Hi guys. Today we’ll try to learn what habits made Cliff Burton the musician we know and love: a master of finger-style, expressive improviser and songwriting engine of Metallica.
A habit is a kind of action by default, with no big struggle to take it. It’s a thing that you’d rather do than not. In our habits hides who we are and shall be.
Great musicians have become such because of their habits, everyday actions, especially in practice. Cliff Burton is one of the best bassists in rock history, and he unleashed his talent being quite young. Cliff’s passion and dedication was so huge, and that let him become a professional even before reaching full age. Obviously, he got good habits (we talk about musical ones).
For the first time Cliff took bass at the age of 13, affected by brother’s death. His parents told, the first tries in that were not so successful. And only in a half of year they began to see his potential. Then the routine, the habits already started to form.
Practicing from 4 to 6 hours every day
Cliff took bass and played at any suitable time: just woke up, before or instead of sleep, rehearsals and gigs, of course. Just imaging: at the moment of joining Metallica in 1983, Cliff already had more than 12000 total hours of practice (there’s a 10000-hours theory about becoming a master in a field). That’s how Burton’s feeling of bass reached almost physical level – he spent too much time with the 4-string mothef*cker. And that routine continued up to the September night in 1986.
Transcribing classical music
‘He really did sit down and study and play Bach. He loved Bach’ – Cliff’s mother
Cliff adored classical composers. What he got from classical music is deep awareness of classical composition, harmonies, notation. Plus good strength and stretch for hands: all the passages and arpeggios were initially a keyboard thing, and on bass they looked pretty unusual and complicated. And that had reflected on Burton’s art, in Anesthesia and Orion particularly.
‘I would be sitting playing my guitar and he’d pick up his bass and immediately start playing a harmony part.’ – Kirk Hammett
One of the strongest sides of Cliff Burton’s musicality – he practically saw the harmonies, and could reproduce any of them whether playing on instrument or singing. For example, when he heard a favorite song with such theme on radio, he always sang a harmony, separating it from the main, root part.
Besides bass, Cliff also played piano (took lessons in childhood) and guitar (thing that naturally comes out being in rock bands). Accordingly to Kirk Hammett, Cliff always carried around a little acoustic guitar down-tuned to C to write harmonies.
And exactly Burton brought the knowledge of harmonies into Metallica.
Seeking for more
Cliff was starving for knowledge, the dedication knew no limits. He changed several teachers in first few years of playing bass, because of he overgrew them. He attended college to deepen his knowing of music theory. And he was reading books all the time: about bass (with no tabs!), composition, and other stuff that could make him a better musician.
Cliff didn’t want to wallow in the traditional role of bass players — just playing root notes in octave lower than guitar. He was a composer of full value, a true artist. He knew when to give up musical ego for the sake of composition, and when to take a lead and rip all the sh*t out of that.
So, that was my little study about Cliff Burton, and this material is in Total Cliff book which is available now for my Patrons. Maybe next time we’ll take a glance on Cliff’s signature licks and playing features. What do think about that?
And if you want to support my work, join me on Patreon. I’m sharing exclusive stuff there, and you can be also involved in creation of Total Cliff.
Thanks guys. Andriy Vasylenko. R.I.P. Cliff \m/ #TotalCliff #BeInMetal