Tal Wilkenfeld: Music, Guitar, Bass, Jeff Beck, Prince, and Leonard Cohen | Lex Fridman Podcast #408

Tal Wilkenfeld: Music, Guitar, Bass, Jeff Beck, Prince, and Leonard Cohen | Lex Fridman Podcast #408


Jeff Beck

  • Tal Wilkenfeld played with Jeff Beck at the 2007 Crossroads Festival, showcasing her confident and fearless approach to music.
  • Jeff Beck gave her a solo on a well-known song, demonstrating his generosity and openness as a musician.
  • Wilkenfeld auditioned for Jeff Beck while suffering from food poisoning, and still impressed him with her performance.
  • She discusses the importance of not letting fear limit musical expression and the different expectations in various musical genres.
  • Tal shares a story of feeling sad about a performance, but now sees mistakes as part of the learning process and focuses on recovery and growth.

Confidence on stage

  • Steve Gadd quote: "On your worst day you're still a badass"
  • Anthony Jackson's mentoring style
  • Evolution of self-criticism on stage
  • Trust over confidence
  • Chemistry and trust with Jeff Beck on stage
  • Finding peace and meditative state on stage
  • Meditation before shows and connecting energetically with the band

Dealing with grief and loss

  • Coping with the grief of losing Leonard Cohen and Prince
  • Spiritual and deep connection with Leonard Cohen
  • Major grief period in 2016 and 2017
  • Staying in a comedy store instead of a monastery to connect with grief
  • Learning from comedians and finding laughter in grief
  • The different types of grief for different types of connections
  • Dave Chappelle and Jackson Brown's participation in a healing birthday party at the Comedy Store

The connection between musicians and comedians

  • Differences between comedians and musicians
  • Observational humor and songwriting similarities
  • Healing birthday party at the Comedy Store with Dave Chappelle and Jackson Brown

Leonard Cohen (00:26:39)

  • Tal Wilkenfeld loves Leonard Cohen's song "Chelsea Hotel" and appreciates its different feelings and emotions.
  • She lived at the Chelsea Hotel and discussed it with Leonard Cohen.
  • She finds the song's ending and certain lyrics very emotional and ephemeral.
  • Leonard Cohen advised her on writing songs and stressed the importance of multiple meanings in lyrics.
  • Wilkenfeld also discussed the controversial lyric in the song and its connection to Janis Joplin.
  • She performed the song on YouTube, leading to Leonard Cohen inviting her over.

Connection with Leonard Cohen (00:26:39)

  • Wilkenfeld met Leonard Cohen in a rehearsal studio and watched his rehearsal.
  • During the meeting, Wilkenfeld had a significant interaction with Leonard Cohen's 105-year-old monk.
  • Leonard Cohen then fed the monk caviar, which made her happy.

Beliefs and Life Trajectory (00:26:39)

  • Wilkenfeld believes in a universe where unpredictable occurrences are interconnected.
  • She doesn't believe in predetermined events but acknowledges the influence of past experiences and karma on the future.
  • Wilkenfeld feels lucky about the occurrences in her life and considers the universe's role in presenting unexpected opportunities.

Taxi Driver (00:34:39)

  • Tal Wilkenfeld wrote a love song based on the movie Taxi Driver
  • Loneliness is a result of feeling separate from the world and others
  • Loneliness decreases with efforts to feel like a part of the world
  • Feeling lonely is related to feeling separate from the world and others
  • Losing a piece of oneself in romantic exchanges can lead to loneliness
  • Being in an empty hotel room with no attachments is seen as healing by Wilkenfeld
  • She missed that space when not having hotels frequently on tour

Songwriting (00:46:00)

  • The last album released by Tal Wilkenfeld includes songs that involve pain and storytelling
  • Songwriting is a combination of personal experiences and external influences
  • Tal Wilkenfeld appreciates love songs that are open to different interpretations
  • Eric Clapton's song "Wonderful Tonight" has a more complicated story behind it, according to Eric Weinstein
  • Eric Weinstein is a mutual friend of Tal Wilkenfeld, but they have not played music together

