A Word of Advice From Victor Wooten

A few months ago me and a few fortunate folks had the chance to interact and learn from Victor Wooten in conclusion to our 10-week music “Workout” at the Music District in Fort Collins. Victor is a Grammy-winning artist and educator with prolific knowledge in music and its applications on the electric bass. Most of the topics that he focuses on in music education are channeled through his own book, The Music Lesson:  A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. We spent 2 days of our “Workout” jamming and having a series of discussions around what music means to us as artists, creators, and performers. Here are few take-aways that stuck with me and have begun to taken hold in my refreshed approach to music:

  1. The Powers of Space

As musicians, we feel the need to amaze and overwhelm those that listen with whatever tools and skills we can muster. And while this is not an attempt to discourage that, there are other tools, ones that leave us exposed and vulnerable, that can capture that same outcome. What if during your solo, you simply didn’t play? What if your build to your chorus involved you and everyone else dropping out completely before coming back as an impenetrable wall of sound? My impulse response to this thought for the majority of my musical career has been “No f#*%ing way”. For the longest time, I would have rather packed that space for a solo with every note imaginable until my fingers bled, healed, and bled again. But why? What does that really say about my playing? It says that I’m scared and insecure. It says that I can only think of one way to build excitement and draw people closer.

The use of silence is just as powerful of a tool. It heightens the excitement by building the anticipation of what you will do next. It allows for each note ring out for you to feel its silky resonance. When used appropriately, it can speak louder than any of your shredding and bashing will ever be.

  1. Reaching out to One Person With Your Playing

As performers, there is so much going on in your environment during a performance that influences your playing. People come and go, there is side-chatter, your guitar strap breaks, lights are blinding you, and you can’t even hear yourself. One of the many reasons that we enjoy live performances so much is that we instantly feel a connection to the music and the relationship between the music and the audience. Amidst everything happening at once, Victor’s advice was to seek out one person in the crowd and only play to them. Imagine that they are the only person there and let your music speak through you to them. Not only are you making a direct connection, but you’ve successfully let go of all other distractions around you  to truly be present in that moment.

  1. No One Knows Your Sound Better Than You

This is something that every artist strives for when pursuing their craft. Most of us want nothing more than to be recognized for our authenticity, but often times pursue the sounds of other artists that inspire us to get there. We go so far along this path that we lose ourselves and become even further from reaching our goal. Victor says to think of your instrument as you would your own voice in a conversation. You grow up your entire life learning a vocabulary and grammar structure that allows you to communicate your thoughts and interact with others in conversation. You don’t even think about it, you just do it. So how does this transmute to music? When playing with others, don’t listen for the key, instead listen to what the other instruments are asking of you. There is no such thing as the wrong note. If someone plays you a question, then it is up to you to play the answer as you see fit.

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