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Needless to say, living legend Victor Wooten is an adept clinician. Beyond his illustrious playing career, Victor is the brains behind the long-running Bass Nature Camp. His warmth and insight were inspiring; his attitude is always one of the student. “I learn as much from you as you do from me,” he told us. “So take notes, and I’ll do the same.”
Accompanied by his scary talented 12-year-old son Adam on cajon, Victor began the clinic with a funky, mid-tempo I-IV groove. Once he set it up, he pointed to students in the room to contribute something to the budding groove. Some immediately locked in; others struggled to find the key; still others played too much or too little. Inciting individuals to play along, Victor would modulate the key without warning, forcing students to use their ears to adapt to the new tonal center. Most students couldn’t quite keep up.
The point of this exercise, Victor pointed out, was to underscore the importance of listening. “When you’re in a conversation, what do you do? You listen. Playing is the same as talking. We’re in the rhythm section! Approach it that way. If you play a good groove, there are no wrong notes. There’s only 12 notes, and if you’re comfortable with all of them, why do you need the key? If you can really feel the impact of all 12 notes, and deliver the notes with a good groove, there’s zero percent odds of you playing something wrong. Find the key in yourself! Notes don’t matter if it doesn’t groove.”
After this illuminating exercise, Victor wrote his list of the 10 equal parts that make up music:1. Notes (this includes all of music theory) 2. Rhythm 3. Dynamics 4. Articulation 5. Tone 6. Phrasing 7. Technique 8. Feel 9. Space 10. Listening
“Two through 10 add up to groove,” Wooten said in summation. “If they’re right, one can’t be wrong.”
Fretless 6-string bass wizard Steve Bailey is a singular talent. His deeply developed vocabulary on his extraordinarily tricky instrument is unique. As comfortable laying down a fat groove in a funky jam as he is using artificial harmonics and subtle articulation to create lyrical, gorgeous melodies, Bailey is a true innovator.
Given his reputation for solo and dual bass (often with longtime collaborator Wooten), Bailey shared a story about the professional risk of developing a reputation for solo playing. “Early in my career in L.A., I got a call that Steve Vai was looking for a new bass player and wanted me to come down and jam. Excited, I packed up my stuff and headed out to his studio. Steve introduced himself and asked me to play some solo bass. So I went for it, man. I was in the zone. I closed my eyes and did all my good stuff. Really feeling it. I was so excited when I opened my eyes. Only problem was Steve wasn’t there. Worried, I asked someone else in the studio where he went. Apparently he got on his motorcycle and took off about 30 seconds after I closed my eyes and got in ‘the zone.’ The lesson is: Don’t miss the gig. Be careful about how you play, and what you play. Steve Vai wasn’t a solo bass gig.”
To Bailey, good bass playing can be boiled down to the four T’s: Time, Tone, Taste, and Technique. “Get that stuff together, and you’re good to go.”
Given the sheer size of his fretless 6-string’s wide, unlined fretboard, a lot of students were curious how he developed his intonation. First, he likes to practice with his eyes closed: “Use your ears as the guide.” Then, he offered a great practice routine for developing fretboard awareness and accuracy. Example 2 shows the first two bars of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” first in the most conventional position. The exercise requires playing that same melody, but varying the position of each note across the entire fretboard. Check out the tab for a few examples of how this works, and be sure to apply the concept to other melodies for maximum benefit.