Nicholas Walker

Professor, Music Performance
School: School of Music


Information for Prospective IC Bass Students

Dear Prospective Ithaca College Bass Student,

Ithaca College offers a terrific program for bass in the context of a liberal arts college, and I hope this letter will answer many of your questions, and also give you an idea about what we do at IC. For questions about the audition requirements, deadlines, various majors, and programs of study please check out our web page:, or speak to our admissions director, Fred Peterbark,, (607) 274-3366.

About Myself:

I began playing music in the Rochester public school system. I grew up playing in ensembles at school, in the local youth orchestra (RPYO), at NYSSMA festivals, summer camps, in bands with my friends, and at home and in night clubs with my step father, Jim Gala, a jazz pianist. I fell in love with many styles of music and continued to pursue them through college, a freelance life in New York City, Paris, and Berlin, through graduate school, and beyond. My bass teaching at IC involves many of these styles, and I am happy to offer a curriculum that allows our students to pursue multiple interests. As far as I can tell, this is what is required of the 21st century musician -- an ability to "cross over". (In my opinion the term itself has become obsolete.)

Unlike some college bass teachers who are on the road a lot, I am in residence at IC full time. I live nearby with my two daughters. We love the town of Ithaca. Small as it is, there are so many concerts each semester that it is impossible to catch all of the amazing acts that come through town. With IC, Cornell University, and downtown Ithaca all bringing great artists here, I can honestly say that I catch more big name acts in Ithaca than I did living in NYC, Paris, or Berlin! Check out these links to get a better sense of what's in town:

I am passionate about teaching.  I have had the benefit of working with some outstanding mentors, (Paul Ellison, Francois Rabbath, Joel Quarrington, Matthew McDonald, Arthur Haas, Illinois Jacquet, and Sarah Fuller, to name a few), who instilled in me a great love of learning and a genuine interest in teaching. At IC I teach all of the bass players, and I also coach chamber music and jazz. At times I have taught courses in Early Music Performance Practice, String Pedagogy, and lead our Period Instrument Performance Ensemble. 

I do keep a very active performing life, playing over a hundred concerts a year. In short, I've found this to be a very exciting community to work in; I play concertos, solo recitals, orchestra and chamber music concerts, jazz and afro-Cuban gigs, early music, folk music, South American music, and contemporary music. Some of the concerts are out of town, but many of them are right at Ithaca College, and I work hard to make certain these engagements do not interfere with our weekly studio routine.

About The Bass Studio:

IC has about 12-14 bass students in the school, and we plan to keep the class to about this size. Most of these are undergraduates, and a few are Masters students. My curriculum incorporates a lot of contact time with each student. You may have noticed that athletes rarely work without a coach. High school athletes and professionals alike have offense coaches, defense coaches, line coaches, special teams coaches, strength training coaches, physical therapists, etc. Yet musicians are expected to clock countless hours a week with only one hour of contact time with their “coaches.” (Some bass professors offer lessons only once every two weeks!) Plenty of contact time with the students allows them to incorporate new techniques, habits, and skills quickly and deeply. 

Our undergraduate bass curriculum is focused on the study of pure technique as well as solo and orchestral repertoire. As you know, the string bass requires a major commitment to the training of our neuromuscular playing mechanism. A piano is a more fully constructed instrument, with the hammers and strings already in place, tuned, maintained and adjusted by the piano technician, rather than by the player. As string players we must build all of these fine mechanisms with our bodies, training our muscles and fine motor skills to contact the strings within a fraction of a millimeter of accuracy. This takes many hours -- many years of consistent, disciplined work, and requires the cultivation of profound physical and auditory awareness. Through the study of pure technique involving three octave scale cycles, position surveys, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, diatonic arpeggios, and a progressive series of open string and harmonic-pattern bowing variations (which I transcribed for bass from the famous Ševčík violin publications) we tackle this challenge thoroughly and methodically, combining the traing techniques I have devoloped over the last 15 years at Domaine Forget with Paul Ellison, Francois Rabbath, Etienne LaFrance, David Allen Moore, and Scott Dixon.

