Ask Willis - July - 2001

Hey Willis,
Im just listening to Rocket Science and having some beers...
F**k You ! Excellent ! You guys are groovin like hell.
This is "Fusion" of the 20ths century.
Keep on rockin....

I would like to see you with Chambers some time.-
we have seen you play in the Melkweg-Amsterdam you know? It was great, you beat Pastorius, youre cool. Because were from Holland our Englisch is poor, but it sucks too.

shoot were stoned and drunk hipsss sorry

if you need a adress to sleep wile you are in holland don't hassitate to mail to ******@****.nl
a bassplayer fan that has now psychopatic means
im a big i mean *big* fan of tribal tech especially kirk i work at a crappy job so when i come home i like to unwind by craking open a 6pack putting on some tech tunes an surf the net the other nite it was late i was poking around on ebay and i came across an authentic kirk covington american arilines baggage tag that was found at newark international airport i won with a bid of 100 dollars plus 3 for shipping so now here i am witha mostly worthless piece of trash and im out a hunerd big ones i waswondering if i sent it you could you get him to sign it or something

Three different messages but the pattern here is pretty obvious. If you're gonna drink, do so responsibly, you know, don't drive etc. But whatever you do, just remember: Drinking and eBay don't mix!

Hey Willis,
I've just took up the bass and ive allready discoverd a problem. when i am holding the strings at the frets, i am sometimes crating a little buzzing sound, which doesnt sound right, am i doing something wrong? could you please help me here.

It sounds like your bass is out of adjustment. Check out the setup manual on my bass page. Once your bass is set up correctly then you'll know if you need to take it to a pro or not.

Hey Willis,
This is a long e-mail but I bet it applies to thousands of fellow bass players out there who'd be interested in your response.
I've been playing bass for a few years now and, to an audience's ear, I probably sound very accomplished.But I am nowhere near where I want to be, musically. I know where I am and I know where I want to get to. And I'd like your advice on the best route to take to get there.
Here's some of the things I can do. I'm good at picking up existing bass lines--even including a few jaw-droppers, given the extra effort and time--and creating new ones. I can get to grips, fairly easily, with new techniques I come across, if I need them. And I have good feel--I can inject the right groove into the music.
Here's some of the things I can't do. I can't sight read. I haven't memorized the musical scales, or the notes for the main qualities of three-note/four-note chords or even the root notes of common chord progressions in common keys. I can't INSTANTLY find any named note on the fretboard.
I'd like to know what I should MEMORIZE (like multipliaction tables in Math) about music (e.g., notes in key signatures, scales and chords, etc.) and the bass (e.g., the fretbaord, chord shapes, etc.).
I'd especially like to be able to UNDERSTAND HOW music works--for example, what are the common chord progressions and, more importantly, WHY they work and how to use this information in my bass playing.
My ultimate goal is to have learned enough (memorized and understood) to appreciate the bass lines I'm playing now, and then to go beyond that into improvising bass lines, maybe even taking the occasional improvised solo.
I've got TONS of books and videos on all of this--ear-training, fingerboard harmony, sight-reading, music theory, jazz theory, techniques--including ALL of yours (which, and I'm not brown-nosing here, are the most pragmatic and non-BS of everything out there).
And I am capable of understanding the material. But I need a PLAN that maps out the PRIORITIES and the best order in which to tackle them.
With all of the books, videos, and Web sites out there, I'm suffering from information overload because I don't have a good skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the subject.
Can you help? Perhaps you could suggest a list of the essentials, in priority order, and a recommendation on how to learn each of those essentials (a good book, a video, a practical exercise, what to learn parrot-fashion).