How to learn and practice

  • Learned to practice in her head due to being limited to 30 minutes of practice per day by her parents
  • Recommends visualizing the fretboard in one's head for practice
  • Suggests practicing in bursts and taking breaks for efficient learning
  • Shares the revelation that practicing for a minute and letting the brain rest for 30 seconds or a minute can accelerate learning
  • Currently focuses more on writing songs in her head than practicing
  • Values silence and finds inspiration for songs during mundane activities like showering or doing the dishes
  • Some songs flow naturally, while others require extensive refining and crafting

Understanding music and instruments

  • Believes that understanding the purpose behind playing music is crucial for aspiring musicians
  • Expresses that the why and purpose behind playing music is important to navigate the uncertain and varied lifestyle of a musician
  • States that playing in small or large audience settings doesn't affect the performance
  • Views every instrument as having its own journey and unique strengths, limitations, and expressive potential
  • Emphasizes the importance of understanding the physical aspects and technical skills of playing an instrument before focusing on expression
  • Advocates for trusting oneself and leveraging personal strengths in the learning process

Learning from mentors and resources

  • Emphasizes the value of in-person mentorship and the intangible knowledge transfer that can occur
  • Acknowledges the abundance of educational resources on YouTube but stresses the uniqueness and impact of in-person interactions with experts and mentors
  • Discusses the presence of greatness in individuals and the valuable lessons that can be learned from observing accomplished individuals in various fields

Creating and understanding music

  • Stresses the importance of slowing down when practicing to pay attention to details and develop a fuller tone
  • Compares the meditative practice of observing musical details to understanding and processing emotions
  • Shares personal experience of dedicating time to refining specific musical techniques, such as bending notes, and the artistry behind making a single note expressive

Slap vs Fingerstyle

  • Slap and fingerstyle are different bass playing techniques
  • Slapping creates a distinctive sound, suitable for certain music styles like funk
  • Fingerstyle offers a different tone and can replicate the sound of an upright bass
  • There are no strict rules in music, and musicians have unique sounds based on their choices and limitations
  • The imperfections of musicians can lead to unique creativity and sound


  • Tal Wilkenfeld has heard of Davie504, a YouTuber and bass player known for his bass compositions and memes
  • Davey504's fans regard Tal as one of the best bassists in the world
  • Tal comments humorously about the "greatest of all time" assertion

Music Genres and Song interpretation

  • Tal loves various music genres as long as they are authentic and from the heart
  • There are no spiritual differences in playing rock and jazz for Tal
  • Each genre has its own language and rules, but Tal prioritizes serving the song and its lyrics
  • She focuses on creating something fresh and meaningful rather than simply for the sake of it


  • Tal does not play electric bass often in straight-ahead jazz and may use different bass types for certain songs
  • Flipping a guitar can have a different effect on the player
  • She jokingly mentions her favorite type of chocolate and discusses her approach to music with respect to song interpretation and genre.


  • Tal Wilkenfeld prefers not to hear the demo of a song before recording, as it allows for more creativity.
  • Prince's recording process involved taking only one or a few takes, without punching in or fixing mistakes.
  • Prince encouraged Wilkenfeld to play the bass with spontaneity and edge, not overthinking the recording process.
  • The use of analog recording and avoiding digital edits allowed for imperfections, capturing raw emotion in the music.

Jimi Hendrix

  • Tal Wilkenfeld admires Hendrix's ability to combine his voice, guitar playing, and songwriting seamlessly.
  • She appreciates the authenticity and emotional expression in the music of artists like Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith.


  • Wilkenfeld values supportive mentorship over harsh criticism and believes in providing guidance, support, and space for individuals to discover their talents.
  • The absence of traditional mentoring in her life shaped her constant sense of longing and gratitude for every experience.
  • The discussion touches on the role of mentors in sports and art, highlighting the importance of a supportive environment for personal growth.

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Sad songs (01:33:02)

  • Music frequencies elicit different emotional responses
  • Melody, lyrics, and chord progression can evoke specific emotions
  • Lyrics and poetry can have different meanings for different people
  • Songs can elicit emotional responses, causing tears
  • "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen consistently evokes strong emotions

Tal performs Under The Sun (live) (01:39:00)

  • Tal Wilkenfeld performs the song "Under The Sun" live, featuring emotional lyrics and powerful vocals

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