Patrick Pfeiffer is a well known bassist and author of two popular instructional
books for bass guitarists, Bass Guitar for Dummies and the brand new
Improve Your Groove. I had the pleasure of sitting down to a telephone
interview with him on June 2, 2006. Patrick (PP) and I (WB) spoke for over
an hour about his life, teaching philosophy, books, recording projects, and
WB:First, thanks for agreeing to interview with us at
bassplaying.com. I'm really happy
to sit down and talk with you. You have a reputation as a player and a
teacher and that really sits well with the kind of content we want to
provide on the site. Where is it that you live now? And tell us about
where you grew up
PP: Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I'm very privileged to
be interviewed by you. So, thank you. I really do appreciate that.
I now live in New York City...and I have kind of a storied way of
getting here. I was born in Germany, and I lived in Germany until I
was about 16--basically all around Germany (mostly in central Germany,
what was West Germany at the time). I then came to Phoenix, Arizona,
where I completed my last year of high school and then entered
Arizona State University. This was really
a new experience for me: being in this country and being able to study jazz.
Jazz was not something that was taught at the university level, in Germany,
so it was really a great opportunity for me to be able to do that. Later on,
I went to Boston, where I studied under
After completing my Master's Degree at the
New England Conservatory
I moved to New York City. I arrived in 1985, got a job as Musical Director
and bassist on a cruise ship for a year in 1986, and returned to New York
permanently after that.
WB: So, in that respect, you had some experience managing music, too,
as well as being a performer.
PP: Oh yeah. I was picked as musical director by the agency and I
didn't want to do it. I really did not want to take over those
duties. So, when I came off of the ship, I contacted an agency, which
was booking bands for weddings and social functions in the New York
area, and I just kept bugging them to audition me. They kept saying,
"No, we don't need anybody," but I just kept calling, every week,
sometimes twice a week. Finally, the guy at the agency said to me,
"I'm going to be quite frank with you. I'm going to give you an
audition just to get you off my back." So I auditioned for them, they
liked me, and the agent said he did have a band for me, but he wanted
me to lead it. I told him no, I just want to play bass. I finally
agreed to it, though I generally try to stay away from the business
aspect of playing, because, basically, I enjoy being a sideman more
than being a leader. So after five years of leading, I switched
agencies, and another ten years later, I became everybody's sub
[substitute player]. So if they need a pinch hitter, they call me. I
get called in when they need a bassist who knows the tunes, can play
all the different styles authentically, and can follow whatever the
band is playing. That really keeps it interesting for me, because it's
not the same thing over and over.
WB: You're known as a jazzer. Is that the style you feel closest to?
PP: Yes and no. I love jazz. And I've been trained as a jazz
performer. My absolute hero is
I've literally played his first album from top to bottom, all the way
through, many times. That album is still my favorite. However, I am a
stylistic specialist, and that's actually what I teach, too. The goal is
basically to be able to move through styles seamlessly. So if I'm
playing a song in the style of, say,
Paul McCartney or
John Paul Jones,
or Jaco. It's the ability to play convincingly in that style.
To play what they would have played.
WB: So you figure out what it is about the style that makes it tick
and play that convincingly.
PP: Precisely. I'm asked to create something on the spot and play
what they would, in that situation. See, I have that joy playing
that, whether I'm playing rock, or funk, or jazz, or blues, and so
forth. I really enjoy whatever style I'm playing at the
moment.That's really where my heart is
WB: Have you been playing five and six string bass for a long time
PP: You know, I don't play any five string.
WB: You don't?
PP: No. I've tried getting into the five string when they first
started becoming popular (I'm dating myself here). I was always
something of a purist about playing four string. But I kept my eye on
the six string. At fist it had some problems: in the upper register
sounding too much like a bad guitar, and in the lower register having
no definition. But then Pedulla came out
with the Hexabuzz series, which is a six string bass with this coating on
the fingerboard--some kind of epoxy coating or polyester coating. It gave
you that singing sound, with definition in the low end and the fretless
sound in the high end. It was beautiful. And that's when I made the switch.
What happened was, I was a much stronger four-stringer than a six-stringer,
and people knew me as a four-stringer. Then I had an audition with a
band called the Honeymooners, and I brought only my six-string bass.
