Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland

Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland


Translator: Eren Özbay
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thank you very much. It’s true I was born into a band; very literally, I mean that literally. When I was born, my four older brothers
who were already playing music, knew that they needed a bass player (Laughter) to round out the family band. I was born into that role. As I’m older I’m looking back right now,
now that I’m called a teacher. When I look back on that,
and how I was taught, I realized that I wasn’t really taught. Which is why I say
that music is a language; because if you think
about your first language, for me, and probably
most of us here might be English, so I’m just going to go with English. If you think about how you learned it,
you realize you weren’t taught it. People just spoke to you. But the coolest thing
is where it gets interesting because you were allowed to speak back. If I take the music example, in most cases, our beginners are not
allowed to play with the better people. You’re stuck in the beginning class. You have to remain there a few years, until you are elevated
to the intermediate, and then advanced; and after you graduate the advanced class, you still have to go out
and pay a lot of dues. But with language, to use a musical term, even as a baby
you’re “jamming” with professionals. All the time. To the point that you don’t even know
you’re a beginner. No one says, “I can’t talk to you until–
You got to go over there. When you’re older,
then I can speak to you.” (Laughter) That doesn’t happen. No one tells you what you have to say. You’re not made
to sit in a corner and practice. You’re never even corrected
when you’re wrong. Think about it: when you’re 2-3 years old,
and you say a word wrong over and over, no one corrects you. If you say it wrong enough times, instead of correcting you,
your parents learn your way. (Laughter) And they start saying it wrong too! The coolest part of that
is that you remain free, with how you talk. And so you never have to follow
the musical role of learning all these years and then,
going and finding your voice. With your speaking voice,
you’ve never lost it. No one ever robbed you of that. And so, when I was young
that’s how I was learning; I was learning English
and music at the same time and in the same way. So I tell this to people; I usually say,
“Yeah, I started when I was two or three.” And I say that just
because that’s more believable. But when did you start speaking English? Did you wait until you were two or three? No. You were speaking,
I’d probably say, before birth. Whenever you could hear
is when you probably started learning it. To me, that’s very, very cool,
and very very clever of my brothers – my oldest brother, out of the five… I’m the youngest, Reggie is the oldest – He’s only eight years older than me. So how he was this smart, I don’t know.
That’s the real question. That should be the real TED talk. How he figured out the ingenious way of not teaching us,
younger brothers, how to play! He didn’t start me
by putting a bass in my hands. No. The first thing they did
was to play music around me from my earliest age that I can remember. I can remember living in Hawaii, my brothers would set up,
and I can remember seeing a plastic stool. A lot of times
we’d set up in the front yard where I can see a plastic stool, with a little plastic toy,
Mickey Mouse wind-up-guitar, laying on top of that stool. No one had to tell me
that that was for me. The same way no one has to tell you
when it’s your turn to talk. You know how to do it
and so I knew that stool was for me. I knew that instrument was for me. It had plastic strings on it, you would
wind it up, and it would play a song. But you couldn’t really play it from
the strings, and it wasn’t about that. By the time I was old enough
to hold an instrument, they gave me something to hold
Just for the sake of holding something; preparing me for the later years. It wasn’t about playing that instrument. That’s the mistake
a lot of us, music teachers make: we teach kids how to play the instrument
first, before they understand music. You don’t teach a kid how to spell. Teaching a kid to spell “milk” before they’ve been drinking
a lot of it for a few years doesn’t make sense does it? But for some reason,
we still think it does in music. We want to teach them the rules
and the instruments first. But by the time I was about two,
and they put that toy in my hands, I was already very musical
because I believe you’re born musical. Just listen to anybody’s voice.
Listen to any child’s voice. There’s no purer music than that. So my brothers somehow knew
I was born musical, but they wanted me to be a bass player so when I was old enough,
they put a toy in my hands, and they would play. I would just bounce up and down
and strum along, too. But the coolest thing about it, again,
is it wasn’t about the instrument. I was learning to play music
not an instrument. And I continue that hopefully today. Again, what I did know
was I knew what it meant when my brother opened up his high hat
at the end of a four-bar phrase. Or I learned these phrases
versus that phrase. The same way a baby knows what it means when the mother raises
the pitch of her voice versus the father lowering
the pitch of his. You know these things, and even though you may not
even understand what the word means. And so you’re learning all these things. By the time a baby can speak a real word, they know already a lot
