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.”