Ask Willis - September - 2001

Hey Willis,
I'm writing because I am really frustrated and I'm hoping you could help me out. About a month ago, I started playing with this new group in town and it's really cool learning a the tunes and the grooves, but man, the PIANO player! It's obvious that he is used to being a solo player because he is SO HEAVY on the left hand, I just want to cut it off!!!
To top it off, we don't end songs consistently. For example, we agreed to repeat an end 3 times with a hit in the last bar on count 2. The next time we played it, he played it on three. The next time it was the and of 2. We finally fixed it during that rehearsal, and just yesterday, he changed it to beat 3, PLUS it's not " atempo" in the last bar now - it's some almost half-time that he counts himself.

He probably doesn't have much experience with bands, and maybe I'm not being patient enough.
I just like consistency, y'know? I asked you a while back about your "experiences" with the music biz, is this what you were talking about (you said you had too many to mention)? Is there any tactful strategy to getting the "Knock it off" message across? Can a piano and bass co-exist peacefully in the same harmonic territory? Thanks for any help you can offer!

AHH, good question. 'Definitely been there myself.
Both of your issues have the potential to be resolved by recording. Nothing is more revealing than the truth.
First, since you're a "sideman" in this situation, you have to, like you said, adopt a "tactful strategy". The truth is that it's cool learning the tunes and rhythms so you have to convey that as part of your strategy. But at the same time, offer an alternative based on orchestration. If he plays your bass lines then there's a "voice" - the left hand - missing from the arrangements. Unless the unison is specific to the tunes, the bass should be on it's own. Also when he doubles your part then it makes it impossible for you to do any effective kind of variation or fill that will help the music - since, as soon as you do a variation, it draws attention to the unison no longer being there. In any case bring a walkman, MD, whatever- and record. Ask him (privately, not like a confrontational "scene" in front of the band) to try playing both ways, one with doubling one without and then get his opinion on which sounds best - which will obviously allow you to express your opinion about which sounds best. Once anything is on tape it's easier to debate the merits and make it less a personal "I don't like it when you do that" type thing.

A recording of the ending mutations, especially in rehearsal, would have solved the problem possibly before it ever got on the stage. If you record everything in rehearsal then if you settle on an ending and 2 minutes later it's different. Just play the tape back and everyone can listen to what's been decided on and immediately hear and agree on which ending to use. Suppose a new ending is agreed upon...fine "let me get that one on tape so I can learn it". Everyone commits to a documented version. Like before, any differences don't be come personal conflicts, instead, what's on tape becomes the deciding factor.

Hey Willis,
I was offered a bassist position in a typical "restaurant band" - and I don't mean the 10-member jazz group, but a guy with a guitar, a mike and a sequencer that serves as the rest of the band with MIDI tunes (and sometimes he's helped by a percussionist). They're playing latin song covers. It does not pay well, and I've always disliked these "groups" but considering it'd be a start to earning money by playing bass and maybe working less and practicing more bass ... I hesitate. Currently I have to work about 10-12 hours to make a living - this takes a lot away from playing bass.

A lot of my buddies say this is "wasting talent" and "humiliating" - but hell, I don't know any musicians to play together with, and all the bands available for me are no more serious than high-school rock groups... if I don't play here, I don't play in any regularly gigging band.
But I've seen musicians who choose this way and lose all heart to play real music - they just burned out and completely stopped playing in bands other that the "boat gig" style (and even a boat gig is on a much higher level than this one, with the afore mentioned 10-member bands and all). Even when they played in those bands, they didn't seem to enjoy the whole thing anymore. I just write to ask for some advice - not because I believe you were part of such productions, but maybe you have known guys in my situation...

I have definitely been part of such productions and I've probably played every kind of gig you can imagine. Like you mentioned, the key to any situation is to not "lose all heart to play real music". Like most of us, the desire to play real music needs something to support it since "real music" doesn't usually pays the bills. One way to support your "habit" is to play gigs that are not that musical but you have your bass in your hands. But, just because your bass is in your hands doesn't mean you're developing as a musician. The difference is that if you're aware of the situation you're in and have a goal in mind then you can have the attitude of using the situation to your advantage instead of it being a dead end. On so many of those seemingly meaningless gigs I would use to just practice - techniques - left hand - right hand, etc. - and I'm pretty sure no one noticed . Of course you can't show up to work with the attitude that "I'm better than this gig and you people doing it, so just give me time I'll be outta here soon", but there are ways to make the situation work for you. Now, if you "have to quit your day gig" to play in this duo then that brings all kinds of other financial risks and considerations into the decision. You have to decide how important your "habit" is and then whether your day gig can support it or if this is an opportunity you should take or if there might be others instead.
Good luck, I know it's a tough decision..

Hey Willis,
I've got a few questions for you but don't worry i'll try not to ramble on to much.
1. My tutors at uni(in the U.K....its bloody freezing over here at the minite, can you send me some of that hot weather please!)say that i should study keyboard as it will act as a musical abacus as far as harmony is concerned. I under stand their angle but every time i try to put some serious study in on the piano i can here my bass calling to me("play me").....freaky or what! Do you think i should ignore the calls?
2. I'm practicing about four hours a day,but i feel like i'm not making sufficiant use of my practise time,did you have a strict practice schedule,for example, time allocated for technique, time for harmony, time
for learning standards etc,etc?
3.When i approach a solo over a tune, i see things as chords and/or other chord sub's, but a lot of my fellow muso chums seem to approach the whole thing using modes and scales etc. Is my approach o.k.? It seems to help me when adding a bop flavour to my solos but i also love skuli sverrisson's solos on hard hat area(Alan Holdsworth)which are obviously very scale based.
Whats your opinion?

