Arcellus Sykes

Arcellus (he/him) earned a degree in music from Western Illinois University before moving to Portland in 2003. Since then, he’s toured and recorded with a wide variety of artists, including Bright Red Paper and Tezeta Band. He focused on jazz for the first 10 years of his career, but has since developed a deep appreciation for pop and rock styles. Lessons with Arcellus focus on technique, theory, and picking apart tunes to find out what makes them “tick.”


What age were you when you first started taking music lessons?

My mom started giving me piano lessons when I was around 6; private lessons with teachers started in high school.

Tell us about an early music lessons experience that helped shape you as a musician or teacher:
I remember taking a lessons with a local bassist while I was in high school; he taught me the concept of “tumbao” (a common bass rhythm in latin music) and demonstrated how the bass locked in with multiple different percussion instruments while maintaining its own rhythm and voice. That lesson really stuck with me and had a huge role in developing my own sense of playing in a group: listen as hard as you can to the other musicians, develop your own voice within the group, and above all else, make it FEEL as good as you can!
What are your favorite bands or musicians?

John Coltrane – his singular voice and incredible devotion to the music inspires me every day.

Brad Mehldau – he has astounding technique, but it never gets in the way of expressing a feeling through his music.

Radiohead – their songwriting and sound design still blows me away.

Anything recording by the Funk Brothers (Motown) or The Wrecking Crew (LA musicians who played on too many recordings to list).

Do you have a highlight of your music career so far that you would like to share?
One highlight would be playing the headlining slot on Saturday night at the Oregon Country Fair a few years ago – looking out to a sea of people all dancing to the band’s music was cathartic!
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is someone who is curious to learn as much as they can about music, not just as a bass player but as a whole musician. Listening is fundamental, and daily practice is key.
Describe what your students should expect in their first few music lessons.
We’ll get to know each other as music fans first, and then dive into a song you might be interested in. From there, I’ll probably find a way to relate a part of that song to a playing technique or music theory concept. We’ll build on that and use it to develop a practice routine to get your moving forward as a player./
Why did you want to become a music teacher?
I love music more than anything, and talking about music is one of my favorite things to do. What better way to do that than with a student eager to learn?
Want to take lessons with Arcellus? Follow this link to get started!
Want to check out Arcellus’ music? Check out his website!