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Merging technical virtuosity with musical mastery, Gary Willis is widely acknowledged by fans, peers, and critics alike as one of the most influential voices of our time. Recognized for his fretless bass prowess and fingerboard harmony concepts, Willis' unconventional musical facility is demonstrated through often thick, 16th note-laced, hypnotic grooves and lyrical solo flights entrenched with a dynamic melodic sense. Over the past two decades, Willis' innovative, ultra-light right-hand approach has defined economy-of-motion while the depth and scope of his musical vision has often defied easy categorization. Now a resident of Barcelona, Spain, Willis' story begins as a Texas-native. In 1978 Willis enrolled in the legendary jazz program at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) where he studied composition and improvisation. It wasn't until his third year of college that his long-time conflict between bass and guitar was resolved and bass became his primary instrument. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1982, Willis met guitarist Scott Henderson, and shortly after, their musical collaboration as Tribal Tech was born. With Kirk Covington on drums and Scott Kinsey on keyboards, Tribal Tech revolutionized their own style of jam-concentric composition and became the driving force behind the mind-bending, improv-driven fusion of the day. Besides his contributions as a co-founder of Tribal Tech, Willis' fretless faculty has been well documented in recordings and musical conversations as a sideman with Wayne Shorter, Allan Holdsworth, Dennis Chambers, and Robben Ford to name a few. In 1996 Willis launched his solo career with the debut of No Sweat, and two years later, Willis unveiled Bent, the second project under his own name. Joined by an all-star cast of sideman, both collections display contemporary fusion as its finest featuring spontaneous improv-laden compositions. An in-demand educator, Willis has shared his approach and knowledge of bass playing and music with thousands of students as a course leader at the Bass Institute of Technology and an instructor at the California Institute of the Arts, the National Guitar Summer Workshop, and Gerald Veasley's Bass Bootcamp. As a touring clinician for Ibanez, Aguilar Amplification, and D'Addario Strings, Willis has conducted master classes in 21 different countries. Also an author, Willis has written some of the most widely-revered and best-selling bass texts in publication today covering harmony, ear training, improvisation, and technical concepts. Along with a book of transcriptions featuring eleven original compositions, Willis has also had several of his tunes included in Sher Music publications. As a web site developer, Willis maintains one of the most informative bass-related sites on the web at: GaryWillis.com. He is also a pioneer in the realm of cutting-edge, interactive online bass education. Through his web cam lessons, anyone seeking bass education can take lessons from Willis in a private, one-on-one video conference format. In the following interview, Willis shares his thoughts with us on playing fretless, composing, soloing, right hand technique, bass education, Tribal Tech, and much more!
If things were in F or G. I actually never had a bass teacher. and then work on octaves and fifths. modified a Fender bridge. Do you try to maintain a regular practice regimen? What essential aspects of bass technique or music do you focus on the most specifically? Ha. position your first finger exactly where it should go. I always heard it that way. I got my first bass at age 13. or if you're really good at placement. I'd never go up to the 10th or 12th frets to groove. If it's an involuntary "shake". Anthony Jackson. It was a short scale Vox Panther. For those fretless players struggling with intonation issues. and found a Dan Armstrong Blade pickup that barely reached all five strings. for example.Who would you cite as having the most impact on you as a bassist and a composer? I always say I'm a product of everything I've ever liked. and eventually that becomes muscle memory. then it's REALLY annoying! Less is always better. I always learned by ear. from recordings or in . You can change pitch with just variations in pressure so having your finger exactly in the right place is a must. Later on. Was bass your first instrument? It was. you have to place your finger to be really flat which is why each player should personally set up their own intonation (saddle adjustments) to determine where they want to place their finger to be in tune. Even with lines you have to adjust your placement up and down the neck. Always practice with some kind of reference pitch to judge your notes with. How did you develop your fretless sound? Well. you have to listen to Jaco to play fretless. Many fretless players emulate Jaco. It had really narrow string spacing at the bridge. it takes a year or two of "hand-eye" coordination. In the course of producing that sound. The traditional thinking is to put the line directly down the middle of your finger at the 12th fret. Then. life is different now than when I was a student and practice was the focus. Less and slow. you have more choices about what you want to come out. With practice. If a book inspires me. the final goal is to communicate and hopefully inspire. On the 1st fret you have to play sharp. or a movie. But if you assimilate enough influences. he ended up with