R&B Bass


Authored by Danny Morris


Course Code: OBASS-333

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Good music always rests on a solid foundation. With R&B music in particular, the bass is THE key component to building that foundation. Bass has been crucial in the development of R&B, with session players from Motown, Stax, and Atlantic Records blazing the path for the genre with their sophisticated yet understated bass lines which focus heavily on groove, melody, and improvisation.

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R&B Bass explores the evolution of bass playing techniques from the early "jump blues" period through the Motown era, and focuses on how you can incorporate these techniques into your own playing. The course begins by examining the rhythmic and harmonic characteristics of early R&B through the use of practice exercises involving steady syncopation, arpeggio patterns, and modulation. You'll study the key ingredients of an effective R&B timbre, from the proper equipment to the right techniques, such as muting the strings to deliver a punchier sound. The course delves into individual artists and their "trademark" concepts—from Duck Dunn's use of repetition and root and fifth lines, to Willie Weeks' melodic lines and rhythmic variation, to Chuck Rainey's motif development, to James Jamerson's infectious syncopation and use of harmonic devices like chromatic approach notes to create forward motion. You'll learn classic R&B bass lines from songs like Aretha Franklin's "Respect," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," Donny Hathaway's "Everything is Everything," and many others, and how to internalize the concepts used in these songs and make them your own. The goal of the course is to give you the tools made famous through R&B music to expand your bass playing in the context of a professional, live music performance or recording session.

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

  • Understand the evolution and key elements of R&B music
  • Play quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes with rhythmic syncopation
  • Use modulation, adapting songs to different keys on your instrument
  • Play root and fifth bass lines, in addition to arpeggio and chromatic patterns
  • Achieve an R&B timbre on your bass
  • Embellish a motif or theme with rhythmic and tonality variation
  • Play bass lines from R&B greats James Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott, Chuck Rainey, Willie Weeks, Duck Dunn, and others
  • Apply concepts of repetition and contrast to our own playing, in order to create improvisational bass lines more effectively
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Defining R&B Music and Working with Time

  • Defining R&B Music
  • Feeling the Groove: Steadying Your Quarters
  • Louis Jordan's "Caldonia"
  • Modulation
  • Expanding the Groove: Eighth- and Sixteenth-Note Rhythms

Lesson 2: Creating Your Own Bass Lines with Timbre, Shapes, and Personality

  • Timbre—Muting Technique and the Ampeg B-15N Amp
  • Big Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle and Roll"
  • Defining a Bass Line's Tonalities…Shapes
  • Techniques to Inspire Your Creative Bass Palette
  • Contrasting Sections—Jean Knight's "Big Stuff"

Lesson 3: Learning from the Masters, One Concept at a Time: Duck Dunn

  • The Duck Dunn Concept: Roots and 5ths
  • Golden Gate Quartet's "Job"
  • More on Roots and Fifths
  • Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman"
  • Duck Dunn's "Dock of the Bay"

Lesson 4: Willie Weeks and Chuck Rainey: Rhythmic Variation, Theme Variation, and Repetition

  • The Willie Weeks Concept: Donny Hathaway's "You've Got a Friend"
  • The Chuck Rainey Concept: Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady"
  • More on Repetition: Willie Weeks on Donnie Hathaway's "The Ghetto"
  • More on Rhythmic Variation and Repetition: Chuck Rainey on Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back to Me"

Lesson 5: James Jamerson, Ray Brown, Ron Carter

  • The James Jamerson Concept: Rhythm and Tonality
  • Ray Brown's "Everyday I Have the Blues"
  • Ron Carter with Aretha Franklin: "Bring It On Home To Me"
  • James Jamerson on Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On"

Lesson 6: Midterm Project: Aretha Franklin's "Respect" 

  • Stop Time Chorus and the Verse to "Respect"
  • The Bridge to "Respect"
  • Modulating the Chorus
  • Song Form

Lesson 7: Rhythmic Syncopation: Getting Comfortable Playing on the Upbeats

  • The Verse to King Floyd's "Groove Me"
  • The Chorus to "Groove Me"
  • Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Express Yourself"

Lesson 8: Famous R&B Bass Solos

  • Motif and Development
  • Willie Weeks's Solo on Donny Hathaway's "Everything Is Everything"
  • David Hood's Solo on the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There"
  • Bob Babbitt's Solo on Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio"

Lesson 9: When to Play, When to Embellish

  • Bob Babbitt on Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours"
  • James Jamerson on Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her"
  • Ray Charles' "The Night Time Is The Right Time"
  • The Gospel Turnaround

Lesson 10: Melodic Bass Lines

  • Nate Watts on Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke"
  • Tommy Cogbill on Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man"
  • George Porter Jr. on the Meters' "Ain't No Use"
  • Carol Kaye on "Bass Blues"

Lesson 11: Integrating Classic Bass Lines into Your Own Playing

  • Jerry Jemmott BB King's "The Thrill Is Gone"
  • Bootsy Collins on James Brown's "Sex Machine"
  • Developing Your Own Motif Embellishments

Lesson 12: Review and Final Project

  • Humility, Taste, and Feeling "the 1"
  • Your Concept, Your Voice, Your Taste
  • Final Performance


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Bass Performance 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.


  • 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 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 option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface
      • 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
  • Instrument cable
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need additional instrument or XLR 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 support@online.berklee.edu 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


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, R&B Bass 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 advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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