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What Do You Think About Gary Willis' Learning Method?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Aug 25, 2004.

  1. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I was parousing bassically.net today and found a good Gary Willis interview. I'm a big fan, and I've had his Fingerboard Harmony book for a while. His learning method seems to involve fingerboard pattern memorization over more traditionsl theory aspects that I've heard of.
    Here are a couple of excerpts:

    "When you are analyzing a chord chart, what are you thinking? Do you assign scales to chords?

    Scales, never. The chords come from the fingerboard harmony concept. Group chords that are in the same key. Put your hand in the right place and you're playing what you already know, assuming you've done the homework of learning what happens in a key. You have to be able to analyze chords for key centers. That tells you where to put your hand so you can "see" the key all the way across the fingerboard. Even if the chord is only for a couple of beats, with my system you're never more than a 1/2-step shift to the next key center. Eventually, the neck stops being a mystery.

    And in describing his book:
    Fingerboard Harmony For Bass - The fingerboard harmony book is the hardest one. It addresses the geometry of the fingerboard. It exploits the symmetry of the bass so that you only have to learn to see what happens in a key from two positions. Learn that and anywhere you go on the neck, within a fret, you can use a combination of those two positions to see the neck wherever your hand is located. We don't have to learn everything in all twelve keys, unlike other instruments. It's a misconception that it's bad to play patterns on the bass. Most people's problem is that their view of patterns isn't complete enough. Actually, the bass neck is one (or two) infinitely connected patterns. They continue by shifting five frets in either direction. It applies to fretless as well. The idea is you can choose where to locate your hand when you're playing harmony. Teach yourself what happens in a key thoroughly, and if you put your hand in the right place, you're playing what you already know. It will look exactly the same. Part of it puts demands on your ability to analyze harmony for key centers, but that's a pretty straightforward process. It takes the mystery out of the fingerboard."

    I've always looked at how to play the fingerboard in visual patterns that simply move with key changes rather than as indivdual notes, and I've never really learned to play a piece in more than one key, as it always seemed redundant as the finger placement was exactly the same, just at a different starting point on the neck, unless you need the use of open strings. The only time this has caused much problem for me was when trying to go out of key to attempt more hornlike solos. What do you guys think of this? Agree or disagree with certain points?
  2. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    good thread, bump and subscribe - i'm a Willis fan, but i should really get the book...

  3. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    That's the way I play. I didn't know it was someone's suggested "Method" though. I had to adapt this as a result of our leader often changing keys on the fly in the middle of a song as in "Let's move up to the key of D on the third verse guys!!!" I learn songs with as little use of open strings as possible (A fiver really comes in handy for this). Then I can play them in any key required simply by shifting my hand position. I don't know what all the new notes are that I'm playing nor do I care. My fingers just do their thing with minimal thinking or analysis required. Right or wrong, it works for me. Our guitar player on the other hand is always trying to get his capo re-positioned as quickly as possible. :D
  4. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
  5. Ari


    Dec 6, 2001
    I've bought this book recently. It's really interesting, and it has made me aware of certain things I wasn't. But it is really difficult too. I am struggling to visualize the change of patterns on the neck. I'm comfortable when I have to play in one key in one position, but when the key changes I have trouble to adapt and visualize the new key instantly. I wonder if there is a secret I haven't discovered yet or if I just need more practice.

    I have been working on tracks 18-19 for several days - where you have to play in Cm7 and find the passing notes to F7 and so on... but the progress have been real slow - I really suck at this. I'll keep trying though...
  6. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    I agree that Willis' book is good and also rather hard.

    The hardest part is seeing the "grid" change with key changes. I have other traditional scalular methods I use to play as well and it's still hard seeing outside of the little world where your hand is the board.

    Willis' method assumes that you know

    A- The chord tones in any basic non-extended chord
    B- Where those notes are on the fingerboard.

    After that - he's really just showing you how to use the symetry of the neck to economise your motion.

    Take the idea that you are never more than a whole step away from a chord tone. This is true. But you can only benefit from that info if you know what the chord tones are - and where they are on the board. Willis method has a round about way of getting you there - by turning each chord into a geometric shape. But he starts you off in the first 5 frets and uses lots of open strings - so the "shapes" aren't immediately appearent.

    Overall - I think even Gary might agree the book could have been done much better.

    Great, helpful ideas - spotty excecution.

    BTW - Willis claims he sucked at math in school but was a wiz at geometry and that's how he turned the fretboard into his bitch.

    I sucked at both - so there ya go.