It was a very competitive audition but they liked my playing, and I
got the job. They only knew me as a six-stringer, so I was able to
make the switch...and that's still my preferred way to travel.
WB: You play piano, too, right? You started out on piano?
PP: Oh, marginally. I mean, really marginally. I come from a family
that has this rule--quite a few families in Germany do--that the
children have to study, besides school work, one athletic discipline
and one musical instrument.
My first instrument was actually the xylophone at age 3. I played
stuff like Haydn's "Kinder-Synfonie." I then moved to the piano at age
7. Bass didn't come into my life until age 11, but I knew right away
that it was the instrument for me!
There is this tradition that, since the upright bass is such an
expensive instrument, an older bass player, when he trades up to a new
instrument, will find a young upstart to give his older instrument
to.This is what happened to me. I received a bass when I was eleven
and a half from a guy Reiner Hoffman--he was a jazz bassist in
Germany. And that's how I started. I fell in love with the
instrument. And that was that.
WB: So you started out on upright bass, as far as basses are
PP: Yeah, exactly. And I was--and again I'm showing my age--part of
the last of that generation that typically played both electric and
upright. But it's an instrument I don't play anymore. I was of the
generation where just about all players played both, but I don't have
any time for the upright these days.
WB: Because you're too busy playing that six string fretless.
PP: Exactly. You know, originally, the reason I ended up on bass...I
wanted to pick up the chicks! [laughs]
WB: [Laughs] Right! And you knew that would help!
PP: Exactly. Well, you now, it was right around the time the Beatles
were becoming very popular again in Germany,and Paul McCartney was,
in that band, the lady killer. I remember going with my father to
hear Reiner Hoffman, the man who gave me the bass, and my father was
pointing out the sound of the bass and how it is so clear, and I
remember thinking to myself, "I'm just interested in picking up the
chicks, but I really need to learn to play this!" because you could
hear the bass so clearly, you know? I did start out with Beatles
lines--McCartney's lines--and also Beach Boys lines, which is
Carol Kaye, and
more tunes from that era, and then I encountered Jaco's
lines when I was just entering college.
PP: That was recorded in late 1998 and came out in the spring of
1999. It's been on sort of a slow burn. It's not selling huge, but
steady. And it's developed a following.
WB: I really like, on that disc, your cover of "Amazing Grace," and
I've heard other people comment on that cover. I really like your use
of chords at the beginning of it. And that seems to me a really
overlooked aspect of bass playing. A lot of players have a hard time
thinking of the bass as a chordal instrument or a chord/melody
instrument. But you pull off both very nicely in the intro to that
song. Do you have any thoughts on the bass as a chordal instrument?
PP: Generally speaking, I'm very much into the function of the bass,
which is really the combination between harmony and rhythm. So it's
really a groove instrument. Even when you solo, it's a groove
instrument. Now the problem with chords, in my opinion, is that the
groove [when you play chords] isn't all that well defined. Because
you're crossing more than one string and the beat kind of
broadens--it's not razor sharp and focused anymore. So the way I got
around it, in this kind of groove situation on "Amazing Grace," was
that I played the groove underneath it. It's not double-tracked.
It's actually happening at the same time by playing the open E string
in rhythm. So I feel like I'm fulfilling both functions--of a chordal
instrument as well as a bass. And that's really the way I like
approaching chordal harmony on bass.
There's another example of chordal bass playing on the tune "LAH,"
where it's a very rubato intro. In that case it's a fretless chordal
approach, and I don't have to tell you intonation is difficult to
achieve on a fretless when you're playing chords. [laughs] But that
one is rubato, so there didn't have to be a groove. So, that's the
way I try to think about it. I'm not crazy about the bass just
playing chords--literally like a guitar. It really looses some of its
WB: But you're able to bring them in occasionally and use them.
PP: Oh, yeah. Occasionally, absolutely. They definitely have a
place in the music, but very sparingly and well placed.
WB: There's a Latin influence on some of the tracks on "Fruits and
Nuts," I noticed. Are you a big fan of Latin jazz in general?
