Emma Henderson fell in love with the electric bass guitar at the age of eight...
Born in Sydney, Australia, she was greatly inspired by a school music teacher early on and began her journey in music supported by a passionate, supportive environment, both at school and at home. From day one she was taught within the Rockschool framework, completing all grades (1 to 8) with distinction before her 16th Birthday. Not too shabby!
Upon finishing school, Emma’s studies were furthered at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and then at the Australian Institute of Music where she was awarded the National Excellence scholarship. With a strong desire to take her music education as far as possible, Emma’s dedication gained her a scholarship to study at the Berklee College of Music’s summer program in Boston, Mass (USA). At Berklee her talent was further recognised as amongst 70 bass players she was chosen to perform for the All-Star Ensemble.
Emma’s performance experience has been extensive and has seen her work in Australia, Asia Pacific, Europe, and the US. Always wanting to work with different cultures and genres, Emma has performed in numerous touring musicals, gig venues and summer music festival for a variety of artists. The most recent highlights coming In 2018 when she was taught by 5-time grammy award winning bassist/producer/educator Victor Wooten in Boston and in 2019 when she managed to meet her music idol, bass-master, Marcus Miller in London.
Emma’s love for musical collaboration has also led her become an inspirational music tutor, and has been working with young musicians since 2017. From this platform, she has since overseen a music collective set up to enable other young musicians to work professionally together in a variety of professional opportunities across the whole of Australia.
Welcome to RSL HQ, Emma! You began playing bass at 8 years old – why the bass guitar?
In Year 3 (8 years old) we were introduced to instruments played in bands and had the opportunity to try them out. We had a female bass teacher and she just looked really cool and presented the bass in such a fun way that it made me want to learn. Once I picked it up, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started playing and it came so naturally!
6 years later, and you’ve worked up to a Rockschool Grade 8, gaining a distinction. Did you do all grades 1-8? Or did you choose a few as you progressed?
Yes, I did [all grades]. I went from grade 1 to grade 8, but skipped the Debut at the start. As soon as I started doing the grades I just wanted to keep going because I just found it so motivating. As soon as you start, you see the next level and the new skills you’re about to learn, and as soon as I started I knew I just wanted to keep going and pushing myself to see what else there was.
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Did you have that at every grade or was there a point where you thought “I can’t do this anymore?”
Yes, as soon as the teacher would show me the songs for the next grade, I would look at the music and know I really had to listen because it was so intense – I thought I could never do that. But, she was very motivating and as soon as I started, I thought “No, I can work at this. I’ll start really slow, I’ll get there and I’ll do it”, and I ended up getting through all of them.
Who was your teacher?
Shout out to you Rochelle! Are there any tracks that stayed with you, even now?
Yes, ‘Mr Stanley, I Presume’. It was the first song I really got into slapping, so I still remember that song now. I moved to grade 7 but I would still play that grade 6 song because I love it! Also, ‘Lead Sheet’, which was super hard when I first started it. I found it so intense and so complicated at first, but I fell in love with it whilst I improved. I still play that now!
What is it about those two do you think?
I think the fact that they really challenged me and forced me to tackle so many different techniques. You go from playing a melody, then a bassline, to slapping, then soloing, and it just included so many different techniques that made me just feel like I wasn’t just playing basic basslines the whole time. It pushed me to explore different areas of the bass, which I really know were even there at the time.
After your grades you went onto school bands, and even a tv shows! Did it give you some confidence you could exist as a musician in other situations?
100 percent! They [the grades] really cover every part of playing; from scales, to improvising, to sight reading. So, whenever someone threw a challenge at me and was like “Can you try to solo this piece on stage?” or “could you improvise over this?”; having such a strong foundation behind from the Rockschool grades helped so much.
When you first met other musicians, did you feel prepared to fit in right away?
I felt very prepared, yes. Especially playing different genres because Rockschool isn’t just about playing jazz, or just playing rock, it covers so much! Therefore, when I went into a jazz band, I had already had enough education to know where I stood, what to expect and what I was in for. I never really found anything outside of Rockschool that really challenged me as it covers every part of music playing that you need to know.
From there you went onto Sydney Conservatorium, then the Australian Institute of Music and then you gained a scholarship to Berklee College of Music – that must’ve been a real honour?
