Interview with Victor Wooten

12 04 2011

Victor Wooten

Hey everyone, it’s good to be back! I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I would like to, but I hope to change that.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview bass extraordinaire Victor Wooten for the magazine I work with, Scene Magazine in Fort Collins. He was in Boulder getting ready to play a show with Stanley Clarke at the Boulder Theatre. We talked for over an hour, and the published interview is below.

If you would like to read more of the interview (without the annoying […] marks), click here to read the full, uncondensed interview on Scene Magazine’s website.

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Scene: How old were you when you started playing bass?
Wooten: I was out playing gigs with my brothers by the time I was five years old. They started teaching me how to play much earlier than that, when I was about one or two. […]

Scene: You grew up in a very musical family. How did growing up in that environment influence you?
Wooten: The same way that growing up in a family that speaks a language influences you to speak that same language – you learn it naturally, which is the best way. Rather than having to study and practice it, you just learn it. […] My brothers allowed me to play with them even though I couldn’t play an instrument: They gave me a toy instrument to hold and strum along as I learned it. It was a brilliant and beautiful way to learn.

Scene: What kinds of music influenced you as a young musician?
Wooten: All the music that was on the radio in the mid-to-late ‘60s: A lot of soul music, R&B, Motown, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone. But because radio was so open, I would also hear Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd. And then later on I got into jazz – people like Jaco Pastorius, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke.

Scene: What influences you to create music nowadays?
Wooten: I still enjoy doing live concerts and having that instant feedback, that instant gratification. I can’t think of any other profession in the world where you get that instant feedback – where everyone in the audience is there to support you. […]

Scene: Do you feel that bass is often underestimated as an expressive instrument?
Wooten: Yes, by most people it is. But by the same token, bass is the foundation of music. […] The same way when you walk into a building and no one looks at the floor and says, “Wow, this is a nice floor.” […] Bass, by its general nature, holds up the rest of the band. And so, like the foundation of a building, it usually goes unrecognized. But that’s definitely changing.

Scene: You’ve made huge strides in making bass influential as a solo instrument.
Wooten: Some of that’s good and some of that’s bad. Sometimes, and myself included, it’s easy to have so much ability and technique that we forget what our true role is. I hear a lot of young people that are learning the instrument in reverse; they’re learning to play the flashy stuff first, but they can’t even play a 12-bar blues.

Scene: Do you feel that music theory is the basis of music?
Wooten: No. Music came first; theory came later. […] Think about this: What if you wanted to learn to speak English and I started out by teaching you nouns and pronouns and verbs and the alphabet. You’d learn to talk that way, but it would make you learn it really slowly. […] Everyone has been hearing music since before they were born. We all know music; we just have to learn to play it through the instrument. Later on we’ll learn the rules.

Scene: If you could give one piece of advice to young musicians, what would it be?
Wooten: I would say to learn to play music, not your instrument. When you talk, you don’t say, “I talk now.” You speak a language, and you speak it through your instrument. I approach music in the same way – like a language.

Scene: You’ve always stood for peace and equality. Do you think these ideals have become even more important over the 15 years that have passed since A Show of Hands was first released?
Wooten: It’s always been important. But it’s at a point now where we really have to make it a conscious effort. […] For the world to work, we have to love each other. We have to understand that equality – that’s what makes the planet stay alive. Love each other.

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Check out www.scenemagazine.info for the full, uncondensed interview with Victor Wooten (a must read for bassists).

Learn more about Victor Wooten at www.victorwooten.com.





How to Play a Blues Scale

23 04 2010

This is a great (and easy-to-follow) video showing you a simple blues scale. The instructor uses numbers to keep track of which fingers to use, and then goes through it again by calling out the actual fret numbers.

He also shows you a few ways to improvise while still maintaining the ability to pull things back to the “root” note (the main note of a scale: for example, an A scale’s root note is –you guessed it– A.).