PP: Oh yeah. I love Latin jazz in particular. I really love the
syncopation of it. And, you know, when I first started playing bass,
I played along with anything I could get a hold of. My parents
happened to have a lot of
records around. So those are the first records that I played along with. I
always had this kind of affinity for Latin and African music.
WB: Yeah, you can hear that bounce in your lines quite a bit.
PP: Oh yeah. I really enjoy it. And it's also so different from the
music that we're used to in our culture. We're really very downbeat
oriented, and Latin music has a lot of syncopation. I love that. It
really makes your groove and your feel stronger, I belive, to be
familiar with it. And there's a really good book out by Lincoln
Goines and Robbie Ameen called "Funkifying the Clave."
WB: Oh, I've heard of that book.
PP: Yeah. That's an awesome book. I know Lincoln. In fact, I own
one of his basses. My students use it a lot. The bass that's on the
cover of that book is the one I have here in the studio. It's an
excellent book, and after studying that I got very comfortable with
the concept of Latin music and the role of the bass in it. I also got
some excellent training in playing Latin music from some of the people
who trained me while I was at ASU in Arizona. My main teacher
performed with Brazilian musicians.
WB: Is Phoenix working on a follow up? Do you guys plan to put out
any other discs?
PP: I always am. I have not been able yet to secure the funding.
Phoenix is a hard group to record. It's all live musicians--and
really, really good ones. You can really only do it justice in a live
room. You can't use second-class recording studios for a group like
that. You really have to go first class. Especially with drums and
bass. The drums and bass are recorded together, by the way We're
literally next to each other. We're all standing in the same room,
with the sax being the only one in the isolation booth. So that's
always an expensive venue. The first project was actually funded by a
very good friend of mine, and a fellow bassist, Michael Carolan, and I
will be forever grateful to him for making this a reality. He produced
the CD. Without him we wouldn't even have the first disc.
WB: You guys are playing out, though, in and around Manhattan?
PP: Yes we are, but only sporadically. I literally take the band out
maybe three times a year. We do virtually no rehearsals except just
before the gig. And the gigs are usually book release parties or some
other special event. There's one coming up, in fact, August 3rd at
The Cutting Room, for the new
book, Improve Your Groove-The Ultimate Guide For Bass.It's a large band,
it's an expensive band, and I'm footing the bill [laughter]. And there's only
so much I can "foot" [laughter].
WB: [Laughs] I understand. I understand entirely. Let's talk about
your books. You have a new book out and that's really great news.
Congrats on that.
PP: Thank you.
WB: Tell us a little about it. What can the readers of
bassplaying.com expect to find there.
PP: Okay. Well, the new book, Improve Your Groove, is basically
written as a blueprint for creating and categorizing bass grooves. It
was written out of the desire to pass on what I've learned in my own
education on groove. When I came out of school with a master's
degree, I still could not really come up with my own grooves. I was
able to copy anybody else's groove from Jaco to you name it. That was
easy. But I couldn't compose them and I couldn't categorize them,and
nobody could really explain to me how to get to that point of
composing an effective groove. So I made it part of my life's work to
find out exactly what a groove is. I went ahead and transcribed
literally thousands of grooves and then found the common threads. I
picked grooves that had stood the test of time. They were coming from
all musical genres, and they were all showing certain traits that made
them function. I categorized them into "groove skeletons" and "groove
apexes" and just put them into a cohesive form that you could use to
create your grooves and really be very focused about what you're
doing, and why. This way it's not just something where you're waiting
for divine inspiration, because sometimes, man, we're waiting for
along time [laughs]!
WB: Yeah, that's true [laughs]!
PP: But it's really a scientific way of getting to a groove--of
really building it. So for example, if you have the first two notes
in a groove as sixteenth notes or a rhythm that's divisible by
sixteenth notes (like a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth
note) your groove is going to sound funky. It's gonna be a
sixteenth-note subdivision and it's going to be funk-tinged. It can't
help it. If the first two notes are eighth notes, or eight-note
sub-divisible, like maybe two quarter notes or something like that,
you're going to have a rock-type groove. It's a fatter groove. It
sits in the pocket and feels more centered, rather than charging ahead
like the funk groove. Tempo is the same; beat placement is the same.
