Bryan Beller is a diverse and prolific bass player, having performed and recorded with Dethklok, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Dweezil Zappa, and many more. He’s also well known in the online community for his prodigious blogging, where he entertainingly recounts his exploits in performing and as a working musician.
He brings together his playing and storytelling talents to good use in this instructional video, “Bryan Beller: Mastering Tone and Versatility” (Alfred Publishing). In addition to presenting instruction and relaying playing tips, Beller takes you on a comprehensive tour of his gear, discussing several bass archetypes, and the style of music they’re best suited to. Also covered are amps, speakers, and effects, including approaches to EQ.
STRIKE UP THE BAND
One of the video’s best features is just how much live playing is included. And not just playing by Mr. Beller, but an entire band and several other ensemble configurations (quartet, duo, etc.). This isn’t inexpensive to produce nor logistically easy, but it is most appreciated. Too often instructional videos are much talk and not as much action, but there’s none of that here. It’s nice that you don’t have to leave the video to hear Beller’s techniques applied in a real-world musical context. And there’s nothing like having the instructor walk the walk right on the same video that he talks the talk.
Besides the playing, another standout aspect of “Mastering” is Beller’s delivery. Here he proves his story-telling talents aren’t limited to online posts. As a speaker and onscreen presence, he’s a natural, conveying information in a plain-spoken and efficient manner, devoid of annoying speech habits, pacing issues, or patronizing tone. He’s articulate and comfortable on camera, and that in turn makes us at ease as students and audience members.
MAY I SEE A MENU, PLEASE?
The over 3-1/2-hour video is organized in several parts. There’s no printed matter included with the DVD, unfortunately, but all the main selections appear in an onscreen menu (though the lettering is hard to read). What’s not listed are the individual chapters. And these are quite specific. For example, you can hit the track skip button and progress in the EQ section between these individual frequency settings: (in Hz) 30, 80, 100, 120, 180, 220, 500, 700, 1k, 3k, and 5k. That’s a very precise level of selection. I wish the publisher, Alfred, had provided an insert of these individual chapter titles (there are more than 60 of them), but I got around it by taking a pass through the DVD where I just hit the forward track skip button repeatedly and wrote down the chapter number and the title. It was a one-time thing, and now I have a detailed table of contents to better facilitate modular viewing. Check out a sampling of just 25 of the 68 chapter titles:
The Chain of Sound
Where Does It Begin? Your Hands!
Bass Archetypes: Jazz, P bass, boutique 4-string, Thunderbird, Hollowbody, Boutique 5 string, Music Man Sting Ray, Fretless,
Wah (also at the end—with a good explanation as to why)
Power Amps and Speaker Cabinets
Solidstate vs. Tube
Nailing Different Feels
Modern Fingerstyle Funk/Fusion
Classic R&B /Funk Duo
Mastering Your Mind (the “music minus one” section)
Bonus Content (11 full-song transcriptions)
INTROS AND TIPS
In each of the intros, Beller discusses his pickup selection, right-hand attack approach, and how these vary depending on the style. He describes the different feels before playing them—a nice touch. A great little tip Beller offers in the funk section is combining the right and left hands to produce an emulated closed hi-hat sound in a 16-feel. Beller explains the technique well, by first breaking it down by beat count, and then by playing an excerpt. This is just one of the little gems among many scattered throughout this video. Another nice thing is the camera work throughout. For example, when Beller employs a wah, the main camera goes to a close-up of his foot action, while an an inset window shows his left hand. Nice.
Beller’s intros and setups to the songs played are some of my favorite parts of the video. He explains, demonstrates, and contextualized exactly what he’s going to do. Then the music starts—and does exactly what he said he was going to do. In addition to prefacing each song with explanations of his gear and his hand positions, he describes any notable or specific musical techniques used--such as playing unison notes between fretted and open strings in one song.
In the metal chapter, Beller discusses some key techniques, including the right-hand gallop, left-hand muting, “flicking” (alternate-picking with two fused-together fingers), “strike force” (using distance to increase velocity), and a talk-through of the “Metalocalypse” stage show. It's both instructive and informative.
A whole separate section has Beller playing along to pre-recorded tracks with the bass removed. This is also yet another dose of full-band music with a focus on the bass.
The DVD doesn’t just contain live video of instruction and performances. Also included are 11 professionally produced, full-song transcriptions of the note-for-note basslines Beller plays to the various songs that appear on the disc, including those by Beller himself, Kira Small, Steve Vai, Brednon Small (Dethklok/Metalocalypse), and Mike Keneally. These pdfs amount to 70 pages of music & tab for state-of-the-art bass playing. You can print these out, follow along with the music to the video, and even play your way through the songs. That’s a pretty good deal—a book’s worth of transcriptions for the price of a DVD.
This is one of the better instructional videos I’ve seen in a while. It’s the perfect combination of entertainment, education, and applied instruction. You can get just as much watching the video as an observer (just listening) as you can with bass in hand. The bonus material is completely unexpected and icing on the cake, and will satisfy students who like to have some printed matter along with their onscreen visuals. While Beller doesn’t lead you through exercises and written musical examples, he does demo enough of them in the song intros to give bassists something to play, work on, and emulate. This is a highly recommended video for aspiring and professional bassists who want to pick up some great technique instruction, learn about sound and gear setups, and expand their musical horizons. Beller delivers comprehensively on all fronts, and makes it fun in the process.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).