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Willis Takes on Your Questions

Hey Willis,
In the lessons portion of your website you have a cool random note generator. Love it! However I play a five string bass and have not yet found a generated note lower than the F. It’s set up so we can choose sharps, flats or none. Can it be re-written to allow the user to set the range for a 4,5 or 6 string bass?

imageHey JP,
You asked for it, you got it! Buckle your seatbelt, it’s time for Red Bull Extreme Sight Reading!image*not affiliated with Red Bull GmbH or Red Bull Company Limited

Hey Mr Willis,
What would your right hand fingering be if you were to play a Am7b5 arpeggio that looks something like this

Closed Position
1 2 3 1 2 1 1 1 2

if I were to use the closed position, i’ll be using the ring finger to play Eb note but after that, its a leap to the G note. so i’m not sure if there’s a better right hand fingering for it.

Open Position

1 2 1 3 2 1 1 1 2

i’m pretty confused as in when am i suppose to switch positions. both the open and close position seems to work well or arpeggios except for m7b5 chords.
please help me out on this one! thanks


Hey Mike,
I’ve always been baffled by Tab notation. It’s usually sitting on top of a staff of music that I already have enough trouble reading. And I have to learn that, too? ‘Don’t think any amount of Xtreme Tab Notation Reading (insert sound effect here) would help me with that.
So here’s how I’d do it:

It’s not really open position but it feels like the most natural way that I’d play this sequence. Since I play it twice, you can see that you end up starting out the 2nd rep with the 2nd finger. This allows you to get to open position briefly by placing your 3rd finger on the G string as you reach for the D string with the 2nd finger to play the Eb.

Here’s how I’d do it in closed position.

Notice how it’s possible to dampen all the notes using this position. Something not possible using open. Try it and you’ll see the difference. Either way is correct, but one lets you play it fast without dampening a note or two while closed gives you the control over the duration and works better for learning preparation. I’d say work on closed first.


Hey Willis,
can you help me i am looking the song summer time a tab mr graydenver

Mr. graydenver,
Check the above answer for my opinion about Tab. Now, although I think Will Smith is a fine actor, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend his early 90’s version as a way to get better on the bass. And, I think we all can all just agree to stay away from the New Kids on the Block’s latest single. (except for Donnie’s younger brother Mark, who I think is a better actor). Mungo Jerry – now there’s a trivia answer just begging for a question. I kinda like his In The Summertime in a weird kinda way.

Anyway, I always try to stress learning by ear. Even though I create Extreme Sight Reading Xercises, you’ll reinforce a much better connection with the fingerboard if you learn how to play Summertime by listening to the melody in your head and finding where it is on the fingerboard. Next thing you know, you’ll be imagining things and playing them automatically.


Hey Willis,
What’s What are your preferred headphones for recording sessions, mixing, etc.?

Hey Neal,
I’m really happy with my Sennheiser HD 650’s. And, BTW, I don’t have any relationship with Sennheiser. . . Although, I believe I would be a superb representative for their complete line of fine audio products . . . hello? . . . Sennheiser . . . anybody listening . . .?


Hey Willis,
I really appreciate the time you spend answering our questions. The Ibanez GWB1 is perfectly fine except that the “willis” ramp can’t be adjusted but it isn’t a big problem cause i’m playing my fingers directly above the pickups. but it would be good if there’s a way to adjust the ramp to the same level as the pickups though. I’ve been wanting to ask you about your opinions regarding your struggles between guitar or bass when you were in college. What made you choose bass? Even now do you still play the guitar? Would it be wise to work on both instruments together or to simply to transcribe the guitar parts on bass? thanks again,


Hey Mike,
Actually, the ramp on the original GWB1 is adjustable. It’s just not obvious from looking at it. The idea is to remove the ramp and apply different-length layers of tape to get to ramp to sit at the angle you want. Here’s a more detailed explanation.

As far as bass and guitar. I wasn’t struggling between guitar or bass – I was fairly mediocre on both. I was forced to make a choice because I had to get together enough money for my 3rd year in college. (the bank turned down my loan application). I had a Les Paul Deluxe and a P-Bass. I noticed that when I played guitar in a band that it didn’t matter how well I played, the music just didn’t feel right. But when I played bass in the same band, the music felt like it should. So I figured my instincts we better suited to bass. (that, and I got $450 for the Les Paul instead of $200 for the P-Bass;-)

I have a guitar, a 7-string with low B. So it doesn’t confuse me too much when I try to transfer fingerboard geometry. But I mostly just use it for writing. If you have a 5 string bass, then it could create some problems switching but otherwise, feel free to continue to study both. Eventually, you’ll end up focusing on what allows you to express yourself best.