Everything is the same except for the rhythm. And that's the groove
skeleton. Or, if you have a triplet groove--you have a shuffle, you
have a triplet sub-division in the first beat--all of a sudden your
groove is going to have that lop-sided shuffle feel. It could be
sixteenth-note shuffle. It could be eighth-note shuffle. You name
it. But you're able to control it by what you're putting into your
WB: So your new book has a real emphasis on rhythm and tries to teach
players to be able to create their own rhythmic lines.
PP: Exactly. And not just rhythm but also harmony. You see, as a
teacher, my biggest turn on comes from having people who are
influenced by me and by my books--students or other players--come up
with grooves I wouldn't have thought of, and then I'd get to copy
that, you see what I'm saying? I mean, it's a trade off. It goes
both ways. By them being able to do that, it enriches my grooves. So
that's really the coolest thing. I'm really always emphasizing the
creative process. I want bassists not just to copy, but to create--to
really add to the body of bass music.
WB: You have two book out now. How does Improve Your Groove relate
to your very famous Bass Guitar for Dummies?
PP: Well, basically, Bass Guitar for Dummies is a complete work. It
covers all the aspects of bass playing that bass players need to
know. Improve Your Groove is the first one of a series that really
delves deeper into one subject at a time. In this case it's a groove,
which I find absolutely essential for bass players. Others to follow
are soloing, rhythm section playing, styles, technical remedies.
Basically, Bass Guitar for Dummies gives you a very clear overview,
and it's thorough. It starts with making sure your strings are on the
WB: Right! [laughs]
PP: And it ends with a Jaco groove with
Peter Erskine on drums.
WB: So Bass Guitar for Dummies is a very comprehensive book;
whereas, this new one targets a very particular aspect of playing and
focuses on that.
PP: Exactly. But since Bass Guitar for Dummies was limited--thank
God--to 360 pages, I really could not get deeply into exercises per
se. There are some in there and they're all very important and
crucial. But Improve Your Groove, for example, is the first book,
to my knowledge, that addresses note duration length for bassists and
gives you a very specific exercise to do it. So you're actually
thinking of the note on the front end as well as the back end--the
cutoff point. There are different cutoff points, and you learn,
though exercises, to control them. It's very, very clear, and the
beauty of it is, once you do it, you have it under your hands, and
you'll be using it. It makes you a super-precise player. The note
duration aspect is one of the key features that sets apart the average
musician and the studio musician, because it's so
important--especially in the studio recording--to have it sharp.
So, with excises like the note-duration exercise, and the groove apex
exercise, Improve Your Groove really covers the subject thoroughly
and in detail. The other beauty of Improve Your Groove is I'm able
to show a huge number of examples of different types of grooves that
are used by different players. I literally subdivide them into what's
called the groove skeleton. And you have vastly different types of
players paying the same type of groove skeleton with very different
grooves. For example, in the sixteenth note groove skeleton, you have
[Jaco] Pastorius, [Rocco] Prestia,
Tommy Cogbill, Donald "Duck" Dunn,
and they're all using the same type of groove skeleton,
but the groove sounds very much like them, very different from each
other.That's the beauty to it. You can really get an insight of their
approach to grooves.
WB: That sounds fascinating.
PP: You really see it in application--in real life application.
WB: You have a really analytical approach to these things it sounds
WB: Which, I think, is a good thing. Some people seem to think that
learning very carefully can somehow limit their creativity. I doubt
that you would agree with that.
PP: Right! In fact I really stress the creativity. I really stress
that part. It's an analytical approach, but with a hands-on approach
at the same time. It gets you out there. It gets you playing the
groove. It gets the groove under your skin into your blood, and the
next time you're on the stage, you're going to be able to draw from
that, whether it's a jam session or a studio session or it's just
playing around with a recording. It doesn't matter. You're able to
really hear the groove for what it is. You're able to discern the
difference between Duck Dunn and Tommy Cogbill and
WB: It sounds great. I'm excited about it. I'm sure our readers
will want to check it out. Do you consider Bass Guitar for Dummies
a more-or-less finished work? Are there any plans for a revised or
PP: There are no plans for a second edition. It's pretty much a
finished work. It's all up to date. The only thing that can get
outdated would be the bass player list in the back. But I only got to
choose ten. In fact, I chose nine and left one open as the big
unknown so that I wouldn't get into trouble, because there are just
too many. I mean, I just came up with a list, for one of my other
books, and I came up with over a hundred examples--like a hundred and
six or something. So it's a vast number. But, other than that,
there's really no need to revise it. It's very complete.What's
important is that the thought process of how to apply bass in real
life situations is complete.
