Ask Willis - December - 1999

Hey Willis,
Why can most of the bass players (including you) bend their thumbs backwards, why is that? Is it a signal from god that that person is a "Natural Born Bass Player"?
About soloing and improvising, how can I do it? I don't know i think my soloing sounds weird, I listen to your solos and they are so cool! What is the secret?
Last question, what can I do about my girlfriend, she thinks I care more about my bass and my band than about her (and she is wrong) what can I do?

The Secret's Out! Finally...until now, only the anatomically gifted were able to make their mark on the bass world. Now, you too can rise above the non-double-jointed gene pool and bend your way to bass immortalitly!. We're talking about the Thumb-Bender™ . Bend your way to greatness, hurry while supplies last, not sold in stores-makes a great Christmas gift!.

Nevermind the chord-scales-arpeggios approach to improvisation. Anatomic-musicoligists have recently discovered that the thumb joint's carpometacarpal articulation between the trapezium and the proximal end of the metacarpal bones #2-#5 are directly related to the creative note-choice improvisation sector of the brain. In other words...get the Thumb-Bender™ and learn to blow.

3rd, if your girlfriend is capable of supporting you and your musician lifestyle, then definitely do your best to convince her that she comes first, otherwise, borrow 20 bucks from her, get the Thumb-Bender™ and start looking for a chick who has great job security and understands and appreciates the sacrifices you have to make for the music.

Hey Willis
i tend to play every thing with patterns of 3 notes per strings:c d e on one string .on the video you start with 2 notes 1 2 then 3 on the next string with ring can i play patterns of3 notes per string using your technique?

If you use a lot of 3 notes per string then you're probably playing a lot of scales. I hate scales...Anymore, I try not to demonstrate my 3-finger technique using a regular scale because it makes it look like I use a 1-2-3 pattern. It just works out that way on a scale. If I play a chromatic scale then I use 1 & 2 on a string until it's time to cross to the next string and then I'll use the 3rd. That's the system I use (3rd finger used for crossing strings) so it's not really a pattern. The hardest thing to do on bass is to cross strings going up so I'd recommend working on string crossings and maybe stay away from patterns, since you could end up without an effective arrangement of fingers for string-crossing.
(and stay away from those scales...'makes you sound like you went to school)
(also, see computer keyboard chart below)

hi i was wondering if u could send me the chords and notes of a bass such as like 4 fingers on the A string would be i would apreciate it i played bass for a while but i forgot the stuff.thank u

Sure, here's the notes in the1st 5 frets on the bass. Any note in between is either a sharp or a flat, depending on what you want to call it.
Also, here's a computer keyboard. The buttons highlighted in red give you capital letters and the one highlighted in blue gives you a period.

Hey Willis,
I seen you at Rome, april 28th: great gig.
Finally, I've found and buyed "Bent" (Italy is not the best market for bass player album).
I've only two questions for you:
1) what kind of synth bass do you use?
2) What's your mtb?

Thanks DB,
I only use the synth bass for recording. It's the Yamaha G50 Converter with the B1D bass pickup.
The MTB is a '96 GT LTS Thermoplastic with a '97 Marzocchi Z-1 Bomber up front.
Wanna see a picture?

Hey Willis,
Time to pop a question
I was listening to a keyboard solo from MEZZOFORTE. It's a F7 dominant blues...
As I never have had Jazz harmony, it was though to find out what he played.
Can it be that when you want to 'go' to F7 you can play F#maj. or C#maj???
I know it has something to do with the tritonus....
Chromatic lines: You know a good method (book, player, ....) from which/whom I can learn about
I bought the book CONCEPTS OF BASS SOLOING (Chuck Cher). There' s a solo from you in it...
It's tough for me to understand what you're doing in it.... So....
My right hand is working out well. I try to play (consistently) my walking bass lines with your method.
I already hold my right hand in the slight upward position. I feels much better.
Easy upward scale exercises work out fine. When I'm soloing (trying to...) iI start to mingle it all up, so...
I've started to work on a Mike Stern solo LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (CD: STANDARDS). I have the transcription so ... eventually ....
When will you be playing in Europe again????

The basics of Jazz harmony tell you that F#ma or C#ma are wrong and I'm assuming your playing over a C7 to get to that F7. But really, you can get away with a lot, especially over a blues. It's definitely taught that you can play F#lyd. dom. (dom. scale with a #11) over the C7. That amounts to "altering" the C7. I never could learn to improvise coming from a book or a concept first. I always had to hear it and hear it work before I could ever begin to incorporate anything into my playing. Books can be valuable if they can work towards getting you to imagine sounds and not just think of notes.
Good to hear about the right hand, it'll become instinctive and not "all mingled up" with time.
As far as transcriptions go, try to get as much as you can on your own with your ear. The better you are at hearing something and playing it, the better you will be at imagining something and playing it.
TT may not be in Europe 'til next fall but I might be there sooner. I'll put any schedule up on the site.

Hey Willis,

Something musical must have inspired you to invest in all that great gear and become a bass player. 'Cause I know it wasn't to get the chicks..otherwise you'd be a guitar player. So whatever music inspires you, learn it...get some similarly inspired players together and play it. Write stuff like it. I'm a product of everything I've ever liked. Imitate freely, the more of other players' styles & ideas you internalize, the more you can put different things together and create on your own.
If you're in a rut, don't Get on the phone and put together a jam session. As soon as you put yourself in a creative musical situation, you'll know immediately what you need to work on and you'll be more motivated to do that work.
(PS, also see computer keyboard chart above)