about the language. So I was learning music the same way. By the time I had the instrument
in my hands, I was already very musical. When I would turn about three years old, Reggie took two strings off
of one of his six-string guitars. He took the two high strings off,
and that became my first real instrument. So Reggie actually started teaching me to put my finger
in certain places to produce notes to songs I already knew. I wasn’t starting from the beginning.
I was musical first. Now, I just had to put
that music through an instrument. And looking back on it now,
I realize that’s how I learned to talk. It wasn’t about learning
the instrument first. Who cares about
the instrument you talk with? It’s about what you have to say. I’ve always musically maintained
my own voice. I’ve always had something to say. And I’ve learned how to speak
through my instrument. So if we think about a couple of things not being forced to practice,
not being told what you have to say – I’m speaking English again –
not being told what you have to say. When the teacher teaches you
a new word in English, she has you put it into a sentence;
in the context, right away. A music teacher will tell you
to go practice it. Practicing works but it’s a slower process
than putting it into context. And we know that with English. And so this was the way I learned. As I grew older, about five years old,
we were actually on tour; the five of us. We were fortunate enough
to be able to tour opening for a great soul singer
named Curtis Mayfield. So if I was five years old,
my oldest brother was only 13. But when I think about it,
we could speak good English at that age. Why not music? So I’ve always, since then, approached
music just like a language, because I learned it
at the same time and in the same way. The best part of it all is I’ve maintained something
that little children are born with. And that’s freedom. A lot of us are talked out
of our musical freedom, when we are first given a lesson. Because we go to a teacher, and the teacher rarely ever finds out
why we came in the first place. A lot of times,
that kid playing that air guitar where there’s no right or wrong, it’s not about the right or wrong notes,
it’s not about the instrument. They’re playing because it feels right. It’s the same way and reason
that you sing in the shower. Or when you’re driving
to work; you’re singing. You’re not singing
because it’s the right notes or you know the right scales, you’re singing because it feels good. I spoke to a lady at breakfast who said, “I’m Ella Fitzgerald
when I’m in the shower!” (Laughter) And of course she’s right! So why does that change
when someone outside starts to listen? That freedom becomes lost
as we grow and as we learn, and we need to find
a way to keep that freedom. And it can be done! It’s not gone forever. A kid playing air guitar will play
with a smile on their face. Give them the first lesson,
the smile goes away. A lot of times you have to work for your whole musical life
to get that smile back. As teachers, we can keep that smile,
if we approach it the right way. And I say approach it like a language; allow the student to keep the freedom. As I got older, a little bit older, and my brothers and I started
to tour and play a lot, my mom would ask a question
that I never understood really until I got much older
and had kids of my own. My Mom would ask us boys, and she was saying,
“What does the world need with another good musician?” Think about that. And I’m saying music,
but insert your own career. What does the world need with you? It really made me realize
that now, as I’ve got older, music is more than just a language,
music is a lifestyle. It’s my lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not talking about
the lifestyle a lot of musicians lead. Because we can look back
at our musical heroes of the past and realize that they were
huge successes in music, but just as huge failures in life. I could name a few of them,
but I don’t want to upset anybody; but if we think about our heroes,
a lot of them were like that. I think our parents were
preparing us for something that we didn’t know at the time,
but I think she could see ahead. “What does the world need with another good musician?” So we’re practicing all these hours. We turned our whole house
into a music room where all the neighborhood, all
the state-wide musicians would show up. We would practice, my parents would spend money
they didn’t have to make sure we had
the next newest instrument. Every Christmas,
Santa would bring the newest thing. What was that about? Was it just so that we could make money? So that we could stand on stage
and bask in the glory? I realize now, that it is
much more than that. Music is my lifestyle. And now as I’m going into
really studying music, so that I could share it with
other people in a teacher’s role, I realize that there’s a lot
that we can learn from music and apply to our lives. To be a good musician,
you have to be a good listener. Doesn’t matter how great I am
as a bassist, or any instrument. Doesn’t matter how great I am. We can put five of the world’s
best musicians on this stage. But if we’re great
separate from each other, it’s going to sound horrible. But if we listen to each other
and play together, individually, we don’t have
to be as great, and it’ll sound much better. I was invited a couple years in a row
to go to Stanford, in California, and put together a musical team
to address the incoming freshman class. And we were able to use music
to give them an idea what the next four years
of their life might be like. It was fun using music to do it
