Tristen Jarvis

Assistant Professor, Music Performance
School: School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Information Letter for Prospective IC Bass Students

Dear Prospective Ithaca College Bass Student,

My name is Tristen Jarvis, and I’m the bass teacher here at IC.  The following information in this letter is closely modeled after a very similar letter written by the former bass teacher of 17 years here at IC, my mentor Nicholas Walker.  He was instrumental in cultivating our terrific program for the bass in the context of a liberal arts college, hence I advise you to please read this letter carefully and completely — it is sure to answer many questions while hopefully sparking new ones!  I want this letter to give you a comprehensive idea about what we do at IC, just as Nicholas Walker’s letter did for me when I was considering music schools. 

About Myself:

I began playing music in the Colonie, NY public school system nested in the capital region.  I grew up playing in large ensembles at school, in the local youth orchestra (ESYO), at NYSSMA festivals, summer camps at the College of Saint Rose, in bands with my friends, and later in clubs.  I was lucky enough to pick the double bass as my school instrument to take lessons starting in 4th grade, then quickly thereafter I found the electric bass, the drums, and the guitar.  I fell in love with so many styles of music and continued to pursue them through college, through graduate school, and beyond.  My bass teaching at IC involves many of these styles, and I am excited to offer a curriculum that allows our bass 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” as my teacher Nicholas Walker always phrased it. 

I am passionate about teaching.  I have had the benefit of working with some outstanding mentors, (Nicholas, Scott Dixon, and Luke Baker, 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 groups in chamber music and jazz.

I keep a very active performing life, playing with groups like the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, the House Big Band at our Community Jazz Nights in downtown Ithaca, alongside local rock/ pop artists, and in recording sessions all over central NY.  In short, I've found this to be a very exciting community to work in; any day of the week you can expect to witness a stellar instrumental concerto, a solo recital that will break your heart, sublime orchestral and chamber music concerts, jazz and afro-Cuban gigs, early music, folk music, funk music, reggae music, South American music, and contemporary music.  Some of these concerts are out of town or off-campus, but many of them are right at Ithaca College.  I work hard to make certain any of my performing engagements in these musics do not interfere with our weekly studio routine.  However, I emphasize taking advantage of the incredibly high quality and quantity of music happening in town as part of a modern curriculum!

About the city of Ithaca:

With IC, Cornell University, and downtown Ithaca all bringing phenomenal artists here, there are so many concerts each semester that it is impossible to catch all of the amazing acts that come through town.  Check out these links to get a better sense of what's been happening lately:

There is a great tradition of community involvement in the arts here.  In our music scene, there is a powerful sentiment that “community is a verb, not a noun.”  We value the spaces where our music students can perform alongside IC faculty on their left while their neighbor in town is on their right.  Recognizing the utility of music as a healing technology, as something all people do (and do together) fuels an inclusive community that heavily supports the arts.  This is more vital now than ever, and I expect the Bass Studio to participate as members of such a generous arts community.  This is integral to a complete musical education in today’s age.

About The Bass Studio:

IC typically has about 8-10 undergraduate bass students in the school, and I hope to develop a double bass graduate degree curriculum in the near future.  Our bass studio always features a diverse mix of students enrolled in the following programs IC has to offer: Performance majors, Music Education majors, Sound Recording & Technology majors, Jazz Studies majors, Music with an Outside Field majors, Music minors, and beyond.  We welcome double bassists as well as electric bassists in our studio.  I apply the same standards and expectations to all majors/ minors/ instruments, and predicate my teaching on the basis that each student is unique.  Indeed, I believe there are a series of topics that every college bassist should encounter and be familiar with, but I also believe in tailoring each student's lessons to exactly what they need and what drives their goals. 

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 coaches solely for offense, as well as defensive coaches, line coaches, special teams coaches, strength training coaches, physical/ mental therapists, etc.  Yet, musicians are expected to clock countless hours per week practicing alone, with only one hour of contact time with their “coach” who is their private teacher (and some bass professors offer lessons only once every two weeks!) who cannot perform all those aforementioned roles by themselves.  My goal is to teach you how to become your own teacher; to model how to navigate these various roles of coaching on your own.  Plenty of contact time with the students allows them to incorporate new techniques, habits, and skills quickly and deeply. 

At IC we focus on the study of pure technique as well as solo and ensemble repertoire.  As you know, the 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 the latest scientific developments on practice optimization, we tackle this challenge thoroughly and methodically, combining the training techniques from many great teachers I have studied with over the past decade.

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, the ever-growing need for the ability to double between upright and electric, and an ever-expanding list of solo works and fabulous new transcriptions for the bass to keep current with.  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 Berio psudo-ponticello, improvise a walking bass line in 5/4 over the changes to Coltrane’s "Satellite," sing backup harmonies while laying down a killing funk groove on electric bass, or sync up perfectly to a click track while tracking bass in their bedroom studio for a client.  So where do we start?

The modern bassist needs to hone their instincts and expression most acutely through the study of solo performance, yet show deference to the soul of the bass in 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. 

All IC bass students are encouraged to play Solo Repertoire by a wide variety of composers.  Most commonly known in the traditional classical cannon are concerti and sonatas between 1750-1900.  We also explore repertoire from 1650-1750 by Baroque era masters who wrote for cello and viola da gamba.  Additionally, we believe it is the responsibility of the 21st century bassist to celebrate the study of more contemporary works, which helps cultivate the growth of support to living composers and composers from previously underrepresented backgrounds who are writing incredible works for the bass.

The study of Orchestral Excerpts is absolutely fundamental to the development of a college double bassist, and essential for understanding the nature of the instrument.  Our new director of Orchestras at IC, Ho-Yin Kwok, is committed to programming both mainstream symphonic repertoire as well as works required on the traditional audition circuit.  In addition to sectional coachings and private lessons on this repertoire, I assign specific excerpts for study each semester.  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.

By-Ear (Aural) Transcription is the primary vehicle for the development of all college bassists, especially non-classical and electric bassists.  Music is a type of communication system that features a vast number of "languages," or genres.  We must use the same techniques used for fluently learning to read and speak a foreign language, but transpose them onto the process of learning a style of music.  Surely we can never learn to speak in any language without listening to it often, and deeply — therefore we must actively analyze and imitate the sounds of our musical heroes, as well as actively analyze our own sounds in our own practice.  Regularly transcribing and analyzing one's self can be the most impactful tool for growth.

This brings us to the primary aspect of how "grading" works in my curriculum — at IC we use a self-management book that I’ve modeled directly after the one Nicholas Walker provided for me during my undergrad.  In short, this is a workbook that amplifies self-evaluation and helps students 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 planner, and a weekly written assessment summarizing the act of watching each recorded bass lesson, IC bassists are able to gain clarity 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 music degree, I encourage students to begin to hone in on a particular direction that especially interests them.

Come Visit Us:

I do feel that it’s 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 my 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 Associate Admissions Director, Madison Carroll (, 607-274-3453) is happy to answer any additional curriculum or audition questions you may have, should you become serious about applying to our program.  He can also answer any questions about deadlines, various majors, and programs of study.  Please check out our web page:

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!

Bass love,

Tristen Jarvis

(518) 488-8068