Victor Wooten on the way you should play music: "It needs to affect the world."
With his virtuosic playing and two-handed approach, Victor Wooten has long been a pacesetter on the electric bass. From his work with Béla Fleck & the Flecktones to a vibrant solo career launched with his outstanding 1996 debut, A Show of Hands, Wooten has proven the broad potential of the bass guitar. Not only is he a major force on the instrument, but he's one who's been more than willing to share his knowledge with other musicians. Wooten (due at Boulder Theater on Friday, May 30 and Gothic Theatre on Saturday, May 31) has written books such as The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music and spearheaded a number of music clinics, workshops and camps.
Wooten says one of his reasons for writing The Music Lesson was that he was finding lot of teachers and academics were essentially looking at music from one angle.
"People were looking at music from the angle of what we call music theory, which basically deals with notes and scales and things like that," he says. "In my opinion, all the good stuff was being left out. So I just decided to look it another way, to help free people up to play music, sort of like you do in the shower. You're not trying to be right, you just sing. So I wanted to help free people up and I wanted to write a book that made people want to go play music after they read it."
The youngest of five brothers, Wooten started learning how to play bass at the age of his two from his brother Regi, and by the time he was six he was playing in the Wooten Brothers Band. In a sense, Wooten thinks that music should be learned in a similar fashion to people learning their native language where they're speaking long before they learn the alphabet.
"It's because I learned it in that manner I try to teach it in that manner, but I also understand that not everybody was born into a band the way I was," Wooten says. "So not everybody can learn it exactly like me. But they still can learn from me quicker than I learned it. So I think that that mistake that many music teachers make is that we try to either teach the musical rules first, before the student can play, or we try to teach them rules as they're learning to play. And in my opinion, that slows you down or totally frustrates the student anyway. They quit. But if you think about learning your first language -- we talk for years before we even learn the alphabet. And much longer than that before we ever learn what a noun or a verb or a participle was.
"So in language you need to learn to speak first before you learn any rules. But in music we haven't figured that out yet. Most teachers will teach a new student as if they're a beginner, and I don't see it that way. Even if you're ten years old, that means you've been hearing music for ten years, and if a song comes on and you want to dance you don't have to ask questions. So when it comes to music, you're a ten-year veteran. All you have to do is put what you know into an instrument or express it through an instrument, and that's not as hard as it seems."
In The Music Lesson, the character Michael, based on a real musician (who Wooten says might join the band for these two Colorado dates), "seemed to think that all things were made up of vibrations, especially music." For Wooten he looks at it like thoughts - like how a thought can pop into your head.
"You can say, 'I'm going to think of a green elephant' and all of a sudden, there an elephant is," Wooten says. "So, music is sort of like that. Music is there and it exists already, but it takes us and an instrument for us to hear it physically or to enter into this realm, I guess. But everything is vibrating already but for our ears to hear it. It has to vibrate between a certain ratio at a certain rate. But it doesn't mean that music is not there if it's not vibrating at that rate. The thing to remember is that once something starts vibrating it never stops. So that means that music is already out there. Once you create it or do your share of music, it never stops."
For the Spirit of Music session his Vix Camps in Tennessee, Wooten says they'll put people in groups and have them basically pretend like a song is already there, like they don't have to create the song. "The song is done somewhere. Basically we try to receive the complete song and even though you've never played with these musicians before you're going to play it. And it just takes listening. It takes being open. It takes acceptance. It takes trusting the other musicians and takes it non-judgment on what's good and what's bad. Just play. Again, like singing in the shower."
Wooten says music sometimes shows up on its own terms, which is why he records numerous snippets of little ideas on his phone, and some of those end up on recordings. "The thing to remember is that you never know when inspiration is going to hit," he says. "So I always say be prepared for it. Be ready to record it or write it down so you don't lose that idea later."
At other times, Wooten won't compose anything until it's time to record. "I heard a saying that says something like, 'A job will take however much time you have,'" Wooten says. "If you give yourself two week then it will take two weeks. If you give yourself two minutes, it will take two minutes. But when recording or writing music when I give myself less time it seems like I reach that finished song a lot quicker. And it's all to do with the mindset. And I've learned that to get into that mindset to where the complete song just shows up - almost just like a thought. A complete thought or a complete story just shows up in the form a song. It's really cool. I expect it. I trust music to show up and she usually does."
In addition to touring and teaching at his camp, Wooten says he's also taking his time working on the sequel to The Music Lesson that will start right where that book left off but will cover some new territory and some new concepts.
He says he's also planning on writing a book that's based on a lot of things he heard his mother saying while he was growing up.
"She had a whole lot of quotes," Wooten says. "One of them was, 'What does the world need with just another good musician?' She made us look at who we really were and understand that if we were going to spend hours and hours learning how to play an instrument, it needed to affect the world in some way. So it couldn't just be self-serving. She taught me a lot of good lessons. I'm going look at a bunch of those and share them with the world."
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