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Steve Prosser, 60; led Berklee’s ear-training department

Steve Prosser taught his students at Berklee College of Music to sight-read and transcribe what they hear.

Steve Prosser taught his students at Berklee College of Music to sight-read and transcribe what they hear.

While hiking in the woods, Steve Prosser listened intently to the warbling songs of birds.

An ear training professor at Berklee College of Music, he absorbed the intricate harmonies and transcribed them into musical compositions, a process his brother, Mark, said was remarkable to watch.

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“It was almost like an orchestra conductor pointing to his musicians in the woods,” Mark said.

Dr. Prosser, who along with teaching at Berklee was a studio vocalist, composer, jazz pianist, and lawyer, had undergone gall bladder surgery and died Oct. 10 in his home in the Back Bay, apparently of complications from a fall. He was 60.

“My teaching style is consciously Socratic rather than didactic,” he wrote for his Berklee faculty webpage. “I musically demonstrate the materials and techniques myself, in order to demonstrate mastery, and then ask the students pointedly related questions.”

Alongside his students, he wrote, “we come to an understanding of the methods of study, the meaning of the material, and the desired musical results. I choose this style because students need to understand the ‘why’ of the music — not just the ‘what.’ I also discover something new about music from every class of students.”

His brother, who lives in Radford, Va., said Dr. Prosser was a master teacher who never acted as though he were better than his students.

“He wasn’t above his class,” Mark said. “He was with his class.”

Hired to teach at Berklee upon graduating from the school in 1979, Dr. Prosser was an associate professor until 1992. From 1992 to 1998, he was assistant chairman of the ear training department, which teaches students to sight-read music and transcribe what they hear. From 1998 to 2008, Dr. Prosser was chairman of the department.

He stayed on as a professor in the department until his death, and also led Berklee’s jazz choir from 1979 to 1990.

In 1981, he met Kris Adams while she was a student at Berklee. Adams later became a professor at the school, and they married on Jan. 2, 1987. They divorced in 2006, and remained close friends.

Adams, who lives in Holliston, cared for Dr. Prosser during his last few months. He was full of life, she said, and had a sharp wit.

“He had a very big personality,” Adams said.

Born in 1952, he grew up in Altoona, Pa. His father, William, served as mayor of Altoona, and his mother, Elizabeth, had been a nurse during World War II.

His parents were young when they died, and Dr. Prosser turned to music to cope with the loss, his brother said.

“Music was his thing that helped him survive a lot of this stress and pain,” Mark said. “He was gifted.”

Mark said that when Dr. Prosser was about 5, he began playing the organ and other keyboards. He started playing drums in middle school and then joined a band in high school.

After graduating from Altoona Area High School in 1970, Dr. Prosser toured the country before deciding to attend Berklee.

Dr. Prosser also graduated from Suffolk University in 1989 with a master’s in educational administration. In 1992, he received a doctorate from Boston College in curriculum, instruction, and administration in higher education.

He graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 1998 and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar the following year.

Paul Stiller, a Berklee professor who studied under Dr. Prosser in the late 1980s, said he thrived most when he was in class.

A tough professor, Dr. Prosser could also use his sense of humor to keep his students on their toes “with a zinger in two seconds.”

“He had a way of joking around with the class,” Stiller said, but treated all his students with respect and cared deeply about their success.

“He wanted everybody to be excellent, he didn’t want you to be an A-minus,” Stiller said. “That wasn’t good enough.”

Dr. Prosser also could be quirky, Stiller added, and would take his cat, Coda, for walks in a stroller.

Services will be held in the spring for Dr. Prosser, who also wrote two books: “Essential Ear Training for Today’s Musician” and “Intervallic Ear Training for Musicians.”

He was a member of the Associated Grant Makers of Boston, which promotes effective and responsible philanthropy, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a performers’ union.

Dr. Prosser hired 20 to 25 of the 35 people in the ear training department, Stiller said, and many of them knew him when they had attended Berklee as students.

Stiller added that he was inspired to become a professor at Berklee by Dr. Prosser.

“He was a mentor in a lot of ways,” Stiller said. “He’s someone you’d want to emulate.”

In his Berklee biography, Mr. Prosser wrote that teaching was his passion because of the strong relationships he had with students and colleagues.

“I have learned an important truth during my 30 years at Berklee: No thing or person can alter the passionate musical bond between our diverse student body and our tremendously talented faculty,” he wrote.

Roberta Radley, the ear training department’s assistant chair, said Dr. Prosser was an extremely honest and passionate teacher who remains one of Berklee’s legendary figures.

“He had kind of two sides to him,” she said. “He was extremely powerful and had strong opinions and was quite an intellectual leader here at the college, and definitely campaigned for quality in education.”

Dr. Prosser also “had quite the sense of humor, and if he were your friend, he would go to bat for you to the end.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com.

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