This is almost one of those "meaning of life" questions but I'll give it a shot but still try to be brief. There is a difference in developing the skills necessary to be a good bass player and the skills involved in being an overall good musician. A good musician has together some of the other things you mentioned, like knowing the names of the notes on the neck, understanding chord progressions and key centers and basic theory thing and being able to sight-read some doesn't hurt. All these things make you more valuable to any group you're playing with and make for a more fulfilling experience as a musician. A lot of what you mentioned about learning harmony and chord progressions should take place on the keyboard. Bass is an awful instrument to study harmony on. Start figuring out how to make chords, understanding scales, key-centers, transcribe or at least be able to play chord voicings and the progressions of tunes. That'll go a long way towards getting an understanding of what's going on besides your bass notes. Initially, theory is simply the use of the English language to communicate what happens in music. Theory is the use of labels that enable you to discuss (in English) what's going on-a scale-a mode-a key-a chord- an interval-a tempo- a sharp or a flat-etc. I never had a "plan" or a list of essentials to start with. I think that once you start this period of discovery of what's beyond the bass you'll come across different aspects that you don't know about and you'll develop a way to add to your knowlege on an "as needed" basis. For instance, if a book starts out and assumes you need to know the notes of the track and get that together first. I believe it's better sometimes to not have a "plan" and just start learning/discovering and let your enthusiasm and inspiration guide you. You'll end up eventually filling in all the holes in your knowlege but it'll be a more personal journey instead of a cookie cutter A to B to C to D process.

Hey Willis,
By reading your past interviews and web site, I've become intrigued by the extra half inch or so length down the headstock for the B & E tuners. Was this to strictly compensate for the extra B-string flop in most 34" scale necks and or also to compete with 35" scale bass necks ? And you have found this extra length DEFINATELY makes a difference ? What are your opinions on stringing through the body (I imagine you may have experimented with this as a solution for the 34" B dilemma first of all, before moving the tuners) ?

It definitely makes a difference. I used to add spacers (little cylinders between the ball of the string and the back of the bridge) to my B and E strings to get a little more tension. One time I tried the spacers on all 5 strings and it pulled the neck out of adjustment so I know it makes a difference. Then Mike Tobias told me to try the 2-3 head stock configuration and it got the same if not better results. For fretless, I don't like the tension on 35" necks. Actually, I don't like the tension on the G string of a Fender bass....since the G string tuner is all the way at the end of the headstock.
A 2-3 headstock allows for a tighter B and E while allowing the other strings to "breathe"...something that you don't get on a 35" bass. As far as stringing through the body. I think that's not as effective because of the hard bend the string has to take once it exits the body. I don't think the tension is distributed much to the part of the string that's past the saddle and goes into the body.

Hey Willis,
I'm a bass player from Italy (I live near venice). I saw you 3 years ago in a theatre in Rovigo with "Tribal tech", and I have been very surprized from the way you play very complicated things in a very natural way. I stopped playing for a week, but my love for music pushed me to continue.
I wanna tell you that you are a refering point for me (for what concern the bass), and studing your parts (I have your video, CDs, and books) is very exciting, and lead me in a strange musical dimention, full of innovation.
I'm not still able to understand some modulation inside your solos, and this means technique for me (not only speed, slap and tapping). Can you advice me the jazz standards you prefer to work and improvise on them?

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you've continued to play.
I've learned hundreds of standards to work on improvising. Memorizing them is an important part of developing a soloing vocabulary.
Here are some to start:

All of You
Alone Together
All the Things You Are
Autumn Leaves
April In Paris
Alice In Wonderland

and that's just a few of the "A's"
Like a said, there's hundreds, but as soon as you learn to play over--let's say-- five standards, you'll have learned probably 90% of the information that you'll need to know in order to play over every thing else.
Good luck,

Hey Willis,
I was wondering if you use the ramp on your basses to extend the range of your fretboard.

The ramp isn't for notes. When it's properly set up it's parallel to the strings when they're played at the 24th fret. The space between the string and ramp at that point is up to you and how you set it up for the thickness of your fingers.

Hey Willis,
I've been studying your right hend technique for a couple of weeks now from your video. I played like the typical bass player does, with their arm over the bass and their wrist really bent. after using your technique
I found that I can't seem to get my chops to where they were in my old style. It feels like my fingers are coming at the strings at more of an angle. Is this normal? Did you have these problems? Well keep making great music in the mean time!

What you're describing is natural. The fact that you are already trying to do what you were doing within a couple of weeks means that you've really been working hard, I assume. What I usually recommend is a more gradual approach. When you do eventually make the full switch to 3 finger technique you will be slower but eventually the new technique will overtake what you used to be able to do with your old technique.
Give it some time and make sure you're hyper-conscious of every thing your right hand is doing when you're practicing. This will reinforce the subconscios way you want your right hand to eventually operate. You will be coming at the strings at more of an angle and playing with a different part of your finger....slightly toward the side of the finger instead of straight on.