Yes, that was absolutely amazing. I was asked to audition for a scholarship for Berklee and I thought “no way!”. Everyone wants to go to Berklee and I thought there’s no way that is going to happen for me. But, I managed to get accepted, which was really thrilling.
Did you feel that your grades were a natural starter to get you to that place?
100 percent, definitely! Because doing Rockschool covers everything! I even meet musicians, now, that can’t sight read or they don’t know how to improvise. I feel so lucky that I was introduced to Rockschool at such a young age and learnt all this knowledge before getting into the industry and have to confront of all these different scenarios. Looking back, I realise now that it gets you used to being out of your comfort zone and trying different techniques and genres regularly. That really set me up for studying music at university, whilst motivating me to improve personally as a musician.
That’s amazing to hear. Now you’re a professional, you’ve been around the world and collaborated with many other musicians – do you have any favourite experiences you’d like to share?
When I was 17, I got asked to do a festival in Australia and I didn’t know much about it. It was around Christmas time and they said there might be a small crowd and they gave me all these songs, then I had solos and 3 other songs which was unusual for a bass player because you never get the chance to solo. I was really excited, so I practiced all these songs really well and I turned up to the performance and there were 15,000 people there.
Yes, I remember standing up on stage and knowing it was the real deal! That was amazing. Having the confidence to solo and be confident in those songs to such a big crowd was amazing.
We read that in 2018 you were taught by Victor Wooten in Boston and 2019 you met your idol Marcus Miller here in London. Why are those two people so special to you?
They both really influenced me when I was younger. My bass teacher loved Marcus Miller and when I was 12 at school, I had to do a project on an artist of any choice and I chose Marcus because he really inspired me. when I started playing and I researched his biography; what he had done; how he got to where he is now; and just his whole journey of his life, it was just so inspiring. Seeing him perform live this year with his band was just unreal and getting to meet him topped it all off.
Victor – he’s amazing. He’s insane with his techniques, the way he approaches music, the way he plays – and he’s just really down to earth. Something he told me which I found really unusual, is that he would persuade people to invite scenarios where they’d be out of their comfort zone musically. He would play a song, you have no idea what key or note that he’s playing and he would say “I just want you to play to the rhythm, don’t worry about notes or pitch just play rhythm.” He’s really into that style of learning. They have different teaching approaches and I love that; I love that they approach music so differently.
So, you went onto teaching music yourself, do you use the Rockschool material at all?
Yes, I started teaching when I was 16 and I only teach Rockschool to my students, for all the reasons I’ve gone through previously. The parents love to know that their kids are progressing and seeing what they’re learning, to show them what they’re working towards and when they’re going to move up on a level. I definitely found it beneficial for the kids and the parents to both appreciate the journey.
In 2017, you helped create a collective to help young musicians work together in Australia. What is that project and what does it entail?
Yes. I started up a company, and a booking agency that represent a collective group of musicians in Sydney and Brisbane. I help to form different bands and we all work at different events, such as weddings, corporate events and cruises. They are mainly all young musicians that are at university and that I’ve met along the way and I think it’s important for their development to get them out there playing as soon as they’re ready. Most of them are already willing to work, so it’s a great way for them to perform and work with different people and learn on the job, as it were. I love running that, learning about different people and how they someone in a band and it’s fascinating how differently they can act. It’s always changing, which I really enjoy.
I guess when you’re young and you don’t have any contacts, you need your first opportunities to get going?
No, so that’s a way for them to meet different people, see what kind of gigs they like or what they don’t like. There’s a lot of different genres and venues they get to play, so it’s important for a lot of them early on.
Last one! To anyone struggling with their grades right now: why stick with it?
Because every grade adds so much value. It adds so many different techniques and important pieces of knowledge. It’s really worth starting from the beginning and working all the way to the end if you can. I did that and I feel like it set me up with a strong foundation that I have relied on ever since. I’ve learnt so much from every genre, every scale; I’ve learnt every task, in every book, and it was all worth it.
We’d like to thank Emma for coming in to see us whilst in London for some session work! If you’d like to keep up to date with Emma, you can follow her on Instagram now @CurlyHendo!
If you’d like to nominate yourself or another musician to talk through your/their journey to the music industry, aided by the Rockschool material, then please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma is currently an Ambassador for AMEB Rockschool in Australia. She is one of four young Rockschool graduates that help to inspire the next generation of music students who dream of eventually becoming professional, working musicians some day in the future. Read about the other ambassadors here.