Alert! The following is a long post, as it tries to summarize the 70+ minute Victor Wooten Workshop held in in Budapest.
Well, the last clinic I attended was Jeff Berlin’s (read the report here) and now I had the luck to experience another point of view and attend Victor Wooten’s workshop here in Budapest right before his concert. Shortly, I can only say it was just great to enjoy the presence of Victor Wooten – I am definitely a YouTube guy and I have watched a lot of clinics online and learned a lot from them but a ‘real’ live experience can be so much more – just like improvisation, some things turn out in a way that you did not expect – for example Victor really told me to “have some kids” when answering my question. So I definitely recommend you to visit these clinics and workshops in the real world 😉
I am glad I had the opportunity to see Victor talk and play and I am very happy that he has given us many point to think about. Just to relate it to Jeff Berlin’s clinic, the most important thing that came to my mind after the workshop is that these “schools” or methods of masters are not really that rigid as people may think – if you are open enough you can use utilize them in a flexible way and use certain elements of a “school” in a given period of your learning path. At the beginning of your bass playing career, you might prefer Victor’s freedom, later, you might use Berlin’s focus and progress that way – or it might be the other way, or if you can take it, use certain “exercises” or methods simultaneously. I agree that there are general ways to get better which work best for the majority but we are different personalities – I can also imagine that there are really thousands of personal unique paths. Educators share methods that they have seen work the best in their lives, and in their student’s lives.
As for me personally, I have walked Victor’s path for many years, but sometimes, I need to use Jeff’s focus and put together my theoretical knowledge and go back to basic theory and clean up my knowledge and learn to play again. But I know that while doing that I often get stiff, I often get “stale” because I want to play good according to theory (I am worried that my grammar is not good, so I fail to convey the idea) – so then, I have to go back to some of Victor’s advice and just really “talk”, or concentrate on the music and do not care if the notes are not always “correct” according to theory/grammar.
So I guess the advice is to be open, try many schools, try many methods and take what is working for you.
It was a really informative and involving workshop and it seems that it is pretty hard to highlight certain “points” since everything was really connected with each other and it made sense as a whole. Anyway, I tried to connect the dots and re-tell the story of Vic through my lenses – and here you are:
1. Language and music – and the best way to learn.
As a basic foundation, Victor’s philosophy about learning music as a language came up – he said that one can learn to talk best if the talks to other people. So personally, he thinks that the best is to get together with people who are better than you, and play music with them. He argues that babies are not sent to learn to talk with other babies to baby-schools, they immediately begin to learn with professionals – their parents. Adults and babies learn together to communicate and adults are often amused by the babies’ mistakes and then they adapt those mistakes and use them in their language.
Of course, this is one aspect, I guess Vic learned this way, but also, Vic does not say that apart from this, there is nothing else to do: everything should be done (scales, reading, theory, etc.) but still, according to him, the best way to learn is to be in band where the members are better than you – and he also added that you also should be in bands where it is you, who is better than the others. I hope everyone one of you has the time for that 😉 And if there is no band? Well, children talk to themselves – they imagine their friends and they have a conversation. Just leave the space for the persons with whom you are talking/playing – for the drummer, the guitarist and the keyboard player.
This might sound too crazy for some of you, but the demonstration was pretty convincing – a guy had to come to the stage and play something which was not really solid. Then Vic made him imagine the whole band – “close your eyes and just hear the drummer. And after you have listened to a few bars, join the drummer.” Actually, you should have heard it 😉 The guy just became rock solid. He did not improve his technique or his notes, he only became focused by not paying attention to himself. It seems, putting the focus off of you and your instrument is a pretty musical tool.
2. Females, bass and a dancing C
Vic added that usually female bass player get this pretty soon – they realize they cannot join and win the “muscle competition” of the guys, so they decide to play music and support the band. And after just a few years of playing, they are in several bands. Connected to this, Vic also mentioned that we as part of the rhythm-section should play rhythm. We are the bridge between harmony and rhythm but we are not called the note-section – nobody dances to a C. Well that corresponds with the first of the ten commandments of bass 😉 So guys, heads up, play the necessary notes and get many jobs 😉
3. Practicing and finding your own voice
So basically the best practice is to be in a (imaginary) band. Okay. Cool. But the eager everyday bassist wants to know some other details as well: “How many hours/how do you practice?” and “How do you find your voice/sound?” Vic asked back “You speak so well Hungarian, how do you do that? How many hours do you practice?” Well, we just talk. We use it all day, always. There is no set 45 minutes or 6 hours a day. Also, we do not think about our voices (hmm, should it be a bit lower?) we just end up being ourselves by the many impressions we get throughout our lives. The important bit should be to think about what we have to say.
