Ask Willis - December - 1998

Hey Willis,
Thanks for the opportunity to ask you a question that I have thought long and hard about . I was just wondering your thoughts about musicianship levels in the people you have taught and worked with. Is it true you think that someone with not that much natural talent in music can still acheive some degee of success due to their drive determination and disciplne. Have you witnessed this in your experience as teacher. Or is also a case that some people have a natural "gift" for music and just get it more easily and go on to achieve success. I asked Ray Brown this once at a clinic and he replyed that no amount of schooling or training one recived could give some of the talents an abilities a couple of people that he had worked with had. But for he rest of us and he included himself he suggested "Just practice till you can't go no more " I realize that this question might be kind of weird and hard to answer specifically , but I appreciate any tips thoughts you have to share comming from someone who is a pro bass player as well as had a lot of experience as a teacher would be great.
Thanks for your time...Chip

Hey Chip,
You've got a good question there.
Of course, natural ability goes a long way to determining if someone will be a good musician.
That doesn't mean they'll enjoy it, or stay with it. We've all seen the "child-prodigy" get burnt out.
The trick part of your question lies in the "some degree of sucess".
If you're asking for yourself, the real answer isn't what someone else tells you.
Personally, you have to decide if you love music enough to make the sacrifices
it will take to pursue it. If you have to consider your "degrees of sucess" as
part of the equation, then you're probably going to be more "reward" oriented that "goal" oriented.
The real measuring stick is whether you love learning and getting better and
eventually expressing yourself in music. If that's your goal, then you don't
have to bother comparing yourself to those more or less talented than yourself.

Hey Willis,
I love your progressive bassics video. I've been getting into your right
hand technique exercises on my 7 string. And was wondering if you could
give me some pointers or information for using the technique on my 7.
Thanks for your time,

Hey CH,
Thanks, I hate that video, but I guess it does a decent job of demonstrating the 3-finger technique.
I'm not sure exactly how you're doing it, but the main thing is to make sure that as you cross strings and play higher, that you keep the lower strings muted. I'm able to float my thumb so it stays in contact with the B, E & A when I play on the D & G strings.
The shape of your hand/thumb might make this harder so you might have to manage some other way to keep those lower strings from ringing. You may not notice it much live or practicing, but if you're recording...ouch...'hard to learn a new technique in the middle of a session.

Hey Willis,
I tried using the form on the web page but it sent me here.
Anyways, I am very interested in your prepared techniques that were used on
your bass. Could you elaborate on the means of preparation, placement, and
items used so that i could experiment myself and further gain a better
understanding of the bass and it's capabilities.

Hey Dave,
I just stick stuff in the strings and see what happens.
popsicle sticks, toothpicks, ends of strings, springs, rubber bands.
Ever heard a power screwdriver next to a pickup?...awesome...

Hey Willis,
when are you coming back to Norway for touring. I remember you ans S. Hendersons marvelous concert in Bergen. It was just amazing to see you guys play.  eirik

Thanks Erik,
Our next European tour will be in April. I'll keep any tour details here on the site.
see 'ya then..

Hey Willis,
I had the opprotunity of seeing you with TT at Club Bene in NJ, I believe back in 1995. Scott was really loud that nite , and it took 3 days for the old ears to get back to normal. I purchased your CD No Sweat at the time and you were kind enough to sign it....thank you. I have a problem keeping the pinky of my fretting hand close to the fingerboard when I play. For example, when I am using the other fingers it moves way out of the way and the pinky is not in position for the next move. I notice that alot of accomplished players have ther hands very relaxed and parallel with the frets. My thumb is always anchored in the middle or towards the G- String on the back of the neck.....Any exercises or advice????? I love your Fingerboard Harmony Book and would like to know if your upcoming Ear Training book will be available, for purchase ,on your site..... Merry Christmas and keep up the good work      FD

