music works is essential for all bassists due to their role within a band or ensemble. Music theory is a concept that might seem intimidating initially, notably to beginners, but with a logical approach and starting with the basics and building from there, it can be enjoyable and rewarding to learn. This is especially true if you can begin applying concepts to your bass playing quickly.
In this article, you will find some of the best bass guitar books on music theory that go over the essentials that all bass players should know to become all-around better players.
Table of Contents
- Why Is Music Theory Important For Bassists?
- What Are The Best Bass Theory Books?
- Essential Music Theory For Electric Bass by Robert Garner
- Music Theory For Bass Players by Steve Gorenberg
- Bass Theory By John C. Goodman
- Bass Guitar Theory Nuts & Bolts by Andy Schneider
- Music Theory For The Bass Player By Ariane Cap
Why Is Music Theory Important For Bassists?
As the introduction mentions, the bass has a unique role in musical settings. This is because it’s part of the rhythm section but also has melodic functions.
Sure, the guitar and the piano, and other instruments can also serve similar functions, but the bass is the glue that holds everything in the band together, and without it, something is missing entirely from the music.
The bass is essential for working with the drums to provide a solid rhythm through good timing, but it also considers what the other instruments are doing as well, particularly in regard to harmony.
Bassists can help add texture and emotion by outlining certain chords by picking out specific chord tones within them, and it can also be melodic and offer something distinct and recognizable; it depends entirely on what the song calls for.
Of course, it is possible to play around and use your ear to come up with wonderful ideas, but with music theory, you can take out a lot of the guesswork in creating great basslines by becoming familiar with topics such as:
For example, if you have chords in front of you with the key signature, your theory knowledge will help you know what notes will 100% work and which won’t.
However, understanding why these “wrong” notes are dissonant or clashing can also help you break outside the box and develop creative basslines.
As you continue to read, you will find my top picks for music theory books that are specifically made by bassists for bassists, even though what you learn in them can be applied to all Western instruments that use the twelve main notes. For instance, the information here also carries over to the guitar and vice-versa with guitar theory books.
If you still have any doubts or reservations about learning theory, check out this video to learn more about how learning theory can enhance your appreciation of music, not stifle it.
What Are The Best Bass Theory Books?
In this article, I have selected a handful of music theory books that I’ve personally looked at and can recommend to any bassist looking to dive into this fun and interesting subject.
I want to point out that all of these books will help you achieve the same goal; therefore, their content will mostly be similar. Naturally, they won’t be exactly the same due to the different authors and how they explain things.
Also, some books might delve into some additional or different topics that others might not, but they all cover the essentials of music theory that you should know.
That means that by picking any one or two of these books, you will be able to learn about notation (don’t worry – they include tabs, too!), how different scales and modes are laid out, intervals, chord construction, and progressions, and key signatures that will help you become a more confident and creative player!
These are the five best music theory books for bassists that are appropriate for beginners or those who want to brush up on topics they may have previously learned but might have forgotten.
- Essential Music Theory for Electric Bass by Robert Garner
- Music Theory for Bass Players By Steve Gorenberg
- Bass Theory: The Electric Bass Guitar Player’s Guide to Music Theory by John C. Goodman
- Bass Guitar Theory Nuts & Bolts By Andy Schneider
- Music Theory for the Bass Player By Ariane Cap
There is no question that each of these will all discuss the topics that you need to know. So, instead of going over each book and talking about its content, I will discuss some of the individual things I like about each book. This may encourage you to explore each one and find a book or two that interests you the most.
Essential Music Theory For Electric Bass by Robert Garner
Robert Garner’s Essential Music Theory for Electric Bass is, in my opinion, one of the best bass books for beginners and does exactly what you’d expect. After all, it is published by Mel Bay, one of the leaders in beginner music books that are easy for people to follow.
Garner doesn’t go deep into advanced harmony beyond 7th chords, but realistically, if you can understand how the basic chords are made, it shouldn’t be too hard to learn about extended chords and things like that in the future, which are helpful to know about, but not completely essential.
This book is also relatively cheap and pretty straight to the point. If it’s your first time diving into music theory, this is a good place to start since you’ll gain a lot from this smaller investment.
- Garner, Robert (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 112 Pages – 04/06/2015 (Publication Date) – Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (Publisher)
Music Theory For Bass Players by Steve Gorenberg
Published by Hal Leonard, Music Theory for Bass Players: Demystify the Fretboard and Reveal Your Full Bass Potential! is written by Steve Gorenberg, and it’s quite similar to the previous book in many ways, but it does have some perks that can help edge it out.
