copyright © 1995 Rick Bellinger Last Modified: Oct 1, 1995
These lessons originally appeared on StickWire - the Official Chapman Stick Mailing List.
Reproduced here by permission. Articles can only be reprinted in their entirety.

Theory on Tap: An Introduction

This introduction is to explain the purpose of my proposed theory lessons. Some of the lessons will be written by others, and this introduction really only applies to my lessons, although I hope other teachers will strive for consistency.

I'm sure others on this list are more qualified than me to organize these lessons, but they didn't volunteer (and I'm not quite sure why I did, other than to get a better grasp on this stuff myself by writing about it.) Use at your own risk; there's always that "delete" button.

I hope these lessons will give stick players a basic grasp of some theory concepts. I do not intend to cover everything you need to know, and I strongly suggest you look into the bibliography below for further reading.

These lessons will cover "Jazz Theory" as opposed to "Classical Theory" (or in some circles, "Legit Theory") for one reason; it's all that I've seriously studied. However, conversations with those who've studied both lead me to conclude that Jazz Theory will be much more useful to the average contemporary musician playing 20th century popular music, whether it's jazz, rock, country, etc. (O.K., so maybe it's not that much help for rap.)

Some theory about theory; my music teacher in college stressed that theory is *not* a rigid set of rules that must always be adhered to. Rather, it is an organization of how things are already played. People probably played it that way in the first place because they liked how it sounded, without much knowledge of theory. It now sounds "correct" to us because we've heard it enough times. If you keep playing it that way, it will continue to sound correct. However, innovation in music comes only when players depart from the standard way of doing things. If you know the rules, you always have the choice of adhering to them, or breaking them. If you don't know the rules, you can't make a conscious choice. Pianist Misha Mengelberg once said he went to a conservatory to learn which rules he had to break. I believe it is in the player's best interest to understand theory no matter what he/she intends to do with it.

On to Lesson 1!



"The Jazz Theory Workbook" by Mark E. Boling, ed. By Jerry Coker. 1993 Advance Music.

"The Jazz Language" by Dan Haerle. 1980, Studio Productions/recordings.

Web sites

"A Jazz Improvisation Primer" by Mark Sabetella. The "Chord/Scale Relationships" section has been a major inspiration for these lessons.

"Jazz Improvisation" This sight has some interesting articles complete with sheet music gifs and sound files, but the "Harmony" article is not yet available.


I highly recommend the Jamey Abersold Play-a-long books and recordings. (The books list the number 1-800-456-1388 for a free catalog.)

rick bellinger San Diego, CA

copyright © 1995 Rick Bellinger

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Last Modified: Oct 1, 1995