the Killer B which was similar to where I was headed with Ibanez. and I've been fortunate to be playing custom or signature instruments since then. I put a guitar tuner on a Precision neck. Of course. so I kind of drifted for awhile. What was your inspiration to play 5-string fretless bass and when did you begin playing it? I always gravitated to the lower end of a 4-string. This works well because any sustained fretless note should have a little vibrato or a little movement. then that should come through. Eventually. Paul Jackson. The main thing is control. I was lucky enough to hook up with Mike Tobias. and that means being able to pivot on all four fingers. except you're slowly trying to find the intonation. it's reasonably sharp at the 1st fret and almost completely behind at the 24th. The other really valuable thing is to be able to "pivot" with your finger or be able to roll it one way or another to "find" the pitch. yet your fretless tone and style is very unique. It just sounds more alive. I got a guitar when I was fifteen so I did a lot of learning on that until my third year in college. just behind the line. and many more for me. This is similar to a vibrato. The only bass I knew of at first was on the radio. I intonate so that my finger is about where I'd put it on a fretted bass at the 12th fret. Lines are a good place to start. way past the line. The next fretless was a Yamaha BB5000 that I bought. found some Telecaster saddles. in my opinion. I'll get to pick up the bass a day or two before I have to go out and play to try to remember what it's like. you can correct the pitch while you are at it. what's practice? If I'm lucky. but that results in having to play really sharp at the 1st fret. and that wasn't challenging to me so I didn't learn much. Mike wasn't ready to move in the direction of a bolt-on ash body bass when I was. or personal event. and on the 24th fret. My first fretless bass was one that I built. what would you recommend? A few things. but two years after I went with Ibanez. There's Rocco.
all you have to do is shift. a combination of two patterns will allow you to see everything under your hand. the patterns go all the way across five strings wherever my hand is at. but he was right.bands. I worked "Giant Steps" to death. No Sweat and Bent. just a "setting" for everyone to improvise in. Put your hand in the right place and you're playing what you already know. I always try to keep fingers on strings. fill. I do a lot of right hand dampening. middle. When it sucks. On each recording there is at least one or two jams where nothing was written. I had a great guitar teacher show me the melodic minor scale. That tells you where to put your hand so you can "see" the key all the way across the fingerboard. not just ok. you have to start out a little at a time. never. it has an impact on what happens in the tune and where it goes. Even if the chord is only for a couple of beats. it seems like a big disconnect to me. To me. Eventually. The consistent geometry of the fingerboard makes it so easy to learn if you don't get so hung up with the names of the notes on paper and all that. or walk with total freedom. groove. what are you thinking? Do you assign scales to chords? Scales. including my thumb. but if that is the primary way somebody learns to play. For most of the tunes. It plays the first note ascending anytime I'm going up and gives the index. If you can do that to "Giant Steps" anywhere on the neck. you have released two recordings. I started recognizing that sound in chords and people's solos and could finally put it to use after that. and I've got the best seat in the house! Great players have a good sense of what fits compositionally. walking and eventually soloing. then you're free to solo. You have to be able to analyze chords for key centers. and thumb time to shift. Even complex things had to settle into my "ears" before it made any sense. Anywhere you go on the neck. it provides the most challenge and the most rewards. then you've got it. It's tedious. and to add strings. it just follows in behind and dampens notes. Could you discuss the right and left hand elements used in your technique? Much thanks! The main reason anyone who uses three fingers should be to get access to more strings. How would you describe your approach to composition and harmony? Did you have any predetermined concepts for these recordings? I did. I didn't try to write too much. The problem is that most players don't expand their "view" of the patterns past starting with the root up for a few notes of an arpeggio. It's not an easy book. and if there's too much composition. The chords come from the fingerboard harmony concept. As far as starting out. About a year later. Except for when I'm sustaining a note sometimes. Get fluent at walking over it. and that also puts fingers on strings ready to play. Eventually. The hardest right hand thing to do on bass is to cross strings going up. To me. Once you can walk it all over the neck freely. A lot of the tunes are less than eight bars of material. The patterns are all the way across the neck and within a fret. and I was offended because he said I wouldn't be able to use it right away. . and I was like "what?" I couldn't hardly string three notes together just walking much less solo. The only thing is that it's the most risky way to perform. their personality doesn't get to come out. You just wanna crawl into a hole! How do you approach soloing over complicated chord