Let me know if this video is helpful to you, I’m learning by example about how to teach this kind of stuff  🙂





Bassist Spotlight #2: Victor Wooten

15 04 2010

Ah, Vic. I was lucky enough to see Mr. Wooten live in concert while he was touring solo a few years back. At the time, I was still a novice bassist, and seeing the things he could do with his bass absolutely inspired me to go home and see if I could (eventually) do the same.

Vic is known for his non-conventional slap-style playing, and he usually sticks to his own mixture of funk and jazz. I have never seen a bassist with so much control over the fretboard: He moves up and down it like nobody’s business, and just when you think, “Okay. He’s got to play a wrong note sometime,” he launches into another amazing, heartfelt riff.

Here is a video that gives a lot of insight into the non-traditional way that Vic views playing bass. I apologize that it’s somewhat of an advertisement for his DVD (which is wholly worth buying if you dig his style), but pay attention to what he’s saying, it’s pretty interesting.

He’s also one of the most chill, down-to-earth musicians out there, even though he’s played with the likes of Bela Fleck (he was the bassist for The Flecktones: watch the video below) and many other uber-famous people. Check him out, he will not disappoint!





Lost that Creative Spark?

8 04 2010

How long has it been since you last played bass? A day? A week? A month, even?

It’s easy to get into a creative funk, especially if you’re pressuring yourself to create new material all the time. Here are some reasons why this might be happening and tips to help you get back to practicing regularly.

  1. Make sure your bass is set up correctly: If the action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard) is too high, your fingers are probably getting tired quickly. Take it to a trustworthy music store to lower the action if need be, because if you’re at all uncomfortable while playing bass, you’re not going to want to play it regularly.
  2. Don’t pressure yourself! Pick up your bass with a positive outlook: Your only goal is to have fun, no strings attached (no pun intended…). Sure, you need to practice to get better, but practicing should be fun!
  3. Get inspired.  When in doubt, listen to music  that inspires you to create your own. My own personal motivators are Les Claypool (seen here with Buckethead), Larry Graham, and Victor Wooten.




The Nitty Gritty: Calluses

1 04 2010

Learning how to play bass can teach you a lot about your pain thresholds.

It takes definite desire and motivation to learn any instrument, but bass is especially difficult for those of you out there with un-callused fingers: Bass strings are notoriously fat and rough, and the action of a bass (the space between the strings and the fretboard) is a lot higher than most regular guitars (requiring you to build up finger strength to be able to create a clean-sounding note).

Also, (if you’re a purist like me) your right hand is doing a lot of finger work as well because you’re not using a pick like a guitarist would: Therefore, the pads of the fingers on both of your hands are going to be screaming for mercy.

Until you build calluses, that is.

Building calluses isn’t that hard (it just requires repetition, basically), but here are some tips and tricks that might help you along in the process:

  • You don’t want to blister. Trust me: Blisters only set you back, and sometimes they’re so painful that they will prevent you from being able to play at all. If you do get a blister, pop it with a sterilized needle, flatten it out, wash it with antibiotic soap, and super-glue it. It stings, but if the show must go on, it works. (Warning: I am not a doctor! Watch out for infection, and when you’re done playing, wash the area again and apply antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid!)
  • Practice ever day. Make yourself sit down and play bass for 15-30 minutes every day. That’s not so long, you can do it! Practicing every day is the only way that your fingers will naturally start to build up skin layers that will eventually form good calluses.
  • Don’t give up. The first few months of learning how to play bass can be frustrating. You’re teaching your brain to tell your hands to do things they’ve never done before; you’re trying to play consistently and establish rhythm, which is tough; your fingers hurt, and the ladies aren’t buying tickets to see you play yet. But keep on truckin’, because I promise: It will get better, and once you have nice thick calluses, you won’t feel a thing, groove-machine!
  • Remember: with calluses comes finger strength. As you begin to fall into the habit of practicing every day you’ll start to develop both calluses and finger strength that will noticeably make playing much easier. Your fingers (unless you started out playing guitar or another instrument structured the same way) are most likely much weaker than you think: Practicing scales and focusing on creating clean-sounding notes (the closer your finger is to the fret bar, the cleaner the note will be) will slowly strengthen your fingers. You can also use one of these gizmos to help you strengthen your digits when you’re away from your bass.