WB: Well, people love your book, and it has gotten a lot of praise.
What is it about it that you think sets it apart from some of the
other comprehensive methods out there, or is it the fact that it is so
PP: Even though it's basically a reference book, it does apply
absolutely to what you need to know to play in today's music world.
So, for example, the scales and modes. Everybody has heard of the
fancy Greek names for them. But hardly anybody knows why you have
them and why they're important. What I do is put them into the place
where they belong, which is the chords.So if somebody has a C major
chord, they learn to associate a C Ionian or C Lydian mode with it,
which covers the chord and gives you the notes you can draw from when
you build the groove. You know, same with the C7 with a Mixolydian
groove. Or with Cm7 you can use Dorian, Phrygian, or Aeolian.
WB: So it's all contextual.
PP: Exactly. It's a hands-on, useful approach. In other words, I'm
not into just learning the terms by heart, and knowing that "a
Phrygian is the third degree of a major scale starting and finishing
on the third of that major scale." It's too much to think about!
Really, you just learn to think of it as one of the minor scale and
learn to associate its unique sound with the sound you're looking for.
WB: I know, when I was learning to play, and maybe the situations was
the same for you, there wasn't a one-stop place where you get a
thorough introduction to bass playing. You had to piece together
little bits of things from articles and music theory books, and
everything else you could get your hands on.
PP: Yep, exactly. There wasn't anything out there. In fact, when I
got the offer to write to Bass Guitar for Dummies, I wrote the book
that I wish would have been out there when I was coming up. I was
thinking to myself, "if I get reincarnated. If I'm out there like a
new babe in the woods. I want to have that book ready for me--and
save me twenty years." So I really wanted to contribute to the bass
world a book that everyone could refer to, that would be universal,
and that would really save you years and years in your development as
a bass player.
WB: Well, I think you've certainly done that, Patrick, and many
people appreciate it. You've heard that old saying, "those who can't
do, teach." You're an educator. I think your career demonstrates
exactly how false that is. What do you see as the as the relationship
between your role as a player and your role as a teacher.
PP: They are related. I think back in Bach's days you really had a
mentorship and an apprenticeship program. These cats were players as
well as teachers, and I really do believe in that system as well.
They're both separate talents, in a way. I think those who can teach
and play, must! Because a player will know what's needed and has to
pass on that kind of experience and wisdom and knowledge to those that
are coming after him or her--really just to advance the instrument. I
think it has to be advanced, constantly. I'll tell you my mission
statement: my mission is to inspire, empower, and motivate bass
players to achieve their highest level of artistic, creative, and
spiritual expression, creating an environment filled with
possibilities of transformation for both the musician and the
audience, to bring forth joy, love, compassion, humanity and
WB: That's a big goal [laughs]!
PP: [Laughs]. Exactly. It's big! That's what I'm after. So, for
me, in order to inspire and motivate bass players and show them that a
performance can transform an audience, I have to be able to do it. I
can't just talk about it. I have to be able to put myself on the line
and lead from the front, and show that this is not just a lofty way of
talking but, really, a way of life. So that's why I love being able
to do both teach and play, and I hope to continue it for as long as I
WB: What sort of skills do you think are essential for new
players--people just starting out on the bass--to practice?
PP: They need to take care of the technical aspect first, otherwise
it's going to be very frustrating. I'd recommend left hand
permutations for the left hand, string crossing for the right hand,
time exercises, scale and chord exercises, and getting all that
information into the hands, which is really the subconscious. Also,
and I know everybody talks about this, as do I, play along with
recordings. This is absolutely paramount. Have fun, enjoy, but play!
