Bass Player’s Book Club #3.2: Harmony and Theory

Best theory books bass

The Best Theory Books for Bass

Before diving into this post, it’s worth taking a look through part 1 of this voyage into music theory: How Much Theory Do You Need To Know?

Looking for the best books on music theory for bass players? There are hundreds (if not thousands) of music theory books on the market, so it’s hard to know where to begin. Below are a selection of titles that I’ve used to improve my understanding of harmony and music theory. Some of them are general theory books, others are bass-specific music theory books and one is even aimed at guitarists.

It’s worth noting that I’m yet to find a single, all-encompassing theory book that covers all the essential concepts in the necessary depth. These are the books that I’ve used extensively over the last 20 years of my own personal music education; all have pros and cons.

Top Theory Books for Bassists

FULL DISCLOSURE: Amazon URLs on this list are linked to my Amazon Associate account; this means that I earn a small fee from any direct book sales made through these links. This fee is typically less than 5% of the book price and does not increase the price that you pay for any product compared to logging on to Amazon and searching manually. 

(If you’re averse to lining the pockets of tax-dodging mega-corporations, then many of the products can be found at independent local retailers)

1. The AB Guide to Music Theory, Volume 1 (UK link|US link)

The AB Guide to Music Theory, Volume 1 is the book that I first used when I was at school. It comes at things from a classical perspective, which has advantages and disadvantages, but if you’re looking for a book that presents the nuts and bolts of music theory in an easy-to-read, no-nonsense package then this is worth a look.

The book is most effective when combined with the following theory workbooks – these ensure that you’ve really understood everything you’ve read in the textbook. Learning to write music is also a great way to improve your sight reading skills:

2. The Advancing Guitarist

It seems like every other post I write raves about this book, but that’s because it’s one of the best books ever for understanding how scales, modes and chords relate to fretted string instruments. Yes, it’s written for guitarists, but don’t let that put you off – I’ve been using it for a decade and have barely scratched the surface.

The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick (UK link|US link)

3. Functional Harmonic Concepts

Joe Hubbard is a serious force in the bass education world; if you’re not familiar with Joe, then he’s taught some monster players such as Pino Palladino, Paul Turner, Dave Swift and Mike Modesir. He also has a very clear-cut, BS-free approach to applying concepts of harmony and music theory to the bass.

Normally, I’d hesitate to recommend any book that includes TAB, but I understand that authors include it in order to make books commercially viable (remember: just because it’s there doesn’t mean that you have to use it!)

Functional Harmonic Concepts by Joe Hubbard

4. Jazzology

The title might be off-putting, but this book is a great resource for those who feel that they understand the basics and are ready to progress into deeper theoretical waters. Jazzology isn’t aimed at bassists, and so contains lots of treble clef reading and piano examples – working through these will do wonders for your musicianship. It has a workbook element to it, with questions at the end of every chapter to test your learning.

Jazzology by Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha (UK link| US link)

5. The Jazz Theory Book

Mark Levine’s Jazz Theory Book is huge in every sense of the word; a 500+ page encyclopedia of almost every facet of jazz harmony that has rave reviews from prominent jazz musicians. It’s also crammed with musical examples taken from the great improvisers and even contains recommendations of standards to learn and albums to listen to. In spite of this, I don’t really like it all that much. Why? It follows the Berklee College of Music chord/scale theory approach to learning harmony, which in my experience is not the most musical way of approaching improvisation. Of course, this is just my personal bias, and The Jazz Theory Book remains a very useful educational resource for students and teachers alike.

The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine (UK link|US link)