Hey Willis,
I recently found some YouTube videos of a seminar you did, and you were describing working an exercise over A7 and D7 in one position – across and back, really learning the shapes and getting them under your fingers (and by extension, learning the notes and the note functions in the chords). And I have a question I’d like to ask you.

Now, especially with the D7, if you stretch down to get that root on the 3rd fret B string, there’s a position choice – you can finger the C at the 3rd fret of the A string (e.g., 2 frets below the root, same string) or on the 8th fret of the E string (one string over, 3 frets above the root).

I know that from one perspective, it doesn’t matter – either will work. But from another perspective, if you’re trying to really get a shape under your fingers, and develop muscle memory and make it automatic/unconscious, then it matters to choose one and really work it.

I’ve (kind of arbitrarily) chosen the second choice (7th on the prior string) to work on, because I already really have the “7th 2 fretsdown” strongly under my fingers.

But I’m wondering which you prefer, and why. Thanks for your input, and for the input you’ve already had on my playing.

Oh, while looking for an email for you, I found you on MySpace, so I took the liberty of adding a “Friend’s Request there.
Be well,

Hey JK,
Someone recently pointed out to me that the last time I logged in to my MySpace page was back in October. I’ve found that procrastination is really the best way to handle the pressure associate with pending MySpace friend requests. That way, everyone gets ignored equally 😉

As far as the fingerboard harmony goes. I don’t remember that exact example but the basic concept of my fingerboard harmony approach wouldn’t have you starting that arpeggio with the first finger on the D. I was probably trying avoid giving a long-winded answer about the ins-and-outs of my specific fingerboard harmony approach and just stressing the note-by-note choices necessary to create good sounding bass lines. Anyway, yes, the idea is that you want to get the shape under you hand but that shape should be associated with a particular key center. Since no one is telling you where to place your hands you can put your hands where the most information is available with the least amount of shifting or stretching. In this case, D7 is technically a 5 chord of G so your hand needs to be “looking” at the key of G for this chord. If your 1st finger is going to play the3rd fret D on the B string, then go ahead an move 1 more fret and play it with your 2nd finger. This lets your hand look at the key of G based on the 4th finger G key position on the E string. (the abbreviation is G4E, key-finger-string), But you hold that position for the arpeggio without shifting – keeping the finger-per-fret position established with G4E. The next higher hand position for the key of G would be G2D but that doesn’t take care of the notes below. Those would connect to a G4F#. Of course, we don’t have an F# string but that’s the position that you’d base the lower notes on. The transition between a 4th finger position connecting to a 2nd finger position involves a half step shift. So for the purposes of learning the geometry it’s better to isolate the 2 positions and become comfortable playing lines through different chord changes before you tackle the transition stuff. (see what I was trying to avoid, now). Anyway, it’s all in the book.


Hey Willis,
I’ve seen clips from your “Progressive Bassics” instructional along with clips from various clinics as well as reading interviews from various magazines. I’m fully aware that you are of the belief that a lighter touch is beneficial. From this I assumed you would be “anti-slap”. I recently bought the album “Bent” and I notice that on the title track you are slapping. I was wondering if you had calculated any specific slapping techniques as you have done with your fingerstyle. Do you favour a lighter touch with slapping too? And if so how light can one go without generating the authentic slap sound? This is merely an enquiry based on interest rather than an accusation of hypocrisy or otherwise.
Thanks a lot,
Henry Durham

Hey Henry,
Thanks for taking it easy on me, although I’m sure I’ve been called worse things than a hypocrite.
Anyway, it’s true I’m only what you’d call a recreational slapper nowadays. Actually, on Bent I was playing the Bass Lite and its small string gauges would get a slap sound if you played normally (fingers) with just a little aggression. But that was for a particular effect. As far as how light you can go, you’d have to determine that based on how soft you wanted to play with your right hand vs. how much control you could maintain over your slap technique. A long time ago, I designed a bass specifically for this problem. You could switch between a single J-Bass pickup for fingerstyle and a 2-pickup configuration for slap. And the volume could be adjusted independently so it was really the best solution. Eventually fretless took complete control and I had to say goodbye to the slap. Only coming out of the closet for special occasions.


accu groove

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