PP: Another thing about practicing is this: there are some people
practice really well, and you never hear them, because they're always
in the practice room. So another important thing to practice--because
it is a practice--is getting out of the practice room and really
getting together with people, even one at a time. When I first
started out, I had one friend who played guitar. We played bass and
guitar forever before we added people and it really became a band.
Playing with people is really important. It's something people have
to practice. Another thing that's really important is for people not
to try to bite off too much at once. When you practice for three
weeks, you create a new habit--and we're creatures of habit, as human
beings. So if you said to yourself, "practice, each day, left hand
permutations, for three weeks." And you look at the calendar and
think, "I'm starting on the 1st. By the 21st, I'll be done." By the
end of those twenty-one days, if you've done it every day, you're
going to have it. You're not going to stop! In order for you to
stop, you have to kick your habit, and we hate kicking habits, man
WB: [Laughs] There was a psychology book several years back [by Dr. William Glasser] called
Positive Addiction, about, you know, running, working out, meditating and
those kinds of things.
PP: Exactly [laughs]. You know, you use your asset as a human being,
which is habit formation, and you use it to your advantage--for once!
WB: Well, Patrick, my final round of questions are just the boring
sort for the real gear geeks out there, which is just to ask you what
your main basses are these days and your other gear that you find
PP: Sure. It's very straight-forward. The basses that I play are
all MTD basses--Michael Tobias Design.
Michael Tobias used to have the "Tobias" line, and then that got bought
by Gibson. After that Michael went out on his own again and came up with
the MTD line, and the MTD line is a line of unbelievable basses.
They are absolutely the finest basses I've ever encountered. That's
literally all I play, simply because I love them so much. I have three of
them. Michael is a friend of mine, by the way. He's a sweetheart of a man.
I went up to him to Woodstock when one of my basses was being finished,
and he had me play it and looked intently, and stopped me, and took the bass,
did a little adjusting and filing, gave it back, you know, re-strung
it. And we went back and forth like this for three hours or so before
he was completely satisfied and the bass was perfect. You don't find
people who do that anymore! That kind of craftsmanship is an art in
itself. That's true craftsmanship, and it inspires me. It's
wonderful to see somebody on the other side of the bass putting that
kind of love into his art. So those basses are phenomenal. Mine are
all, somewhat, prototypes. I have a fretted six string and two
fretless six strings. They all have 24-fret necks and two come from
his main line. One fretless is a korina body--a solid korina body to
push the 250hz range that Jaco had. And the fretted is a quilted
maple top, a swamp ash back and a sliver of wenge in the middle. And
the necks on both of them are wenge--which is awesome. The third one
that I have is an unmarked fretless, semi-hollow, with
electronics. And that's a complete prototype and one that will never
be copied again, because it was so difficult to make that I'm still
hearing about it! Those are my three babies.
WB: What about amps and cabs?
PP: I play through Walter Woods amps. They're handmade amps, made by
a guy named Walter Woods. It's amazing, really intricate: made to
order. They're awesome! They're 1200 watts but weigh only 7.5
pounds, so you can cary them with you anywhere. Tiny, but powerful,
and absolutely clear.
WB: What kinds of cabs?
WB: To set them up off the ground a little bit? So you put one below
the first 2x10 and one between it and the other 2x10?
PP: Yeah, they're isolated from the ground and from each other, and
that seems to really focus the sound. I just started doing that at
some point and I love the sound.It's so easy to control the sound
that way--going from a hollow deck, to a cement stage, to a
dance-floor stage. I tell you, it was the best $50 investment I've
made in a long time.
WB: Do you do any recording around the house?
PP: I leave that to the pros. The cats that I play with. I'm in a
studio house band at KMA studios here in New York City, and they're so
good at their craft, there's no need for me to try. I do have a very
simple 8-track hard disk recorder that runs just like a tape deck--I
think it's a Tascam, and I use that really just as a compositional
tool. I put the bass groove into it, I put the melody into, I put the
chords into it--all played with bass-- I can track it and get an idea
what it sounds like as a combination.Then I notate it, and for that I
use either Sibelius, or Finale, or just do it by hand.
WB: Well, that's all the questions I have. I want to thank you again
for taking the time out of your schedule to talk with us.
PP: Thank you so much for asking. I really like that we were able to