In its day, Babylon was the largest city in the World—and in this day, the Berklee Bass Department is the largest bass department in the world. In many ways the department, both students and faculty, is like a city: it’s multicultural, stylistically diverse, vibrant, progressive, and not afraid of change. Collectively, our faculty have made thousands of records, written hundreds of books, toured the world, won Grammys, and influenced several generations of bassists. What better way to share this with the world than to partner with the most venerated purveyor of all things bass, Bass Player magazine? BP’s history of providing quality instructional content makes for an ideal educational partnership.
In the Berklee Bass Department, our teaching methods, pedagogical philosophies, and stylistic approaches may vary, but our endgame is always the same: We do absolutely everything we can to prepare our students for what awaits them in their careers, regardless of where they will live or what kind of music they will play.
Our first column features a sample of some of our teaching’s approaches and focuses. While it may seem like a long list, it’s only a fraction of where we are coming from—and where you could be going. In future columns, we will drill down into some of these concepts, feature some faculty members, and provide insight into the serious musical foundations we build, and the fun our team has doing so.
For a deeper look at our program, faculty, and philosophy, go to berklee.edu/bass.
Name one important concept and focus of your teaching.
Tom Appleman Learning repertoire. Learning a song’s melody is key to developing meaningful bass-line counterpoint as well as improvisational phrasing.
Steve Bailey Technical foundation. Like a skyscraper’s foundation, one’s technical foundation is critical to support virtuosity, consistency, and musicality. Bass is physical; good form and strength are key to good time, tone, technique, and expression!
Whit Browne The first items on my study list are sound/tone and beat/rhythm. A legendary musician once said, “They hear ya before they hear ya!” A big, fat bass tone and a deep, groovin’ beat will bring you to the attention of all.
Dave Buda Simplicity. Part of effective teaching is the ability to make the complicated seem simple. We discover together how you learn, and then we proceed to break down new material in ways that suit your learning style.
Dave Clark Practice habits. Choose tempos supporting musical success and technical ease. Face the unmastered with courage. Savor repetition. Employ panoramic awareness, creative problem-solving, and self-reliance.
Bruce Gertz Practice. A disciplined routine is key to success. My students combine warmups, scales, arpeggios, reading, listening to and emulating the masters, and improvising in various contexts.
Lincoln Goines Stylistic diversity. Keep your ears and spirit open to all kinds of music. At some point, especially as a bassist, you will find a use for it.
Susan Hagen Classical repertoire. Studying the masterworks is a path to technical and musical mastery, while solidifying pitch makes for a better bassist, regardless of style.
Fernando Huergo Musical flexibility. It is very important for the working musician to adapt to many different situations. Studying myriad styles and repertoires, and listening to music with an open mind, are a path to this flexibility.
John Lockwood Listening. That’s the key ingredient that allows us to connect and communicate in every musical setting.
Chris Loftlin Practice habits. Focused listening, disciplined practice, and concentrated effort are habits that will foster the skills and confidence necessary to succeed musically and academically.
Ed Lucie Application of theory. It’s not enough to have a theoretical knowledge of harmony—one must be able to apply it to building bass lines and improvising.
David Marvuglio Pick technique. Facility with a pick adds another dimension to your playing. More attack, clarity, punch, and grind—and driving eighth-notes—are some of its virtues.
Danny Morris Transcription and analysis of current bass lines. This process leads to discovery, mirroring what many students will encounter after they graduate.
John Patitucci Rhythm is the most powerful tool we use in communicating musical ideas. Time feel, bass lines, compositional and harmonic movement, accents, articulations, inflections, and more—they all rely on rhythm as the primary mode of communication!
Mike Pope Phrasing and the use of space between ideas frames them so they’re more clearly defined and communicated. Our natural speaking skills provide a springboard for understanding that in a musical context.
Joe Santerre Teamwork and cooperation. In addition to learning and navigating the fingerboard and applying harmonic and rhythmic knowledge, it is imperative to impress upon students the importance of being a team player.
Sandro Scoccia Sound and tone. I have students focus on exploring tone, manipulating it, and eventually finding a sound that they love. Great tone inspires more practice, playing, and confidence.
Oscar Stagnaro Rhythmic awareness. Regardless of style, it is imperative that a bass player have an understanding of basic percussion and drum-set rhythms, as this will enhance bass line creation.
Anthony Vitti Consistency—the ability to evenly maintain and control note length, time, swing, volume, and sound from the beginning to the end of a song.
Gary Willis Command of technology. I try to enable students to teach themselves by getting a handle on their practice environment and leveraging that for the best results.
Victor Wooten Expressing your greatness. Like your fingerprint, there’s a musical part of you that is unique. The key to clearly and easily expressing it lies beyond the 12 notes.
Steve Bailey is the Chairman of the Bass Department at Berklee College of Music and the grandmaster of the fretless 6-string as a veteran sideman, author, educator, and solo artist. In addition to touring with Victor Wooten in Bass Extremes, he is at work on his next solo record.