Thanks FD,
A guitar player too loud? way...really?
For the pinky that "salutes"---There's a few things you could try.
*First, play 4 notes on one string and 4 on the next, you know, a chromatic, finger-per-fret thing like: A string E-F-F#-G, D string A-Bb-B-C. When you're playing notes on the A string, leave your little finger on the C. When you play the notes on the D string, leave you're little finger on the G. You can create other patterns around the same concept.
*Put all 4 fingers on your E or B string. Keep the part of your palm that's touching the neck where it is. Now play anything that you normally play (lines/parts), but leave out anything that involves the G string (move around, but stay in contact with the neck with your palm)
*Also, try playing some of the normal lines/parts you know, but only use you're 2nd, 3rd & 4th fingers.
Be careful with the thumb behind the neck. It's very easy to forget and squeeze too hard. This prevents being relaxed and leads to a lot of other problems. As an exercise, occasionally play without contacting the back of the neck with your thumb.
I'm getting advance copies of the ET book within a week so it should be available for me to sell not long after that.
Have a merry and a happy.

Hey Willis,
I am a 21 year old bass player from Montreal. Are you coming to town soon (perhaps at L'air du temps)? I deeply admire your work. I would like to take lessons with you if possible.I was thinking of going to Berklee College, and I recently went to Boston to do the audition, but I would rather go anywhere you teach!Even if I had to walk there.
Long live Gary. Take care. I hope that we will meet someday.

Thanks Francois,
The next time we'll have a chance to tour North America will be next fall. Stay tuned to this site for any deatils. I occasionally teach privately.
'Hope we meet as well, thanks.

G'day Willis,
I've been listening to Griff** play bass for a few years now - I finally met him yesterday after a Christmas/carol show he palyed at (he's a great bass player and a real funny guy!!)
He told me to check out your web site - so I did (pretty cool!!)
I think all bass players must like mountain biking!!
I'm sorry I missed you last time you played at the Basement here  - hopefully I'll catch you next time you play (around November Griff tells me)
I loooove your bass!!! (I'm actually looking at buying a new bass - what  do you recommend??)
Anyway .... see ya in Australia some time ... bye!

**me & griff pic

Thanks Paul,
The question about the bass sounds like another planted one. Anyway, my signaturebass is coming out in Jan. So that means, of course, that you should by a Washburn...OK. my bass is the coolest thing with strings. Check out the bass. It'll also be available in a fretted version. See ya next year, mate.

Hey Willis,
I found some strange things in the book "Fingerboard harmony for bass",
on page 44 messure #3 in the first system, the line written is f,f#,g,a-flat. But the line
on the disc is f,g,a-flat,a. Personally I like more the line on disc, but both seem to work.

Another subject, while I am at it, do you teech bass-playing also?
I mean, like personalclasses? What I really would like to know about, is the palm-mute technic.
When I saw your video I adopted your way of playing with the righthand, a tremendous move, but very good one.

sincerely Bjarki  

Thanks Bjarki,
I listened back to CD ex #83 (the one that goes with the line on page 44) and the CD is wrong on this one.
The Ab on beat 3 sounds good obviously because it's the 5th of Db, even though it should have been the F-F#-G line to emphasize the #11 that's diatonic on the 4 chord. Another strange thing is the sound of the example itself. I should have played a few chords (1-5-1) in the key of Ab to set up the sound. It seems hard to heard the Cm7 as a 3 chord the was it is now.

I do teach privately.Also, I do have a palm-mute web-lesson at the EDEN Electronics site.

Hey Willis,
This is for you.

Thanks V.
You're good....

Hey Willis,
I just got introduced to Tribal Tech and the whole Willis/Henderson vibe. As a matter of fact, I just bought No Sweat today but couldn't find Bent, so I'm a little bummed. What I need to know is where can I find all of the Tribal Tech music. Is there a web site? You've just acquired another life-long listener. Thanks.

P.S. I also bought the Vital Tech Tones cd
today and am thoroughly pleased. Thanks Again....Stan

Thanks Stan
You can always get bent from me (sorry 'bout the pun).
The TT stuff's always been hard to find. 'Best place for our stuff and a whole lot more is Audiophile Imports. Once the new TT is out, ESC will probably put us up on their site. I'll link to it.
VW is bad, ain't he?

