Bass Performance 101

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Authored by Richard Appleman, Danny Morris


Course Code: OBASS-130

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


The bass not only holds the band together rhythmically, but is also a crucial component to the overall sound and direction of the music. In Bass Performance 101, you'll learn to create and perform your own unique bass lines in a variety of different styles. Throughout the course you'll focus on four key areas of performance: time, tonality, timbre, and taste, and learn how to use theory to generate ideas that you can apply directly to your bass lines.

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You will also study the techniques and unique playing styles of bass masters across many different genres, including Roger Waters, Paul McCartney, Carol Kaye, James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Pino Palladino, Paul Chambers, Dave Holland, Stanley Clarke, Ray Brown, and Charles Mingus. Additional study topics include pentatonic, blues, major, and minor scales; diatonic harmony; ostinato bass lines; groove and time feel; and compositional techniques, such as tritones, pedal points, and double stops.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Apply major, minor, blues, and pentatonic scales and their modes to your bass lines
  • Play accurately in time
  • Improve the timbre or sound quality of your playing
  • Demonstrate enhanced tonality, and know what note to play when
  • Perform with your own unique style
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Lesson 1: Half Steps

  • Half Steps
  • Chromatic Scale
  • Musical Examples: Bootsy Collins (James Brown), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
  • Left-Hand Muting

Lesson 2: Blues and Pentatonic Scales

  • Blues Scale
  • Major Pentatonic Scale
  • Minor Pentatonic Scale
  • Musical Examples: Jack Bruce (Cream), Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix), Jerry Jemmott (King Curtis)

Lesson 3: Major Scale

  • Major Scale
  • Musical Examples: Paul McCartney (Beatles), "Rhythm Changes," "Happy Birthday," Slam Stewart (Benny Goodman), Ron Carter

Lesson 4: Diatonic Triads

  • Scale Degrees of the Major Scale
  • Diatonic Triads
  • Tenths
  • Musical Examples: Aston Barrett (Bob Marley), James Jamerson (Gladys Knight & the Pips), Carol Kaye (Joe Cocker and The Beach Boys)
  • Fender Bass and the Motown Sound

Lesson 5: Time, Rhythm, and Groove

  • Keeping Time
  • Carol Kaye and Subdividing the Beat
  • Musical Examples: Berry Oakley (The Allman Brothers Band), Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report), Marcus Miller, Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson), Milt Hinton (Cab Calloway)
  • Playing Ahead, Behind, and Bad
  • Charles Mingus: Rotary Perception
  • Slap and Pop

Lesson 6: Midterm Project

  • Scale Review
  • Song Form
  • Musical Example: Meshell Ndegeocello
  • Midterm Project

Lesson 7: Minor Scales and Their Triads

  • Minor Scales
  • Minor Triads
  • Musical Examples: "My Funny Valentine," Paul Chambers (John Coltrane), Dave Holland

Lesson 8: Diatonic Harmony

  • Diatonic Triads
  • Bass Lines with Triads and Inversions
  • Modes
  • Arco Bass
  • Working with the Metronome
  • Musical Examples: James Jamerson (The Four Tops), "Mo Better Blues" (Branford Marsalis), "East St. Louis Toodleo" (Duke Ellington)

Lesson 9: Ostinato Bass Lines

  • Ostinato Bass Lines
  • Musical Examples: Dave Holland, Richard Davis (Pat Martino), Ron Carter (Freddie Hubbard)
  • Harmonics

Lesson 10: Compositional Techniques

  • Tritones
  • Pedal Points
  • Double Stops
  • Musical Examples: Stanley Clarke, Paul Chambers (Miles Davis), Eddie Jones (Count Basie), Chuck Rainey (Steely Dan)

Lesson 11: Articulations and Great Bass Lines

  • Techniques for Articulation
  • What Makes a Great Bass Line
  • Musical Examples: Bootsy Collins (James Brown), Bob Cranshaw (Lee Morgan), Chuck Rainey (Rickie Lee Jones)

Lesson 12: Final Project

  • Review: Time, Tonality, Timbre, and Taste
  • Final Project
  • Recommended Listening


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Students should be able to:

  • Perform simple bass lines on their instrument with adequate sound production
  • Play their instrument in tune
  • Play bass lines for at least two songs of different styles
  • Have physical capabilities on the instrument necessary to record weekly homework assignments
  • Read bass tablature or traditional notation


  • No textbooks required


  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Electric or acoustic bass


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • Instrument connected directly to audio interface (recommended electric option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and a microphone stand.
  • Recommended: Printer, if you would like to print out examples used in the course.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Richard Appleman

Author & Instructor

Rich Appleman is chair emeritus of the Bass Department at Berklee College of Music. He is responsible for adding the electric bass to the Berklee curriculum, with the help of Steve Swallow, John Repucci, and John Neves. Rich has performed with Lionel Hampton, Sweets Edison, Jon Scofield, the Boston Pops, Marvin Hamlisch, Gregory Hines, Bernadette Peters, and Rosemary Clooney. He is the founding bassist of the Fringe, with whom he has three recordings. Rich has performed in the theater with Eartha Kitt, Mickey Rooney, and Rex Harrison, and played in the Broadway pit orchestra for CatsLes MiserablesMiss SaigonPeter PanSecret GardenAnnie Get Your Gun, and 42nd Street.

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Rich is the author of Reading Contemporary Electric Rhythms, Chord Studies for the Electric Bass with Joe Viola, Berklee Practice Method, and Berklee Jazz Bass with Whit Browne and Bruce Gertz. He is a columnist for Bass Player magazine and an active member of the International Society of Bassists. Rich played tuba and acoustic bass in the US Navy from 1964-1968 and graduated summa cum laude from Berklee College of Music, with a degree in music education, in 1972. Read Less

Danny Morris

Author & Instructor

Danny "Mo" Morris is a professor in the Bass department at Berklee College of Music, and has worked with students since 1988. Danny is known for his muted tone, warm personality, and ability to work with all levels of students. "My mission is really to teach students how to develop their individuality in terms of their rhythmic concept and their tonal concept, what notes to play and when," he says. “There's a consequence to every note you play. And even when you don't play, such as when there's a rest, there's a consequence, because when the bass comes in, it’s going to be huge."

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Danny teaches courses on artistry and professional development at Berklee’s Boston campus. He is the faculty ambassador to the Berklee Valencia campus. In the 1980s, Danny was the bassist for the James Montgomery Blues Band and the Jon Pousette-Dart Band.

"I absolutely love teaching," he says. "It's intriguing to work with the language of music and the art of playing and developing songs for live performance. I'm proud to have taught so many students who are having successful music careers and families. That’s the most satisfying aspect of my job." Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Bass Performance 101 can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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