Another aspect of my lesson curriculum involves solo playing and orchestral excerpts. The bass is enjoying a tremendous Renaissance right now. Standards are higher than ever, and great performers enjoy more prestige and opportunities than perhaps ever before. Not long ago a standard undergraduate double bass curriculum involved studying Simandl, learning a few dozen orchestral excerpts, and a handful of concertos and sonatas. Today our curriculum is even more demanding, with many styles and genres on the table:  orchestral music, chamber music, period music, new music, jazz music, and an ever expanding list of solo works and fabulous new transcriptions for the bass. In any given afternoon, a well prepared professional freelance bassist might be expected to know how to play stylistically informed slurs in solo Bach, an orchestral brush stroke in Mozart, a ffff hammer stroke in Strauss, a Händel eighth note pickup, a Berio psudo-ponticello, and a walking bass line in 5/4 over the changes to Coltrane’s Satellite.  So where do we start?

I believe that we are musicians first, that we hone our instincts and expression most acutely through the study of solo literature, but that the soul of the bass is the art of accompaniment. Although it is exciting to study both of these roles at once, it is also a tremendous responsibility, with a huge amount of genres and styles to explore. 

IC bass students are encouraged to play Solo Repertoire by Vanhal, Sperger, Dittersdorf, Capuzzi, Dragonetti, Bottesini, and Koussevitzky, as well as new transcriptions of Bach’s cello suites, and viola da gamba sonatas, Gabrielli’s ricercari, and transcriptions of other baroque sonatas by Telemann, Vivaldi, Corelli, and Handel.  I also encourage the study of more contemporary works, like those by Hindemith, Proto, Anderson, Schuller, Glière, Rabbath and Hauta-Aho for example.

The study of Orchestral Excerpts is absolutely fundamental to the development of a college bassist, and essential for understanding the nature of the instrument.  Our director of Orchestras at IC, Octavio Mas-Arocas, is committed to programming mainstream symphonic repertoire as well as works required on the traditional audition circuit.  (Visit this site to have a look at the full Symphonic Orchestra repertoire, and this site to look at the full Chamber Orchestra repertoire of the last three or four seasons).  In addition to sectional coachings and private lessons on this repertoire, I assign specific excerpts for study each semester.  These include Mozart 35, 39, & 40, Beethoven 5, 7, 9; Brahms 1, & 2, Strauss Ein Heldenleben, and Don Juan, and others, depending on level and interest. In addition to our school orchestras, many students also have the opportunity to play in regional orchestras such as the Binghamton Philharmonic, The Orchestra of the Southern Fingerlakes, and The Cayuga Chamber Orchestra.

Another primary aspect of my teaching involves a self-management book that I've put together based on a manual I used as an undergraduate when I was a student of Paul Ellison's at Rice University.  In short this is a workbook that helps student learn to organize their time and energies to reach their own goals.  I find that some students just can not seem to get done what they want to get done, or stay focused on what they want to stay focused on in order to reach their goals. Through a lesson planner, a time management planer, and a system of self-evaluation, I.C. students are able to get clearer about what their goals really are, and they are able to set up a sustainable daily lifestyle to help them reach their goals in a realistic time frame.  The important thing is that it is all about the student's goals – it is NOT about me imposing my goals on the student.  

Our undergraduate curriculum is geared towards exposure and the development of healthy, self-sustaining work habits and skills, and in the final semesters of a performance degree, I encourage students to begin to hone in on a particular direction that especially interests them.

Come Visit Us:

I do feel it is always better for a student and a teacher to meet together before shaking hands on a four-year commitment together. If you would ever like to come for a visit, it would be a pleasure to meet you, and it would give you a chance to get a sense of me, Ithaca, and of Ithaca College. We have basses on campus that are at your use. Come and visit; we can have a lesson, you can sit in on another lesson, hear the Orchestra rehearse, and check out our Repertoire Class, our Technique Class, listen to a Jazz Band rehearsal, and also take a campus tour, music school tour, and have lunch with some current students.

Our admissions director,, (607) 274-3366, would be happy to answer any additional curriculum or audition questions you may have, should you become serious about applying to our program.  

I hope this information is helpful to you. If you have any other questions about the bass studio, or about me, or if you'd just like to say hello, please feel free to call or write. I look forward to the opportunity meet you and hear you play sometime soon,

Nicholas Walker