changes on standards such as "Giant Steps"? How do you practice improvising? With any set of changes. You have an extraordinarily ultra-light right hand technique that utilizes three fingers in what you have described as open and closed positions. I remember the first small group I was in wanted to play that one. the bass is one (or two) big patterns. When you are analyzing a chord chart. there is no place to hide. always ready to play if I change directions. I didn't plan it this way. the neck stops being a mystery. To me. Group chords that are in the same key. I try to emphasize the connection between what students hear and what they see on the fingerboard. what you get is when they play something. "when is it my turn to solo?" So. That's not enough to seamlessly connect the bass. There are great musicians there. Leading your own group. with my system you're never more than a 1/2-step shift to the next key center. but it works out that this issue is exactly the problem my third finger solves. That is what goes on in my fingerboard harmony book. but once you assimilate the geometry. assuming you've done the homework of learning what happens in a key. there is a time for all that. whatever. I narrowed it down to two strings and six frets. Work on the first three bars. Descending. then the next four. then work on soloing in different parts of the neck. Of course.
Learn that and anywhere you go on the neck. especially if you have more than four strings.I have two right hand positions. It's also for guitar too. unlike other instruments. and if you put your hand in the right place. The other is a fingernail scrape parallel to the string that produces a nasty attack that varies with how fast you scrape. I've taught it to use as little pressure as is necessary. How did that develop and could you explain it to us? I don't remember when it started. and bass parts transcribed plus the bass solos. you have written some of the best instructional books available. It's all Tribal Tech material. It will look exactly the same. index and middle fingers are on the same string.The collection book is eleven of my compositions with the melody. you're playing what you already know. radio. It takes the mystery out of the fingerboard. Traditional electric technique is handed down from upright bass technique. but that's a pretty straightforward process. and the third finger is ready to play on the next string up (closed position). within a fret. The Gary Willis Collection . One technique produces a false harmonic with overtones that don't necessarily have to do with the main pitch. It applies to fretless as well. Fingerboard Harmony For Bass . With the other position. . Gotta float. It addresses the geometry of the fingerboard. Do you have an exercise you could recommend to those players wanting to adopt your 3-finger right hand technique? There are a couple of basic ones on the lessons section of my web site which you can check out. whatever) gets a fingering. you'll have trained yourself well enough so that whatever you imagine will get a fingering. the bass neck is one (or two) infinitely connected patterns. The idea is you can choose where to locate your hand when you're playing harmony. you have to turn your wrist unnaturally thus creating tension that often results in carpal tunnel syndrome for some people.The ultimate ear training book is based on the idea that if you train yourself well enough. not just bass. What else could you ask for as a musician. My left hand is pretty standard. We don't have to learn everything in all twelve keys.The fingerboard harmony book is the hardest one. One is where my thumb and third finger are always in contact with a finger-per-string. Could you give us an overview of the content within each book? Ultimate Ear Training For Guitar & Bass . Part of it puts demands on your ability to analyze harmony for key centers. My thumb floats from string to string. Much cheaper than pedals! As a world-renowned bass educator and highly-revered author. It's a misconception that it's bad to play patterns on the bass. you can use a combination of those two positions to see the neck wherever your hand is located. Although." If you try to maintain that angle when the bass becomes horizontal (on electric). and the music is kind of hard to find so I've made the music from the collection available on my site as mp3 downloads. it pulls the third finger off the strings making it unavailable. whatever you hear externally (tv. Actually. harmony. thumb is in contact with the string below. They continue by shifting five frets in either direction. It's also in tab. Most people's problem is that their view of patterns isn't complete enough. This position is used primarily for octaves and one-chord groove playing that requires a lot of string skipping. Take the vertical strings of an upright and your index and middle fingers fit perfectly for "walking. to play whatever you imagine? It works on directly connecting your ear/imagination to the fingerboard. We had to go through a couple of wanna-be transcriptionists before we found someone who could do it. cd. I use this position more for linear playing and soloing. I've seen you employ an unusual right hand technique where you produce a distorted-type of effect with your thumbnail. Teach yourself what happens in a key thoroughly. Plus. three-string spread (open position). Then. It exploits the symmetry of the bass so that you only have to learn to see what happens in a key from two positions.
