Berklee Online Courses by Skip Hadden

By Skip Hadden

As teachers we are always showing our students ways to improve their playing and themselves. Sometimes it dawns on us that maybe we can improve ourselves too, and take our own playing and teaching to the next level. This happened to me years ago and I went back to school. It was very time consuming – studying and teaching full time while trying to play gigs. If not for the tremendous support of my wife I never would have made it.

 I really enjoyed the experience then, and now as I contemplate further education I wanted to let you know of an option that I came across which might be of interest to you and perhaps your students as well. Unlike my last educational experience an added benefit of this path for me was no commuting and I could work on it on my own schedule.

 I teach at Berklee College of Music and had known of their online courses, (it’s known as Berklee but as it’s a separate entity from my part of the college I had never really checked out what it had to offer. I decided to rectify this and have a look. I have used the Hudson Music online downloads and found those to be very effective. For instance, David Garibaldi’s The Code of Funk” and “Breaking The Code DVD,”  Keith Carlock’s  “The Big Picture DVD,”  Stanton Moore’sGroove Alchemy DVD” are all ones I have used and have had students refer to in working with linear drumming and funk styles. I thought I would apply my same interest in the Hudson Music downloads to check out the Berklee Music online offerings.

 It was very easy to search through the website and find courses of interest. You can sign in free of charge and sample courses and really get a feel for what the instructors are like, see if you can relate to them and the information they are providing and what the course material consists of.


I spent some time online delving into what each course that piqued my interest contained. There are over 130 courses now available from which to choose and they are all 12 weeks in length. At this point in time there are no percussion/drumset classes. They will be up in April of 2011 and I’ll let you know more about these as information becomes available. I do know that the first two offerings will be and they are “Drum Set Fundamentals” by Yoron Israel, Assistant Chairman of the Percussion Department and “Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drum Set” by Mark Walker, Professor of the Percussion Department.

 I found several courses that I thought very interesting that would benefit my becoming a better musician as well as a better drummer and a better teacher. In the back of my mind I was also thinking I could find out more about how my colleagues approach teaching their courses, how they think about what they do and perhaps how it could help me to improve.

 I checked out “Getting Inside Harmony” with Michael Rendish, Assistant Chair of Berklee College of Music’s Film Scoring Department. This one begins with exploring the scale neighborhood and progresses through a combination of activities involving listening, thinking, visualizing, vocalizing, writing, and playing that will help you to open your ears and deepen your understanding of the inner workings of harmony in a broad range of contemporary styles. And it would help you learn songs more easily as well.

I am often trying to get my students to think more harmonically, more like how a pianist would approach the music that they are playing, to think more about phrasing, about durations and densities of notes, about dynamics within phrases,  the issues that harmonic instrumentalists deal with all of the time. Ah yes, true, they only have to lift a finger and/or a hand to get a sound and we have to lift a whole arm or leg but I think you understand where I am going with this.

 “Music Theory 101” a course by Roberta Radley, Assistant Chair of Berklee’s Ear Training Department would perhaps be a place to start this thinking process. The process being again, to try and come at the music from where the others in the group or music are and not just from the rhythmic standpoint.

 Perhaps “Ear Training 1” with Matt Marvulio, Dean of the Performance Division at Berklee College, could also be a starting point. This course could help you to really understand what’s going on around you while you’re playing. It works on the pitches, the harmonies, the melodies and the bass lines and improves your pitch recognition. This course works with the music of contemporary artists from many different styles such as Dave Matthews, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Miles Davis. You do have to sing in this one and learn to reproduce the relationships between notes, valuable skills to possess.

 Another course that might be worthy of your interest is again by Roberta Radley entitled “Harmonic Ear Training 1” which helps build your ability to hear and recognize chord changes and progressions. This course is beneficial in developing your transcription skills also.

 In a different area of study, Music Production I checked out the course called “Music Production Analysis” with Stephen Webber, who is a Professor of Music Production and Engineering at Berklee College of Music. This course was interesting to me because it dealt with recording production from a historical perspective and invited you to study how things were done in the past. For instance in the 1910’s, the “Jazz Band Ball” recording by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917, then the Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” recording from 1956, then on to examine the sounds of the Muscle Shoals recordings of the 1960’s and then finally analyzing how they were recorded. Watching video interviews with famous producers and hearing them discuss their craft were also a part of this course. Another interesting topic was learning the difference between producing a mix and engineering a mix.

 Other areas in Music Production I thought valuable topics were how to make better live recordings and how in general to get a better live sound from your gigs. Very practical information!

 Or how about courses in recording software specifics such as how to unlock the many possibilities of programs such as ProTools, Logic, Reason, CuBase, and SONAR?

 Programs exist for those interested in pursuing these or any courses for college credit certificates. In Music Production alone there are individual courses and there are Master certificates consisting of 8-12 courses, Professional certificates consisting of 5-6 courses and Specialty certificates consisting of 3 courses.

 Music Business is another section of courses with topics like, ”Concert Touring” covering preparation and logistics and how to develop, budget and execute touring from small clubs to stadium events. There is also a course called, “The Future of Music and the Music Business” which gets into alternative methods of distribution and marketing of music.

 I did want to relate to you one course in particular which I thought was excellent.

I checked this out and I thought that it is one that would be very beneficial to other drummers also. It was the “Bass Performance 101” course presented by bassists Richard Appleman, Chairman of the Bass Department and Danny Morris, a Professor in the Bass Department.  I felt that this would be insightful because it would give us an inside view of what our section mates were dealing with on a step-by-step basis in their development on their instrument. I found the way that these two consummate educator/musicians played and related to one another and their audience through the information they provided was excellent. They communicate in a clear and concise way with their fellow musicians, they help to allow better music to happen.

 By looking at some of the courses offered by Berklee Music I was able to begin to answer some basic questions that I had that were beyond the regular course content: how do other musicians think about and approach their instrument and their music? How do they execute their ideas? What are some insights into why they think the way they do?

 The courses I have talked about here are just a few that might be of interest to you. I highly recommend that you check them out and see what might whet your appetite.

As for me, sign me up. Maybe I’ll see you in class.

 Reach Skip via his website at

One comment

  1. Hi Skip,
    I am a young old dude studying online. I have some finale knowledge from this semester to communicate and starting arranging 2. My question is about rhythmic flexibility. I play guitar and want to be a player.
    How to approach playing patterns of 3’s 5’s 7’s against four and knowing where i am in the measures–i don’t want to get lost. Can this be learned or does one just has to have that great sense of time. Mr Haden you must be real.
    Thank you,

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