Ask Willis - August - 2000

Hey Willis
What's up with that Lefty? Cool bike, but that thing looks weird. Does it make you go around in circles like NASCAR? I've seen the car rack adapter but how do you get a bike computer on there? OK, a GWB1 or a Jekyll with the Lefty? What's your final answer?

In the famous words of Lance Armstrong : "It's not about the bike". However, in my case, it's pretty much about the bike. Anyway, go for the bass. The incredible sound will make you so in demand you'll be able to afford the bike, no prob;-)
If you really wanna know, it's awesome. It took some tweaking, but I put some lighter weight oil in the damper cartridge and it's nearly as plush as my old Marzocchi Z1 Bomber. And I actually was able to rig a computer on there. Check this out.

Hey Willis,
Any truth to the rumor that Tribal Tech was recording a new CD. What's up?

We finished Rocket Science last month. It'll be out in Europe & Japan on October 6th and in the states a little after that.

Hey Willis,
Sorry for my bad english I'm a french canadian; i hope you will understand what I try to ask you in my poor sentences.
I play bass and upright for 12 years now and one things stop me to growing up: it's my ears.
I have a strong sense of groove and time and when I listen you I have a strange feeling: you seems near and far from me at the same time.......whatever my question is what is the first things or exercises I have to concentrate myself for the ear training.
Thank you

Those are pretty good sentences if you ask me. You should see some of the sentences I get from the US. Anyway, that strange near and far feeling is obviously because we're both on North American soil but separated by at least a thousand miles.
The first thing you should do to work on your ear is buy my book Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass.
Oops, sorry, I forgot to warn you that a commercial was on its way. It really is the most important thing to me in developing musicianship. That's why I did the book....thanks.

Hey Willis,
Could you say something (on the Q& A board) about your study of singers and your incorporation of vocal techniques into your bass playing? I remember you mentioning it, either in an article or in your video (which, by the way, does not "suck"--shame on you for saying that about your own video!). But I'd love to hear, in more detail, how you go about integrating these techniques into your playing, what singers you listen to, etc. Another question: What instrumentalists have influenced your playing, other than bassists?

As far as the singers thing I think it's mostly been an influence on vibrato and pitch control. There are singers and players who don't have control of their vibrato. It's always "on" and so it becomes an annoying effect and makes everything less expressive. It's still personal preference, so if you like that kind of thing, there are plenty of players and singers out there for you to listen to......I'll pass, thanks. Sarah Vaughn had tremendous control of her vibrato. Although I don't own any of her records, I remember hearing her ability to nail a note dead still and then gradually move into a slow controlled vibrato. It was extremely expressive and obviously way more effective than just having it "on" all the time.

The amount and speed of the vibrato is another thing to get from singers. Most fretless players aren't aware of how subtle a physical motion it requires to get a vibrato to sound musical. The speed and pitch variation that comes from even slight hand movement can sound drastic but since it doesn't physically feel like you're doing that much, it ends up being ignored and eventually out of control. Another thing, just because it's possible to "slide" into notes like the human voice, doesn't mean you should. Basically, you should realize when you're sounding like a country steel guitar or a novelty trombone part and use that effect only when it's musically necessary and not as a regular feature of your playing. My favorite singers are Aretha, Tony Bennet, Stevie, Annie Lennox, Luther, Milton Nascemento, Al Green. I'm sure there's more, but it would be a short list.
I've probably been more influenced by non-bassists.... Herbie, Wayne, Miles, Benson, Bill Evans, Scofield, Joe, Tony, Jack....etc. There's definitely more and it would be a long list.

Hey Willis,
In the last month's Ask Willis, you said something about false harmonics. Is that simple harmonics, like hitting the string hard and softly putting your left hand on top of the string? Like Jaco use to? Or is it something else? Because I don't understand how can you relate that to a high C string sound.

False harmonics can give you a lot of notes higher than your highest note on the G string. The C string only gives you 5 half-steps higher than the highest note on the G string. In addition to a lot of natural harmonics (ones occurring with open strings) Jaco also used false harmonics that come from fretting a note and playing it's harmonic an octave up. Here'swhat my right hand does while I play a C on the G string with the left hand. My first finger is touching the C on the 17th fret and I'm striking the string with my little finger.

