And on that note, I think I’ll Have Victor Wooten sign my ukulele

NOTE: I’m writing this knowing full well that I will be heading to San Rafael tomorrow to see Victor Wooten.  Thus the subject is presently at the forefront of my mind.


Having first picked up a guitar at the age of thirteen, and now being 47 can give one a real seenitbeentheredonethat sort of underpinning–even if it isn’t a conscious decision to be that way.

And it’s not everyday that something comes along that truly illuminates elephants in the room that NOBODY–not ONE musical influence,teacher, mentor, or arms-length inspirational point-of-departure ever seemed to circumscribe.

I met Victor Wooten some years ago when he played my town under the moniker of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Mr. Wooten’s bass chops have been legendary to me from the day a friend tossed me a cassette of their album, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo from the cab of his tow truck.

My friend, Chris, says, “I’m buying his book.” Me? I was so enamored with getting to meet this man (and ultimately wound up performing card tricks for him) that I took no notice of his related literature. I was too hung up on technique. His technique.


Now all these years later, I’m researching the ukulele at Live Ukulele, when I see in Brad Bordessa’s reference list of musical furtherance materials, Victor Wooten’s The Music Lesson.

So I bought the book.

I was already familiar with Wooten’s doctrinal stand on the nature of music–all laid out at his renowned TED Talk presentation–on his insistence that music is a language.

Now before anyone decides to bail on this piece in the half light of such a pallid overuse of the term and phrase, “Music is a language,” please listen to Victor’s position. he doesn’t just mean that it has communicable ability. He means it has the same developmental requirements any language must have in order for a vocabulary to build.

Think about this: You were using verbs and adjectives before you understood what they were. Your vocabulary was built by your exposure–or lack of exposure–to adults. If you were present in the room when the adults were holding forth on subjects with multi-syllabic, colorful and robust communication avenues, you were likely to not only understand it–you were likely to repeat it.

Now think of what your vocabulary would be like if it had been subjugated to some isolated little nook in which you were only allowed to speak to your peers. Get it? Your young vocabulary took on an exponential arc precisely because you were not confined to a beginner’s vocabulary class.

You became articulate because you were–as Victor says–allowed to “jam with professionals.”

And thus,the book begins with this same worldview. His pep talk alone on that will make one palpably excited about learning music.

Or teaching it.

The book chronicles a visit by an existentially-dubious character names Michael. You really are not sure Michael exists, but ultimately it is of no consequence. Michael goes on to elucidate the eleven things music teachers almost never teach–or at any rate teach a separate-yet-equal cogs in the musical wheel:

  1. Groove
  2. Notes
  3. Articulation/Duration
  4. Technique
  5. Emotion/Feel
  6. Dynamics
  7. Rhythm/Tempo
  8. Tone
  9. Phrasing
  10. Space/Rest
  11. Listening

Without broaching the entire work, we’ll examine the importance of Groove for now.

Wooten’s work maintains that finding the groove in a song is infinitely more important thank knowing how to play anything IN the song.  He cites his own exposure to his older brothers–who were also musicians.  Even though he was handed a bass as a little kid–he didn’t play bass on it.  He played percussion.  Before too long, he had established a groove that set him apart as a legitimate musical broker.  Even though he didn’t yet play bass.

It wasn’t about playing bass; it was about making music.  TWO–different things. Two very different things.

That chapter alone focused my awareness to musical approach.  Then, I saw it.  We are designed to maintain the groove over and above our commitment to lyrics.  I’ve recorded scratch tracks in the studio for years. I’ve sung dummy lyrics onto a track to maintain a continuity and conceptual framework.  THAT–had to do with groove.

My granddaughter ran through the kitchen the other day, singing the alphabet song.  At two and a half, she weaves in and out of concern for all 26 lyrical stations:

“A B C D E F G . . . .H I J K, uh dub uh dub uh dub. . “

Right on time, she was.  She bailed after K, but for the life on me, her timing on that baby-skat rundown was perfect.

Bailee had the groove. She didn’t realize it,but she was committed to the preservation of the groove.

I could easily lay out 5,000 words about the book, but I will not.  I’ll leave it there, save for one more “ah-ha” moment.  If you walk over to the piano and play 8 white keys backwards, stating with middle C, you will have played a banal and boilerplate descending C-major scale.

Put a pause after the first, fourth seventh and eighth notes while doing it,and you’ve played the first phrase of Joy To The World.

“It’s not the notes, you play,” Says Victor.  “But the space between them” that makes the difference.

Lights. On.  Thank you, Victor.

This entry was posted in Books, Guitar, Music, Ukulele, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to And on that note, I think I’ll Have Victor Wooten sign my ukulele

  1. Steve says:

    “It’s not the notes, you play,” Says Victor. “But the space between them” that makes the difference.

    Fascinating! This is also the approach to intersubjective therapy. It’s the space between the therapist and client that makes the difference.

    A guitarist once told me for every riff I play on the guitar, have an “answering” riff. He said that would help my playing. It’s sort of like having a “conversation” with yourself on guitar using musical notes. Sounds similar to some of what you posted on Victor Wooten.

  2. Ann says:

    Love it! And SO true! I have absolute respect for Victor Wooten. Not that I’m a master teacher, but I have to say he’s right – sometimes you have to allow a student to experience the unknown – to speak words they don’t yet understand – in order for them to grow. It’s beautiful to watch unfold. Am sending this blog post to my good friend, Jeff Brickle – a MONSTER bass player who is Wooten’s #1 fan.

    • Steve says:

      The same Jeff Brickle that went to Berklee? If it is, I know him. A great musician, and all-around good guy. A good scholar too.


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