Have fun creating calluses, young grasshoppers! You’re well on your way to bassic bliss!





Bassist Spotlight #1: Les Claypool

31 03 2010

Every now and again I’m going to highlight a famous (or not so famous) bassist that I think deserves a bit of recognition.

To begin this series, I’ve chosen one of my all-time favorite bass players, the eclectic and innovative Les Claypool.

Although he’s most famous for his work with his metal-funk band Primus, Claypool has worked with many super-famous musicians throughout his career, including Trey Anastasio, Stewart Copeland, Buckethead, Bernie Worrell and many others.

Les Claypool’s style is unique: He often utilizes very simplified riffs, with a lot of slap-and-pop techniques and heavy thumb work. He’s best known for his low-down-and-dirty licks with heavy rythmic patterns, dissonant chords, harmonics, tapping…you name it.

Here’s a video of one of his most famous solos, “The Awakening”:

Les is also famous for often performing in rather odd attire, most notably his monkey and pig costumes. Here is a video of him playing a bass he invented (called the “Whamola”) while wearing his monkey outfit. The Whamola only has one string, and Les plays it with a drumstick (sorry for the video quality; this footage shows a wide range of the sounds he can get out of this instrument, though):

Needless to say, Les Claypool is pretty damn interesting. His willingness to break away from peoples’ perceptions of bass as a somewhat “limited” instrument, his talent, and his genuine love for playing bass are all qualities to admire.





Dealing with Stage Fright

25 03 2010

Stage fright can be brutal. You have your routine down perfectly, you’re pumped and ready to go, and then two minutes before you go on you feel like your heart is going to explode out of your chest, your palms get sweaty, and you suddenly have the terrifying thought that you might very well forget everything you’ve practiced. You start over-thinking, over-analyzing, worrying, believing you’re going to make a huge mistake, and focusing on worst case scenarios.

The important thing to remember is that stage fright is all in your head.

Everyone gets a bit jittery before a show, even famous performers. Musicians will tell you that pre-show nerves are actually important: they give you energy and get you motivated to give an awesome performance. But not if you let them get the best of you, like this poor little guy!

Some things that may help with stage fright:

  • Be prepared. Going onstage knowing you’ve got your act together is the biggest confidence-booster you can give yourself.
  • Think positive. Since stage fright is all in your head, it makes sense to start there in order to fix the problem. Visualize yourself playing a successful show: The audience is dancing, smiling, having a great time. Repeat positive affirmations like “This is going to be a lot of fun,” or “This show is going to be great.” (You probably want to do this silently…people seem to associate repeating yourself with a bit of mental unbalance)
  • Remember: No one really cares. Think about why you’re so nervous. Is this performance going to change anyone’s life? Probably not; in fact, if you pay attention to the audience while you’re playing, you’ll often notice that they’re not really paying that much attention to you.
  • Have a drink. Having a leisurely beer before going onstage can relax you, but don’t push it. If you get wasted and fall off the stage or decide to confess your undying love for Dungeons and Dragons to 200 people, don’t blame it on me. (And of course, drink responsibly.)
  • If you’re having a panic attack, unfocus your eyes. It really works! This video shows you how to do it.
  • Laugh. Seriously! One of the best ways to calm down is to laugh. Whether you’re with your friends/bandmates backstage telling dirty jokes or sitting by yourself in the green room, make yourself laugh, and laugh as hard as you can for a few minutes. You might feel stupid doing it, but it relaxes you instantly.

It also helps some people to say a prayer/mantra before they go onstage, to have a lucky charm (Use the Schwartz!), to breathe deeply, or even to imagine the audience naked (this can backfire if you have a vivid imagination and get distracted easily).

Above all, remember: Music is about having fun. No one really cares if you mess up, and all you’re doing is providing (usually heavily intoxicated) people with somethin’ to groove to. Enjoy it!