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Willis Takes on Your Questions


Willis Takes on Your Questions

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I’m relatively new to jazz bass lines, and my teacher and I were wondering how to walk a chord progression that has slash chords. Example: the |D- D-/C|B-7b5 E7b9|A- A-/G|Fmaj7 | chord pattern from Black Orpheus. My teacher recommended a |D D C C|B F E B|A A G G|F…| line. I was doing more of a |D A D C|B F E B|A E A G|F…|. What kind of walking line would you do over that kind of progression?


Hey Beth,

Both examples, your teacher’s and yours, will work fine. A valuable element of line creation is the use of passing tones – notes played on weak beats 2 & 4 – that chromatically connect chord tones that are played on strong beats: 1 & 3.

A slightly more interesting line could be | D Db C Bb | B F E Bb | A Ab G Gb | F… or you could try | D G C Bb | B F E Bb | A D G C | F… One thing to remember when you’re playing over chord changes is that each musical situation could require a different approach: like the basic one from your instructor to a more creative setting where the chord changes are just used as a framework for improvisation from everyone involved. Depending on the situation, you can ignore playing roots altogether and play a descending line like this one: from the A on the G string – | A Ab G Gb | F E D Db | C Bb A G| F…


I was wondering if you compose on the bass initially or do you write on other instruments as well?
-Thanks & peace-CH

Hey CH,

Lately I find myself working more on creating “groovescapes” within Logic Pro on my Mac. I’m exploring all kinds of different ways to get sounds that create each composition’s own environment and most of the time that doesn’t involve the bass. Once the environment is established then it’s much easier for me to find out how to fit the bass in.


I just wanted to ask, if you know any good tricks for working on the “speed” side of bass playing. I always feel that when I play fast, I loose control over playing and my articulation and tone suffer… how can I gain more “tempo headroom”?
greetz Alex

[Willis] Hey Alex,

Good question – bad word choice “tricks”. No tricks or illusions will get you playing fast. Although I do like the phrase “tempo headroom”.

The first thing to focus on is efficiency. Your right hand is pretty much always on autopilot so you have to break it down to get control and eliminate wasted motion. Do some motion studies of your right hand and analyze exactly what your fingers are doing and make sure that every movement has a purpose.

The next thing to do is to create the instinct to relax. Everyone’s natural reaction to playing fast is that it’s hard and so the tendency is to tense up and “muscle” your way through. The phrase “tempo headroom” in interesting in that “headroom” is usually associated with volume and in this case volume becomes very important for relaxation. If you normally play “hard” with your right hand then speed will always be a problem. You can create tempo headroom by giving yourself more volume headroom. On an intensity scale of 1 to 10, you need to reeducate your right hand to be playing all the time at around 5. Then when things get fast, you do not have to fight the tension that used to slow you down.

By creating this awareness of relaxation and efficiency you’ll probably find that it will carry over to your left hand as well. Another thing to remember is that a more relaxed intensity will allow you to lower your strings and your bass will be easier to play.


How do you practice your bass playing when you’re not playing with a band? Do you have any good tips on that? Thanks!

Since your question arrived via the Internet then that means you have a computer – use it! Sequencing, midi, sampling, signal processing, chord voicings, drum patterns, looping – all these elements will help you develop a good, modern practice environment. Plus they’re all valuable tools that you can use to create your own music. A good place to start is to learn how to use sequencing software to create grooves. Choose a drum groove that you would like to play over and re-create it in the software.


I’ve been working on the right hand exercises on your website for a bit, and wondered how you handled consecutive notes on different strings – and which fingers do the damping. For instance octaves; if I do something like P2 – D1 – P3 – D2 (play two, damp one etc) I end up with fingers in a position where its quite difficult to repeat the same pattern again. I notice in one of your answers you say that for playing for consecutive notes on ascending strings you’d use “1 2 3 2” – but which fingers do the damping?


Hey Chris,

Actually, for repeated octaves, I just repeat 1-3-1-3 where each finger takes care of its own dampening. An extension of that pattern is triplet octaves 121(1 dampens) 323 (3 dampens). For consecutive notes on ascending strings, we have the benefit of the follow through (rest stroke) dampening the preceding note.



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