085. but it's in pursuit of how to accomplish things musically. you won't find a better fretless. and The Netherlands are doing it now. Ibanez pickup. and that is the minimum speed for full-motion video. I plan on starting to make short video clips available (for a small fee) that answer specific questions or focus on specific techniques. The web cam lessons are going great. it's the DB750 amp with two GS-410 cabinets. That gets the frame rate close enough so that I can notice details and makes it worthwhile. Who knows.. and it's probably in there. . Although. Canada. Ibanez debuted a new Gary Willis signature 5-string fretless bass. and a slightly different bridge. At the NAMM show this past January. Students from the U. Any plans for an instructional DVD? Not really. I'll usually use a couple of GS-112's with the DB750. .The latest and most successful book is the 101 bass tips book. it's physically the same and still has the adjustable ramp and the Willis tuner knobs. it might show up again someday. but eventually it started to become too much work and not enough fun. The only thing I've done is set it up myself.105. You need a fast enough upload to sustain a minimum 200kbps. It's about half the price of the GWB1 (list is around $900). boil your strings. In the course of talking about tone and sound.S. How does this bass differ from your original Ibanez signature bass released a few years ago? Ibanez just released the GWB35. and for touring. and beyond. thanks to all those involved. Otherwise.135). Every time I finish one. Regarding strings. It is a slightly less immediate experience than if we were in the same place.065. What gear are you currently using both live and in the studio? The bass is my signature Ibanez GWB1. another 5-string fretless. . It's still a viable resource (for comedy as well). I use the Aguilar DB680 as a preamp in the studio. . They're all an hour. it's easy to directly send . . direct to the recorder (not the board).045. For clinics. the gear always comes up. It covers everything from how to build your own strap. I'm really pleased with the tone. wrap your cable. I haven't had a chance to use it live yet. All of these books are published by Hal Leonard. it's still with an element of disbelief. Average DSL is about 256k which theoretically comes out to 210k. basswood body. It's factory stock. but the Aguilar 4x12 cabinet looks ideal for me.101 Bass Tips: Stuff All The Pros Know And Use . Broadband is the direction I'm headed with video. For the price. for recording I use D'Addario XL's (.mp3 files to a student during the lesson and have them play along with it. Can you tell us about your live web cam lessons and the "Ask Willis" archives? "Ask Willis" was definitely a lot of fun to do. how to improvise over sus chords. but I can explain the setup to anyone that wants to know how to do that. You maintain one of the most professional and informative bass-related resources on the web. A lot of the information in the book was taken from the 2+ years I did the "Ask Willis" section of my web site. how to set up your intonation. It's just whatever anyone wants to talk about. and it helped with the 101 bass tips book. There's no way to "play together" so the kind of information and how much can be transmitted is altered. not custom. Live. I don't have anything specific prepared. The differences consist of a synthetic ebonol fingerboard (still with lines). You name it. what a parametric eq does. What do you cover in your bass clinics? Aside from the playing. People were asking the same questions every month without searching the archives and weren't too focused on the entertainment side which meant I had to come up with more of the comedy. I use D'Addario EXP's.