Easy to understand, Gorenberg’s book is laid out perfectly for beginners, but as far as I can tell, the most significant difference between this one and Garner’s is that this book includes audio samples for each example written out in tablature.
This feature can be a big deal for new players since music is a listening skill that helps to understand what you’re hearing and playing. Admittedly, it is slightly more expensive, but paying the extra five bucks or so to have these audio tracks to play with might be worth it to you.
- Book/Online Media
- Pages: 160
- Instrumentation: Bass
- Instrumentation: Electric Bass
- Gorenberg, Steve (Author)
Bass Theory By John C. Goodman
One of the first things that surprised me about Bass Theory: The Electric Bass Guitar Player’s Guide to Music Theory by John C. Goodman was that it’s literally the cheapest but most comprehensive book I’ve found on music theory for bassists.
For under 20 dollars, you get the other stuff that you really need, but this also goes in those more advanced harmony topics that I mentioned before, like 9th, 11th, and 13th chords that you can choose to study in the future once you feel more comfortable with the fundamentals.
Unlike the other two books, this one also goes into rhythm and time signatures; while I can’t fault the previous two authors for not discussing rhythmic concepts since many people consider it a separate but closely related topic from music theory, it’s still a crucial area for all musicians. Either way, it’s super nice to have here.
- Goodman, John C. (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 201 Pages – 11/22/2017 (Publication Date) – CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)
Bass Guitar Theory Nuts & Bolts by Andy Schneider
What sets Bass Guitar Theory Nuts & Bolts: Music Theory Explained in Practical, Everyday Context for All Genres from many other books about music theory is that it is centered around the applications of theory on your instrument.
Sure, all of these books so far do teach you how and why a concept works, but in this book, you will learn a lot more about creating your own bass lines and solos, including improvisation, which is a super fun skill that can only be developed by playing and putting what you’ve learned into action.
Schneider’s book really shines here while still teaching you the basics all the way to advanced harmony, and you can also grab this one for under 20 dollars. With the audio examples, it’s totally worth it.
- Schneider, Andy (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 114 Pages – 04/15/2021 (Publication Date) – Independently published (Publisher)
Music Theory For The Bass Player By Ariane Cap
By far the most-liked book on this subject, and my personal favorite, is Ariane Cap’s Music Theory for the Bass Player: A Comprehensive and Hands-on Guide to Playing with More Confidence and Freedom. They say that not one author can explain the theory the clearest to everyone, and one might resonate with one book better than another, but if anyone comes close to being the best teacher for this, it’s Cap, and there is a reason why people love her book so much.
Ariane Cap is a well-regarded educator in the bass-playing community (she does provide an online course), and her book here is so complete and well-organized that it makes learning music theory super easy and accessible. Not only that, she talks about other important topics like technique, musicality, and how to practice effectively so that you can make efficient progress with your instrument.
To aid with that, there are also video lessons included, and while it’s a little bit pricier than the other music theory books I’ve talked about, it really helps this one stand out from the rest since there are a lot of people who benefit from additional visual learning, which is why Youtube videos have been so popular.
- Cap, Ariane (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 184 Pages – 08/25/2015 (Publication Date) – Ariane Cap (Publisher)
Music theory is an amazing subject that every player should get immersed in. However, it can sound pretty daunting for many new and experienced players because they don’t know where to begin.
A good theory book will be organized in a way that makes sense to people just starting out. After all, while they are interconnected, fundamentals must still be learned for people to comprehend new concepts. For example, without knowing the major scale and intervals, it’s basically impossible to know how to build triad chords. All of these can help with that.
It’s incredibly advantageous to have this knowledge because it helps you communicate and convey musical ideas with others who also understand the theory. It’s actually a pretty powerful language if you think about it, and as you become more fluent in it, your playing will continue to grow too.
Overall, a bass player who knows their stuff and is dedicated to their craft will typically land more opportunities, and hopefully, at least one of these bass books on music theory will help take your musicianship to the next level, and you’ll eventually be the bassist that everyone wants in their group.
If you liked this guide to the best bass books for music theory and you happen to be a metalhead like me, you might like this article on my favorite books for metal bass. Whether you’re a pick or fingerstyle player, these songbooks will help get your chops up with consistent practice.