More wisdom from Victor Wooten

The more I read about Victor Wooten and watch his videos the more impressed and inspired I become with his wisdom. It is not the kind of a highly philosophical wisdom that aims to change humankind. It is very down to earth, simple, almost obvious: it has always been there but no one has talked about it.

In this video, the description on YouTube says:

Victor Wooten at Berklee College of Music (2012) – Victor (jazz, jazz fusion & funk bass player), was one of several professional musicians playing at a 2012 Berklee music clinic, when one young bass student ask him, “how do you learn to play with a groove”. Victor replied, “instead of me showing you, why don’t you come on stage and show me”. This led to the following unexpected music lesson in the attached video, it is spontaneous and well worth watching.

I watched the impromptu lesson at first without much expectations: just another bass guitar lesson. However, his explanation on “how to learn to play with a groove” struck a chord with me not only because I am a musician but because I am (or consider to be) an educator. He sais: “If you overthink something you can already do you’ll do it worse.” This is the premise of the lesson.


In classical music training, we place most of the emphasis on the technique, on the instrument, on exercises, and with that, we are hoping to create the basis for our music. I don’t deny that technical training is important, but the point Wooten makes is that to “play with groove” one has to transcend this technical aspect and practice as if playing with others, as if already “grooving.” After one overcomes the technical difficulty in a passage, the message is not to overthink about the technique but to focus on the music. In other words, forget about the instrument and play the music. In Wooten’s words, we are often “thinking of an instrument that has no music in it. … The music is in you.”

Going beyond the music area, in my job at a college I see many students going to talk to tutors to help them solve math problems (or chemistry problems, physics problems, …). As I watched the video, and after being in school for a very long time, a thought came to mind: we are doing in schools exactly the same thing we are doing when practicing music – we are overthinking the technique and seeing the “groove,” the real music or application as a consequence of having the technique. Memorizing formulas is the same thing as memorizing scales and arpeggios. They are the important foundation, but if we don’t have the practical use for them in a real situation (a job, a concert, a project), they are not serving any purpose. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t learn them. My point is that we have to learn to apply them and find opportunities to apply them, and more, as Wooten suggests, apply them without overthinking about the basics. Once we learn the “words” we have to use them in sentences and with others rather than simply uttering them over and over.

From another video of Victor Wooten:

“A lot of times we just learn a technique and we play it as a technique and that’s it, but the goal is to make music. So with every technique I want to always be able to turn it in to music. So I always try to find a musical way to practice.”


About paulomusic

I'm a musician at heart with a passion for playing and for musical instruments. I used to play the oboe professionally for many years but stopped when I started a PhD in educational psychology. Now, I want to bring the music back to my life and also share some ideas about it.
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2 Responses to More wisdom from Victor Wooten

  1. DITTO!!!
    I meet a lot of amateur rock guitarists or drummers or pianists who claim not to be musicians because they can’t read music and never practised scales…. and yet they can pick up a tune by ear in less than a quarter of the time it takes me and/or can improvise circles around my extensive education in harmony and analysis! Kind of strange we should snub improvisation…. how good are we at ornamenting the baroque!!!

    For the past couple of years, I no longer practice scales; when the need is felt, I practice around scales, surrounding them with all kinds of twiddles. I find my technique comes back in a tenth of the time it takes when frustratingly building flawless scales etc…. OK, OK, yes, I once had technique under my belt so it’s not the same as newbies…. but I still think playing WITH scales etc. is more fun and effective than straight calesthenics!


    • paulomusic says:

      Thanks for your comment, Robin! Like you, one of my main puzzles over my years as a musician has been: why can’t I play so freely like rock and jazz musicians? I studied music theory, analysis, harmony, history, and I spent hours a day working on my technique. I’ve been very diligent and careful with every detail… many times. It was only by leaving the classical music circle for a while that I finally learned that this freedom comes from a different approach to music making and music learning than the one I was used to. I found that by listening to different kinds of music (and learning to appreciate them), and learning how to play different instruments associated with other types of music work like learning other languages: we start to understand these other cultures and how they do things. For about a year now, I’ve been going to a weekly workshop on bluegrass music. I play the mandolin and the guitar along with several other people interested in bluegrass. The level of playing vary widely but no one is concerned with that. The point is to bring together a group of people who are interested in this king of music and have fun playing it. When I go, I don’t have any music sheet or any notes with me. I make myself play everything by ear. I also am not concerned about having to play the right notes. I just want to make music. The interesting thing about this experience has been that I do feel freer when I play the oboe in my orchestras. Ok, they are amateur orchestras, but everybody takes music seriously or they would not be there.

      Going back to your comments, I just found another video from Wooten where he says:

      “When I look at the main stream music curriculum, we’re told that the more we practice the better we get and the more natural we become. And, it is true but it takes too long. It takes 10 or 20 years, but when you learn to speak a language in about 2 or 3 years. And music to me is a language, so I ask the question as to why does music take so long? It is because, I believe, we are not taking a natural approach in the musical curriculum.” (


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