A more common way is to touch the node (the spot an 8ve up) with your thumb and pluck with your 1st or 2nd finger. While it's more comfortable for a traditional 2-finger player, it doesn't give you as fat a sound as plucking the note further away from the node like I'm illustrating.

Hey Willis,
I've quit bass for about almost one year now, just playing from time to time with friends... but i intend to get back to my bass very seriously... do you think it was a wise decision? In fact i got completely tired and frustrated from bad band experiences and many other disappointments... what should i do? Just practice on my own and wait until i find a band that i can really fit in... or try to make some efforts to fit in a band? I'm willing to play different styles but not with all the kinds of people ... is it wrong?... do I just have to shut up and play whatever i can play or not? How many hours of practice (i mean real good practice) is necessary each day? Do you think sports is a good thing for music?

I don't think quitting for a time is bad. Sounds like you're returning to the instrument for the right reasons. I still believe the best teacher is the experience of playing as much as you can. But that experience should be with players who have a similar attitude about learning and improving. Too much playing with players who don't share your attitude about music and getting better can make you worse. It is possible to waste a lot of time playing in bands whose goals are not necessarily to play music well but are only interested in "making it". Learn to say "no" if your instincts tell you. Everyone's time is limited, spend it practicing and be selective about which bands you work with.
The hours in a day aren't nearly as important as how much intense, creative, problem-solving practicing you get done. When you practice, make sure you're using all your faculties in listening, watching your hands and choosing what to work on. Don't get stuck in a "routine", be creative and sometimes choose not to practice if you feel you can't sustain the mental energy necessary to have a good session. (although I've found that a strong cappuccino or espresso helps)
You have to have some kind of life outside of music, even if it's just a temporary escape. That can come from sports or anything that clears your head and you get a sense of escape and enjoyment from.

Hey Willis
I have a fretless bass with an unfinished finger board that I no longer use that much. I am considering putting a finish on it. I have some friends who have a spray booth. So I wouldn't be slopping it on myself. Do you have any suggestions or experiences with finishes that would work for this ? Also, did the operation help? My septum is whacked (literally) and have been considering the surgical strike approach.

Before my signature bass, I always did my own fingerboard finishing (plus a couple hundred others for people). I never used a spray. It was always Devcon 2-Ton epoxy applied with a business card because of the thickness. I think there was one prototype fingerboard that I got once from Ibanez that was some kind of polyurethane spray job but I couldn't tell you what kind or what the mixture was.
The operations was definitely a success. I don't ever remember breaking my nose but my mom says it could have been from all that Jr. High football I played. Before the operation, I was pretty hopeless allergies or not. We'll see once allergy season rolls back around. Meanwhile, I'm breathing (and sleeping) very well now, thanks....what a concept.

Hey Willis,
I just started playing the bass about 2 months ago. So now is the time to get everything right. I use the walking bas method using 2 fingers. But recently I incorporated using 3 fingers while I am playing. I have seen the style you use and I was wondering because I wanted to use the pinky as well. Is it better if I use your method using 3 fingers and hopefully 4 soon and the thumb for occasional slapping. Or should I use your method. Or does it even matter since I 'm using more than 2 fingers.

It's great that you're starting out and open to playing with 3 fingers or more. I did have a student once that took my approach to 3 and applied it to 4 but he I only saw him another few months before he went back to Finland so I don't know how it worked out for him long term. Since you're just starting, I'd say the more the merrier. Why stop where I did.

Hey Willis,
A pair of questions:
1) In your Video you explain the fingering of the MAJOR SCALE, in the closed position. I want now the fingering in the MINOR scale (to refer at the right hand).
2) Over the VIDEO exercise for the development of the right , give me advice for the other exercises for the right hand (open & closed positions)

1) The fingering for the minor or any scale follows the same logic as the major. You'll notice that the major scale involves either 2 or 3 notes per string. Depending on which left hand fingering you use, you'll start out with either 1 note on a string or 3 notes on a string. The process is the same. Play the first note with 1 and dampen with the thumb or play 1-2-1 and dampen with the thumb.
2) The best exercises are to take what you normally play....grooves, walking lines, scales, patterns, whatever.....slow them down and play every note short, dampening with the right hand. Make sure you keep your 3rd finger on an upper string in either open or closed position and make your string crossings this way and you'll get the best results.