Jeff Berlin: "If you add academic music to your day, there will be almost no music or style anywhere that you can’t figure out on your own"

Jeff Berlin
(Image credit: Andrew Lepley/Redferns)

Although it’s only natural that educational platforms will evolve, it’s rare that the academic principles they deliver follow suit. Revered as one of his generation’s more confrontational academic personalities, Jeff Berlin’s musical insights are now directly accessible through the worldwide web. 

But with the internet proving such an oversaturated environment for educators to make their mark, we sat down with the Jedi master to find out more about what’s on offer from the Jeff Berlin Music Group, and invited him to give us a brief synopsis of the platform’s principles. 

“Well, firstly, I didn’t create these methods. These are academic principles that have history and are still in use by most other teachers teaching other instruments,” comments Berlin. “I just took them and used them myself. The principles reflect a total separation of art from learning, because the two concepts don’t relate.” 

He adds: “Learning is different than playing because the goals are different – completely incompatible. I wanted to get people to learn better, freeing them up to play better. The only proven way to accomplish this is by knowing what the right notes are and where they are on the bass neck. The platform of my lessons is to do just that.

“Even if I’m unpopular for some of my views, this never deterred me from offering top-quality music and practice concepts that almost all other instruments are taught by, just not ours. The betterment of all bass players is my interest.” 

With so many resources supplying bass education online, we wondered how he felt his platform would compare? “I deliberately avoided teaching all popular concepts and approaches, normally learned by being self-taught. For example, ‘slap bass’ or ‘groove’. Most styles that are popular with bass players have always been learned by self-teaching. Even the teachers teaching these styles are self-taught, which is ironic!” 

He goes on: “The only thing left to teach people are the things they couldn’t figure out on their own, which would be academic music itself. My lessons come from the history of music that’s been proven to produce excellent players – a methodology abandoned by most modern bass educators.”

As with all online education platforms, the diversity in consumers is huge, as literally anybody, from any background, can access the materials. We wondered how Berlin intends to cater for this potentially enormous audience? “Good question! If you’re into rock, jazz, blues, R&B, techno, it doesn’t matter – there’s probably a major triad in the music somewhere. This is the core-tying element of academic music.” 

Expanding on this, he states: “No matter what style of music you love to play, they all use the same notes, rhythms, and harmony, so it makes sense to learn what these notes are. If you add academic music to your day, there will be almost no music or style anywhere that you can’t figure out on your own. This is the freedom that I mentioned earlier, and it comes from practicing academic principles.”

What are his views on virtual learning, we inquire? “You will miss some transfer of communication,” states Berlin.

“The camera is no substitute for one-on-one interaction, but this form of interaction via camera and video is this generation’s staple method of communication. I’ve gotten very good at communicating through the camera to where I’m able to get right to the root of the musical principle that I wish to share. In some ways, the directness and isolation of a camera are valuable, because I’m required to present my lesson as clearly and as specifically as possible. This means that more people can learn better, which always makes me feel good.”

Berlin’s bass-playing credentials speak for themselves – but with such an extensive catalog of seminal projects, would collaborations with distinguished guests be a prospect in this digital renaissance? 

“It isn’t likely that bass students improve by hearing a guest lecturer telling people how they did it. This is why I see clinics as more entertainment than educational. If I did include any guest lecturers in my site, they would have to share something substantial that people would learn from. Bass clinicians and guest lecturers often say, ‘This worked for me, but it might not work for you.’ This shows me that these bass clinics are actually more entertaining than informative.”

The best way to acquire freedom as a player is by practicing great academic musical content. Most bass educators don’t seem to agree with this, which is why I’ve decided to go it alone

Berlin’s obviously thinking about long-term sustainability – capitalizing on social media as a platform to conduct student support – but with so much historical controversy surrounding various elements of his teaching practices, are public forums a wise idea, or something that could potentially instigate confrontation? 

His response is clear: “It’s been great to interact with people. You can almost feel their enthusiasm through their posts. So many ask really great questions, and often my best suggestion to them is that they take my materials and go and study it with another music teacher, so that they don’t have to go it alone if they don’t want to. The groups are there to support progress, not to generate publicity.”

What positive effects does he hope that his education platform will have on today’s generation of bass students? 

“The main one is to get bass players to play with freedom. Every top player plays with freedom. Other than being self-taught, the best way to acquire freedom as a player is by practicing great academic musical content. Most bass educators don’t seem to agree with this, which is why I’ve decided to go it alone and not teach at a school. 

“Practicing well is simply an addition to the day. It’s an academic skill that I wish more would dedicate time to – gigs come to those who are the most musically qualified to get them. Or, at least, that’s what I believe.” 

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