He said that during a tour where he does a soundcheck, a workshop and a concert – that is surely enough for the day – Vic noted that if he would sit in his room practicing, he would not gain the unique impression of the place where he plays and he would become sort of empty. By the time of the concert he would have anything to “talk” about. In that way, he said the concert would be lifeless and stale.
Vic actually confessed that he does not really like to practice – he likes to play. Still, he gave some insight on his how-to as well: first he listens to it as much that he can sing it and after that he learns parts of it on the instrument. Then he puts the music on computer and plays it with the file and later on, he begins to perform – he stands up, imagines the orchestra, imagines the audience and after that he sometimes invites friends as well, so that way when he plays it with the orchestra, it will not be “the first time” he played it.
According to Vic, practising in our mind is much more beneficial – if you use the “brain-hand” direction, your hand will know what to do and you just have to use it in music. If you just sit and practice it with the hands many times so your brain can learn it, it will take you longer time to master it. If you know how to do it, go and do it. If you know theoretically how to swim, it is no point in practicing outside of the water. He cited Classical Thump as an example – he made up this song to practice his double-thumb technique and its alternate versions as a piece of music.
4. Look for information and information everywhere!
So instead of putting your focus in one direction, you can also learn music without your instrument – you just have to be open and look for information on all places. Vic believes that Life wants to give us answers but if we are looking for answers, we are usually focused in one way and we want to have the answer in a certain shape and form but it might not come that way – so open up! J
A nice example he noted about looking for answers on all places was about perfect pitch – who does not want to have it? Well, okay. Do you train you ear only when you are practicing your instrument? Does your car have a beep when it notifies you to wear the seatbelt? Vic’s car beeps on a G note. And on what note does your cell phone ring? And we’re back to our mind-practice again.
5. How to learn not to care? Have some kids!
Okay, so I admit this is an eye-catching headline. Sorry about that, but this was actually making sense for me when Vic told me J I had one question to Vic – while answering another question Vic stated that over the years he learned not to care. And I had to ask how to learn that. J
Vic said “this has nothing to do with music – it is your life. It is like you care so much that you do not care”. He asked me whether I have kids and as I said not yet, so he replied by saying me “Have some kids” And then he explained – you can see all their mistakes, but you love them anyway. They knock over your favorite bass but that is okay … “your love is bigger than caring about that one little mistake. And why should a mistake on a concert ruin my whole night? Do i really care about what you think? Do I give you really that much power over me? So I’ll just say – look, I am just gonna give you me, if you don’t like it, it is your choice. What you think is out of my hands. I’ll still make the record that makes me happy. If 2 people buy my record , they love me because who I really am not who someone is trying to be fake so you can be happy.
“A mistake is something I did not mean to do. I am not trying to play perfect. Life is fun because you don’t know – you make mistakes but keep going anyway. You can’t score all the time, you have to miss a bunch. It is like football players – that’s why they celebrate when they score – because their miss most of the time. They try their best, and we understand how hard the struggle is. If everything would goes as planned you are bored. If you scored every time it would become boring.” Vic added that sometimes mistakes sound as mistakes, but it is the unexpected – so then again, as he listens to them a bit later sometimes they sound different – and then there are times when he learns those mistakes because they were unique and unexpected.
He once again noted that bringing the focus off of you is a great help – “when the singer starts singing – nobody is listening to you, play the bass part, make them sound good – make her happy that she hired me”. When you take a solo, make your solo about the song, not you. Play for the music, not for you. Make the song greater.
I guess this is a usual part of Vic’s workshops – he asked us to tell us a word that comes to our mind about music. People said a lot of things: fun, spirit, sacred, life, freedom, chance, expression, color. Vic pointed out that no one ever said techniques, double-thumping, theory, fear, practice or even bass. He told us to remember that “these are only tools, not music – tools are there to get you where the music is. And that’s your goal! Remember it.”