Spain? What was it like moving overseas? Getting adjusted to life here is the easy part." Eventually. What is the current status of the band? The band is fine. I guess one wants to be considered "growing. by clicking on the fingerboard. was released in 2000. etc. has been chipped away at constantly over the years so it just doesn't make sense any more. The next step is the code that tells you have made a mistake! Earlier this year. all you do is create a bigger difference from the attack and the amount of volume immediately after the note. shipping. After releasing 9 critically-acclaimed projects as co-founder of Tribal Tech. Tribal Tech. You choose which notes. Lots of things besides just playing the bass affect how you define yourself and what you end up doing and "becoming. but a really well placed note or honest follow-through with an idea are more important to me now. every six months a new crop of students would come in so I probably made between 200 or 300 ramps during my five or six years there.S. Through your experience of countless tours performing with Tribal Tech. how does the music scene in Europe and Japan differ from the United States? Everywhere I've been.T. and then it plays back your note choices in a bass line with the accompaniment. although with the net.. By turning up and playing softer.One of the most intriguing features of your signature bass is the "Willis Ramp. etc. While I was at B. In the U. In Europe it's much more common for people to go out at night and hear music. Rocket Science. The initial investment required to make a good recording has come way down so the main expense would be in advertising. Sure. I'm easily distracted by trying to write cool Flash MX code. it has gotten a lot better. the bass." Can you explain the purpose behind it? On any bass.. at a certain point you can play harder. don't get me wrong." Then. I'm more interested in communicating than impressing. The preparations for moving. were the hard part. etc." I expect the next thing we'll do. By playing too hard.. It's just that we don't have a record company.I. but I don't have a timetable for it. you relocated to Barcelona. That's the purpose of the Willis Ramp. and now living abroad." It's anybody's guess where you draw the line there. but you're prevented from grabbing too much string and playing too hard. radio airplay. I have been lucky to see people enthused about music. but it won't get any louder. How do you feel you've matured over the years as a bassist? Initially. More of defining yourself comes from composing. belong in a line. but the people there really appreciate the music. Ha! When have you ever seen advertising for a Tribal Tech record? A salute to the end of record companies as we know them! I've known some great people at record companies. speed and chops are part of communicating. so in that respect I've changed a lot in that I tend to write a lot less and let the compositions focus more on the interaction of the group than the soloist being the "star" for various parts of the tune. What's next for you? What current projects are you working on? Any new books or recordings on the way? I expect to have more time to write and focus on another music project. but the whole model of distribution. we will just put it out ourselves. the attack is way more in line with where the string can naturally vibrate so you get much more fundamental and air movement after the attack. the band's most recent recording. plus the amount that the artist gets. Set it up right and your fingers automatically get enough string to play a note. I think I've gotten to the point where when I play. right now I'm working on an interactive Flash application for fingerboard harmony. as a clinician. publishing. A string has a certain volume that it naturally can vibrate at. . to keep you from digging in too much. Japan is much smaller so the possibility to make a profit in the smaller venues is much more difficult. etc. past a certain point it becomes "maturing. there is just too many miles between gigs and not a legitimate enough promotion model. The cities are more compact and built around easy-to-access public transportation. and the distances between cities are smaller. Actually. "another one bites the dust.
J. Hee Spears With Dennis Chambers Outbreak With Wayne Shorter Phantom Navigator With Allan Holdsworth None Too Soon Metal Fatigue With Grett Garsed and T." Start diagnosing your own problems. The Pyrenies are just an hour and a half away. What advice could you give to an aspiring bassist and the viewers of The IIB who are trying to take their playing to the next level? Make whatever you do creative. I'm sure they are nearby. and use those problems as an opportunity to "create" exercises and techniques that solve those problems. I really like tennis so I'm a member of a club. Helmerich Uncle Moe's Space Ranch Exempt Quid Pro Quo With Robben Ford Minor Elegance Books 101 Bass Tips . Selected Discography Solo Recordings Bent No Sweat With Tribal Tech Rocket Science Thick Reality Check Face First Illicit Tribal Tech Nomad Dr. especially after playing on hardcourts at 7000 feet for the last eight or nine years. I'm way into mountain biking but haven't had time to find the trails around here. It's really a blast to play on clay. Take responsibility for getting out of your "rut.Stuff All The Pros Know And Use The Gary Willis Collection Ultimate Ear Training For Guitar & Bass Fingerboard Harmony For Bass Bass Lessons With The Greats Video Progressive Bassics . and I'm starting some intra-club tournaments this month.Do you have any non-musical interests or hobbies? I'm off the deep end when it comes to Flash MX coding and interactivity. It keeps me up late and often.
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