1. A keyboard is the answer. Sorry, but it's integral to an overall understanding of music. The bass is an awful instrument to study harmony on. Whether you're studying harmony on keys right now or not, the more facility you develop on keys the more it'll help you when you do start the harmony thing.
2. I never could stick to a schedule. This was strictly a personal decision based on what works for me. Practicing always had to be something creative for me. Creating means creating grooves, soloing, fills, lines or creating technical exercises to solve problems that come up from trying to create the other things. Make sure that a big portion of your practice time is spent tapping into the creative side of your brain. Of course, you have to have discipline but if you balance that discipline and apply it to something that's based on creativity, practicing will become a more intense personal exploration instead of a "checking things off a list" as you do them.
3. I'm definitely on your side of the chords vs. scales/mode battle.
Check out the last answer from this ask willis page:

Also, the Google search on my site turned up 15 hits on "practicing" and 11 on "scales".

Hey Willis,
I recently purchased one of your fretless basses here in NYC. I love it. It plays and sounds better than any instrument I've ever owned. I have question about pickup height. Is the string tone or its ability to vibrate affected by how close you have the pickup to the strings? I play as light as I can so I like to have everything as low a possible to facilitate this.

Great to hear you're diggin' the bass, thanks for the E. As far as the proximity, I've never noticed any tone differences and, like you, I keep my strings as close to the pickup as I can. The only problem is obviously when you get the strings too close to the pickup/ramp then a regularly struck note will hit the pickup or ramp and you'll hear it, especially when you play higher. Al long as you're careful about the setup, which it seems you are, you'll get good results.

Hey Willis,
Your website is very interesting, helpful, and entertaining. Plus, I love the dog humor. Here's my quest: I've been playing bass for just over a year and a half. I've gotten comfortable using a 2-finger technique with my right hand, but after hearing about your right hand technique, with its obvious benefits, I decided to give it a go. I'm currently working through your Fingerboard Harmony for bass book, and I've just ordered your Ultimate Ear Training book. I'd like to apply your right hand technique to what I'm learning - haven't had a chance to see your video, but have checked your lessons with accompanying video clips within your site. They're very helpful; I've gone ahead and tried to apply those basic ideas, first, to a G major scale starting with the left hand 1st finger, ascending to the 9th, and then descending, second, G Maj starting with the RH 2nd finger (same range), and third, G Mag starting with the 4th finger. I'll write down the fingering I've used for my right hand. Would you mind telling me if I'm on the right track? Thanks a lot in advance.

1. RH fingering for G Maj scale starting with LH 1st finger: 1213/1231/2121/2112
2. RH fingering for G Maj scale starting w/ LH 2nd finger: 1231/2312/3121/1211*
*on the repeat, I have to pluck G with my 2nd finger, but after plucking B with my 3rd finger, I reset my fingers and then I can continue ascending with the original fingering. 3. 3. RH fingering for G Maj scale starting w/ LH 4th finger: 1312/3132/3231/2121

What do you think? Am I creating a monster?

Thanks for the E and kind words. Good to hear you're working with the books and you've started the 'switch'. 'You'll be better off in the long run.'Looks like you're using a left hand fingering for the scale that I never use (GAB on one string).But for #1. that's the right hand fingering that comes naturally to me.Here's an old fingering chart I made up for #2.

On #2 you should be able to start with 2 or 1 like you said.Here's my #3. 1/212/31/31221/21/121/1 Sure there are little variations that mine and your right hand can fall into but it looks like it's working for ya. Still if you find something in this 3 madness that works better for you, cool, as long as you're making the decisions an not letting some old ingrained involuntary motion dictate your choices. We all wanna be monsters, right?

Hey Willis,
I'm thinking about getting into Mountain Biking this summer. What MTB under $1000 would you recommend for a 6', 230lb rider. what frame size, suspension (if any), brakes, shifting system, etc do you think would be best for the money. BTW, I am a bass player (first) and a guitar player, never could choose - your work has inspired me to take my bass playing to a whole new level (and scott henderson's playing has inspired me to use a lot of double-stop sixths!).

Bikes have gotten a lot cheaper and better for the money in the last 5 years. All the major manufacturers make a full suspension bike at that price point. But for $1500 nowadays you can get a 'great' FS bike that would have been $3000 2-3 years ago. Cannondale, GT, Trek, Specialized, Giant, Rocky Mountain - are good places to start. You might look in to seeing if any of them have steel (chromoly) frames that might hold up better than aluminum in your weight classification. Aluminum - once it's bent, there's no straightening it back out. Steel is much more durable in that respect. Although, they've figured out the aluminum thing to where it's not really that big an issue.

Hey Willis,
Ok. i have buy the fretless GW and i don't regreet that. Very easy ect... incredible! i got one or twoo question for you.
Could you tell say to me if you utilise effects in yours solos ballads and what kind of amplification do
you use to have this great sound?
Could you to give me an approach to work "semiquaver" to play as fast as possible ?
I hope that i will receive an answer about you.
Thank you very much (and sorry for my English)

Glad to hear you got the bass and it's working for you.
As far as the sound for the solos in ballads. I try record as direct as possible - no EQ, compression, limiting, anything. Then for a solo I'll add some reverb but I'll roll off frequencies below 500 so that the reverb doesn't get muddy.
Hey, I never went to a conservatory so I don't really know what a "semiquaver" is. 8-(
But to play as fast as possible is to teach yourself to relax, use as little effort as possible and to have the most efficient use of your technique.