Bass Performance 101

Authors: Richard Appleman, Danny Morris | Course Code: OBASS-130

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.

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

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 Review

  • 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

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 Cats, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Peter Pan, Secret Garden, Annie Get Your Gun, and 42nd Street.

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

Danny Morris

Author & Instructor

Danny "Mo" Morris is a professor in the bass department at Berklee College of Music, working with students since 1988. He is known for his muted tone, warm personality, and ability to work with all level 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," says Morris. "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."

Danny gigs regularly with the band Calypso Hurricane and was the bass player for the James Montgomery Blues Band and Jon Pousette-Dart band. He has also performed with Bo Diddley, Robin Ford, James Cotton, and Paula Abdul. Danny is the author of Instant Bass and Essential Rock Grooves for Bass. He is an alumnus of Ithaca College and a graduate of Berklee College of Music.


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

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • A basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself playing along with a background track and save the recording in MP3 format. You will have a tool to use for this purpose inside the learning environment. Alternatively, you can use software like Audacity or GarageBand.
  • Mac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome,  or Safari
  • PC Web Browser Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Edge
  • Flash Player (if using the Record Live tool)

Hardware Requirements

All Users 

  • For electric bass: a basic amp chord with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • For acoustic bass: a microphone with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • Audio interface such as the IK Multimedia Stealthplug, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Mbox, etc. See the Student Deals page for discounts (recommended)
  • A printer is recommended, so that you can print out music examples used in the course
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built in ports or an external audio interface)

Mac Users 

  • OS X 10.7 or higher
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam

PC Users 

  • Windows Vista SP2 or higher
  • Intel Pentium 4 or higher
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam


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Next Term Starts January 9

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