Hey Willis,
I' m a 28 year old Swede who' s really inspired by your awesome playing. I' m telling you, my whole view of bassplaying changed when i saw you at fasching in Stockholm some years ago.I think you got the works, taste,attitude, technique, and an incredible sense of playing. Enough asskissing, Here's the questions: I play a regular 5-string and a fretless 6-string. The fretless has a Pau Ferro fingerboard with no lines. I know you use lines but is it possible to achieve perfect intonation anyway? I find it a bit tricky, but I haven't owned it for that long. Any tip on how to practise it? Also, I'm very interested in your signature bass, but i'm a lefty, so I wonder if Ibanez will have lefthanded models of it. What i'd like to learn right now is how to improvise over more complex progressions, and to understand them. Does any of your books cover that? You have some really juicy harmonies in your tunes, not to mention your soloing over them. I wanna learn to understand and hear how those things apply together, any advice? Finally, are you coming to Sweden soon? If you do, what are the chances of you holding any clinics, or even lessons? Are you still working as a teacher in LA? Well, that's it. I hope you'll keep up the good work! (Ps what do you think of Marko Mendoza? He's another favourite of mine, alonside with you and Jaco.)

Thanks Peter
That blank neck scares me. I do have lines and occaisionally play with my eyes closed, but I get off a lot. Of course, it's possible, but it'll take a lot longer than if you had lines. I look at as hand-eye coordination, then muscle memory. Always practice with a pitch (drone) or harmony going on you can have something to adust to.
I expect that a left-handed model will have to be a special order. Once it's released let me know if you have trouble getting one and I'll see what I can do.
My Fingerboard Harmony for Bass book gives you a way to look at the neck and organize the fingerboard for pretty much any progression. It doesn't address the improvising vocabulary as much as the harmonic note choices, but you really need to organize the fingerboard before you can improvise anyway.
TT will be doing a European tour in April. I'll keep the schedule up on the site.
If we're in a city long enough, I'll usually do a clinic, if not, sometimes there's time for a lesson. E-mail me and remind me if you see we're coming to your town.
I only rarely teach in LA anymore, sometimes at BIT and sometimes at the LA Bass Exchange.
Marco's great. Great band, tunes, etc, and he does all that BAd playing without looking at the neck (singing his ass off).

Hey Willis,
I seem to have acquired a compound bow in my bass neck. It dips around the fouth fret. It's not a lot, but the F note on the E-string sure is finicky. Suggestions?...DD

Hey DD
Let me get this straight, if you're having trouble with the F on the E string, the the dip at the 4th fret wouldn't cause trouble, it's probably the hump above that that's making it buzz or hard to set up. If adjusting the truss rod makes it better there but worse somewhere else, then the solutions are pretty drastic. You might get by with only a fret file/dress job, but it could turn ugly and you'd need a new neck and you'd be out the fret work anyway. Either way, you gotta take it to a pro. Let me know how it turns out.

Hey Willis,
are you going to do anymore projects with allan holdsworth, and i heard from a friend that tribal tech broke up and you guys hated each other please tell me thats not true.
all in all i love your work. i live in maine so i rarely get
to hear a good bass player listening to guys like
you and patituci make me forget all the jaco wanna-be's. oh yea if you ever need a guitarist just give me a call my number is (***)***-5869,
i know thats a tad unlikely but i had to ask.
best of luck and have a happy holidays, j r

Hey thanks JR,
Who knows, I think Big Al is working on a trio record (acoustic bass, Dave Carpenter) so he's in that direction right now.
Tribal Tech?...'Just cause we hate each other is no reason to break up;-)
The new TT will be out in Feb.
Oh yeah, i'm always looking for guitar players to feature on my solo projects ;-)
(i had to answer)
Happy Holidays yourself

Hey Willis,
How do you control the sounds of your bass when I don't see any knobs?
Got any advise on finger exercises to improve balance between the pointer and ring fingers?...Bong

