Victor Wooten shares his advice for budding bassists: "You bake a cake before you ice it"

Victor Wooten's impact on bass playing cannot me overstated – he was part of a movement of players that brought the instrument from background support to the fore. But he's very clear that a bassist needs to have their foundations set before anything else. 

"Now as we get a little ability on the bass, we still have to support the band but we get the chance to play more solos and things like that. but can't lose our role," Victor reflects to Cory Wong in a new interview above for his excellent online show. "If I explain it the way my brother Regi [Wooten, acclaimed guitarist] taught us, music is melody, harmony and rhythm and the bass and the drums are the foundation of that rhythm. Each of them have different roles. And for the younger bass players coming up, if we learn to do the flashy things on the bass without that solid foundation, it's like building a roof with the floor and wondering why the roof won't stay up.

"So the foundation has to be there so you can build up," Victor concludes. "You bake a cake before you ice it."

It's not hard to find the beginning of where and why and when. Then we're attached to it and we build from there

As for how a bassist can start to transition up from beginner level to the more advanced level, Victor has an interesting perspective to share on the place of electric bass guitar in musical history. 

"It's easy these days; you listen to the beginning people who played the bass. Who were the first people to play the bass? Some of them are still alive. Chuck Rainey, one of my heroes, is older than the electric bass. 

"For me this is like living in the days of the Wright brothers. So we can be attached to the very beginnings of this instrument. Now, the double bass, the acoustic bass, goes back further. James Jameson played the double bass, Chuck Rainey didn't – he went straight to electric. So this is a new instrument. It's not hard to find the beginning of where and why and when. Then we're attached to it and we build from there. 

"With the internet now there's never been an easier time," he tells Wong. "When you were young, we had to buy records, wait for the band to come to town… now we just push a couple of buttons and it's all in our lap. Everything we want to see is right in front of us. But we had to search for it, which was a gift because if we wanted to get good we had to practice. Nowadays if we want to get good we dial it up on the internet and we want someone to teach us. Different attitude, they both work but a different attitude. 

For Victor, it has to start with the electric bass innovators and the lessons their playing can teach. 

"You go back to the beginning of who played it first," he advises. "Because even the music of today is built on the music of yesterday. And the music of yesterday had simple bass lines, note-wise. But there's a whole history and lesson in every bass part. Some of the simplest parts – Papa Was A Rolling Stone, that bass line. Simple but there's a whole half a year of college work you could study just in that bass line. But in many cases we're going to learn the Victory Wooten and Flea solo stuff first before we've learned what we call the basscics."

Victor Wooten's top 5 tips for bass players

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.