January 18th, 2024

ToneGym Hero: Ken Wilkens

ToneGym Hero: Ken Wilkens

A technology executive with a lifelong passion for music, playing various instruments and recently rekindling his interest in music during the COVID pandemic. Ken Wilkens is this month's ToneGym Hero!

Who are you, and Where are you from?

My name is Ken Wilkens, and I was born and raised on Long Island, NY.  I’ve lived in Peoria, Arizona since 1996.  I work as a Client Executive Manager for a large Technology company.  I’ve been married for 31 years to my wife Marie, and we have 3 adult children ranging in age from 24 to 29.  

How did you get into music?

I learned to harmonize at an early age from my mom, but officially got into music in the 4th Grade (at age 8). Funny story.  In the 3rd Grade, they gave us a sheet to pick a musical instrument to start. I thought the trombone was so cool, so wanted to play that, but instead in error put a check next to “Trumpet.” I ended up loving the Trumpet, and was fortunate enough to sit First Chair from Grade 4 through my Senior year in High School.

 Along the way, I picked up the drums, and was always singing - in multiple vocal groups in school, church and into College.   I went to Crane School of Music (as a Voice Major) in Potsdam, NY, but left after a year.  I played around on the piano, and sang in a number of groups, and just before I moved to Arizona I was singing semi-professionally with a 50s era group called the Mello-Kings.  That was a blast and I was sharing the stage with groups like the Drifters, the Coasters, Larry Chance & the Earls and others.  Sadly, when I moved to Arizona, I left music behind.  

I picked up music again during the COVID pandemic, and started learning Electric Bass, so I have been ‘back’ into music since 2020.

What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?

I try to stay active - I was a triathlete for a number of years, threw around heavy stuff in the Highland Games, but after a few surgeries, now it’s just training to stay in shape.  Work takes up a lot of my time, so I try to do what I can to de-compress at night and on the weekends.  My bass practice and playing around on my new electric piano serve as a great way to do that.

What's your most useless skill or talent?

Ha-ha!  As a kid, I learned to ride a unicycle.  I rode that thing everywhere, and I even de-constructed a bike and welded it together to create a 6 foot tall chain-driven unicycle that I tooled around the neighborhood on…. I guess you’d call that a ‘useless’ skill, but it sure was fun!

What inspires you to keep making music?

At this point in my life, music serves as a way for me to learn, grow and relax.  I am constantly learning every time I go into ToneGym or pick up my bass.  Since starting to play the bass, I’ve been somewhat of a “bedroom bassist,” and have not had the opportunity to play live with other musicians, so that’s what I’m driving towards.  At 60 years old, you can’t just call up your buddies and jam in the garage, so I’m still figuring out that path, and that’s what keeps me going.  The learning curve at my age is also a lot steeper, so I put in a lot of work to see incremental growth, but that definitely motivates me to push toward that progress.

My other huge motivation is my son, Tyler.  I’m so proud of him - he went back to College and will be graduating with his Music Education degree later this month at age 29.  Every time we talk, there is always some discussion around music - what he’s teaching, how I can improve my bass skills, or just general music talk.  He originally auditioned as a bass player, but due to the College staff being somewhat limited at his school, he transitioned to Classical Guitar, and he is an amazing player.  His talents far surpass mine and I’m so very proud of him!

If you could sit down to a session with any artist, who would it be?

It’s interesting that the question is worded this way.  Some artists I would like to just sit and talk with, or just watch them play in a private setting… but sitting in a session, that changes the game…

I think, after watching the Get Back sessions, it would have to be the Beatles.  The music that they wrote in the 8 years they were together is amazing.  Just look at the musical growth from “Love Me Do” to something like the Abbey Road Medley… just amazing.  To sit and be a part of that creative process would just be magical.  

Any habits you have before starting a session?

Nothing ritualistic, but I typically start (bass practice) with something to warm up.  I usually do some fretboard exercises like playing a “same note” exercise - I start with the open A, then play everywhere on the fretboard that same pitch A is, then move to Bb, then C, etc.  Then I might run through some scales, play through the modes or maybe a simple tune just to warm up my fingers and my mind.

What have you been working on lately?

Lately, I’ve been working on Latin Bass grooves.  I really like Oscar Stagnaro’s Latin Bass Book, and I love the challenge of playing in the pocket to those grooves.  I’m also trying to develop kind of a “Standards” R&B and rock repertoire - songs like Groove Me by King Floyd, Brown Eyed Girl, Tramp (yes, there is a thing called the “Tramp Groove”), Mustang Sally, etc.   

I also try to spend time on technique, sight reading, and just solid playing overall.  To this point, I’ve done most of my learning via Scott’s Bass Lessons online, but I’m looking to establish a relationship with a Bass Teacher - I have a solid musical knowledge, but still have a lot to learn on Bass.

And of course I work daily in ToneGym.  I did a few lessons with Ed Friendland in Tucson, and in our first meeting he talked about the importance of ear training and identifying intervals.  It was because of that lesson that I sought out and found ToneGym, which ended up being so much more than just ear training!

If you could pick one, what would be the theme song of your life?

There have been so many songs that have been themes for me at different times in my life.  But right now I think it would be the Beatles’ “In My Life.”  At age 60, it’s about enjoying the view not only of the road ahead, but also the rear view mirror!

What's your favorite musical instrument?

Man, this is a tough one.   I have always loved the drums, and currently love my basses, but I think my favorite musical ‘instrument’ is the Human Voice.  Singing was always my first love, and while I was at Crane School of Music, I learned to really expand my capabilities as a 1st Tenor, and one of my favorite things to experience is harmonizing with others - whether in a small A Capella group or a large choir.

Think about it - you always have it with you, can tune it on the fly, and it doesn’t cost a thing!

What's your favorite ToneGym feature?

Easy.  The Daily Workout.  I love the fact that every morning when I get up, there is a new workout waiting for me each day.  Without fail, I pop in my AirPods and get to “work” (play) every morning with my cup of coffee.  Some games are more challenging for me than others.  The beauty is, I can clearly think back and see my growth - whether it’s recognizing intervals, singing intervals and solfège, nailing a challenging rhythm or getting the progression right in Route VI, I can see that I am progressing - again, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. 

I also really enjoy the Community aspect of ToneGym.  It’s way more than an ear training system - it’s an interactive community where we can all share, help each other and grow as musicians.

What does the future hold for Ken Wilkens?

Well, I still have a few more years to work before I can retire, so work will continue to take up the majority of my time.  Musically, I hope to continue to grow as a bassist and get out to some local Jam Nights.  It would be super cool if I could get back into regular playing with a band - I wouldn’t care of it was Rock, Jazz or Latin Music.  If it’s got a pocket, I want to be the one driving.  

Now that I have a piano, I would also like to explore composing.  I’ve never really written anything other than a few simple ballads back in the day, so it would be cool to play around with how chords move and flow, and see if I can create something that sounds decent.  

Thank you again for the honor of being a ToneGym “Hero,” although I just enjoy being part of the ToneGym community.


You can follow Ken on InstagramTikTok and X.


View all comments
Great to read about you and your musical journey Ken! If you lived near me and you wanted to jam in your garage I'd be there - just saying - I bet a lot of other people would too!
Cuantas Vacas
Jan 18
Congratulations! It's great to learn more about you, Ken, one of the most active community members lately. Everytime anyone comes back to music, a cute puppy is born somewhere. I wish you the best, both in life and music!
Stephen Craig
Jan 18

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