Hey Bong,
I used to not have any knobs, but the new bass will. It'll have a volume-push/pull switch that'll make it active or passive. I use it in the passive mode with the volume all the way up. That's the electronic equivalent of no electronics (straight to the jack). The active comes in handy if you're switching basses on a gig and need to match output and tone. (less dialing on your amp). In the active mode it'll have the stacked bass and treble controls.
That would be 1 & 3, right? I've always opted to work on controlling the differences in the volumes of notes instead of the balance. If you get to where you can really control alternating between loud and soft, then it becomes very easy to make things the same volume. Try octaves, 4 notes each on the lower and uppper. 1-2-1-2 on the lower, 3-2-3-2 on the upper ocave. Try to get *drastic* differences alternating loud-soft. Don't play the "loud" loud, just play the "soft" extremely soft. Then switch to soft-loud. Master this exercise and I bet getting everything the same volume will be easy. Let me know how it works.

Hey Willis,
Was there a reason for the heavy six feel on your recent release? It's way cool!

Thanks Eric,
I guess I was just hearing things that way. 3 or 6 can have more pulses going on than 4. 6 is probably as close as I'll ever get to odd times anyway. I went to 7 once, but 'don't know if I'll ever be back.

Hey Willis,
I am looking to develop solo skills.
Is there something you would recommend? A way of thinking of and understanding the finger board? I have been playing Donna Lee and would like to learn to use that information to make my own stuff. How should i do it?

Hey Chris,
Wow, your question sounds like I planted it so I could plug my books.
OK, here comes one (suspicious) plug.
Fingerboard Harmony for Bass is what you need to understand the fingerboard. The idea is to learn to "see" your way around the neck. When the chord changes, the neck looks different to me, top to bottom. That's what this book does.
As far soloing in general, it should be thought of as a language. A fraction of that language is contained in Donna Lee, and that's a good head to know how to play. But, what communicates in music is "ideas". An idea is a rhythm and a shape. Here comes the other (suspicious) plug. I did a chapter in the humbly titled: Bass Lessons With the Greats. It's exactly about "idea" oriented improvisation.

Hey Willis,
I did some major-league searching, and finally found a site that has the Garsed/Helmerich CDs you played on:
I just received Quid Pro Quo (on the Legato label no less - can't be many of THOSE left), but Exempt is sold out...BUT they are woking on obtaining the rights so they can re-release both of the CDs. My question to you is: How did you end up playing with Garsed/Helmerich and Rock?
Thanks! Mark

TJ has been engineering Tribal Tech records since Face First, so I knew him from there and GIT. I actually made one of his guitars into a fretless and I think he used it for a tune on Quid Pro Quo.

Hey Willis,
Hello, hope to see you in Argentina next year.
question: What do you think about when you solo???

Hey Chaveto,
I hope we get there too. Your question gets back to the language thing.
What do you think about when you speak English?
When you learn another language, at first, you have to think about each word and how to put it together with other words to create ideas. Eventually, you don't think about the words & grammar & spelling, etc, so that all you concentrate on are the ideas. When I'm playing well, the fingerboard & the chords & the notes are all mostly subconscious.
When you practice, you have to be very conscious of all the elements.
(fingerboard, chords, notes) Eventually, the more you work at it, those things become subconscious so that you can focus on the ideas you want use to communicate.

Hey Willis,
Four questions for ya.
1.)Will your signature bass have the wheels or regular tuning pegs?
2.)Does the price include a case?
3.)Any idea on how much it (the bass) will cost?
4.)How did your book, Fingerboard Harmony for Bass, end up with so many mistakes in it?
Thanks , Kevin

Hey Kevin,
1. The bass will have "wheel-like" tuning pegs that are kind of a cross between the knobs that I've been using and a traditional tuning "wing".
2. I don't know if that includes a case. I think that's up to individual dealers whether they include that in the package or not.
3. The list will be under 2k. I don't know exactly yet how much under it will be.
4. Hey, I'm lazy. I just couldn't bring myself to read through my own book for the 56th time. Some mistakes were mine, some were part of the engraving process, whatever that is.

Hey Willis,
Just wondering when you're coming out with a Christmas CD...CB

I've really been working on my singing. I figure if I make a Christmas CD, people everywhere will pay me good money not to put it out.