because music is a way that I can talk about anything
that could be kind of touchy: politics, racism, equality,
inequality, religion. I can do it through music,
and I’m still safe. We were able to pick
someone out of the audience who’d never played an instrument before. Usually, it was a female; have her come up,
we’d strap a bass around her neck, and then I would get the band playing. And as soon as the band starts playing, that person starts doing this. (Laughter) And I say, “That’s music!” If you listen to that bass,
like any instrument in a music store, when it’s sitting there,
it doesn’t make a sound. So if you want music to come
out of that, you have to put it there. And that groove that’s in your neck,
you just have to put it in the instrument. So I just had her
with her left hand squeeze the neck – because everyone knows how
to hold an instrument, that’s not new – squeeze it and then, let
your right hand dance, on the string. She starts bouncing on that note,
and the band kicks up around her. All of a sudden, she’s a bassist. More so, she’s a musician. A dancer never has to ask questions
before they dance. A singer doesn’t usually have to ask
what key are we in. Musicians have to ask too many questions. So what that taught me is that, “Wow! Because we’re great,
she doesn’t have to know anything.” (Laughter) And all of a sudden, anyone who were
to walk into the room and see this band with this newcomer on stage, no one would know
who was the newcomer. So that let me know, “Wow! If I use my greatness in the right way,
it can help others rise up quickly.” And the coolest thing about
that whole thing in Stanford is she got to take the bass home! (Laughter) I saw her recently,
she is still a bassist so that’s great. Listening is a great musical key
that we can use for life, working together, of course, being great
to help other people become great. When people put you up on a pedestal, don’t come off the pedestal
acting like you’re humble. Stay up on that pedestal, because if they put you there
that’s showing you how high they can see. Stay there and pull them up. And they’ll grow faster
than if you come down. So we’re going to help these people
because we’re great. In music, usually, I’m not great
until you say I am, anyway. They say,
“He’s won all these Grammy’s.” I can’t win anything without you all. Another thing my mom
always taught us is, “You boys are already successful. The rest of the world
just doesn’t know it yet!” I didn’t understand that then,
but I really, really do now. Really quickly, before I get out of here
I just want you to think about this: If I were to play two notes,
Let’s say I play a C; – just want you to use your imagination – if I play a C and a C-sharp
right next to each other, it’ll probably sound
like those notes clash; “Wrong!”, “Bad!” But if I take the C up an octave, play the C-sharp and the C again. All of a sudden, it sounds beautiful. Same two notes. That C becomes a major seventh
to the C-sharp which is a key element that makes a chord
almost too beautiful, too nice sounding. So how can the same two notes
sound bad and clash in one instance and beautiful in another? Just take that to life. When we see something bad,
or awful, or horrible in life, maybe we’re just reviewing it
in the wrong octave. Maybe we could change our perspective. Actually, if you see
something that’s wrong, you should know
that you’re seeing it in the wrong octave and find a way to change your viewpoint. Or to use a musical term –
change your octave. Countries make bombs
with the goal of hurting people, instilling fear, killing people,
proving a point. Countries, governments bless
the bombs before they’re sent. This happens from the top-down,
the government down. This is our answer. Makes me realize that the solution
may have to come from the bottom-up. Is anyone working on a bomb
that makes people love you? Maybe a cupid bomb? I believe we already have it. It’s called Music. And every country has
their own version of it. And it works. It brings people together. You don’t have to know
a thing about it to get it. It’s a language. It’s a lifestyle. And it can save the world. My name is Victor Wooten. I’m a musician. And I hope you’ll join
me on the battlefield. (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland

  1. I never really thought about what he said. But now that I've heard it, I think he is absolutely right. Many people do not look at music like that.

  2. "with your speaking voice you never lost it" well damn, I'm a mute because of tissue damage. Although I never had one.

  3. By chance, could I translate this video into my language (Brazilian Portuguese) and post it to my channel? I give credits to Ted Talks… Thanks!

  4. glad that i live in the period of victor wooten, his views about how music is deeply ingrained with life like food and water and air,
    i thought music is therapy but music is much more part of our existence.
    feeling very happy watching how passionately he talks about music – art – and life. and the effect of parenting which is the crux of his life is deeply touching and motivating. i would recommend to show this video to every parent and teachers and kids in the world.
    thanks and peace for ever.

  5. His reverence for music and language is obvious and inspiring. He went off the rails with the "bomb" comment (I don't care which octave I hear it in) But, most of his talk was really, really good!

  6. Wow, what a talk! Thank you very much for the talk, brother Victor. Going beyond the intellectual insight, yours really appeals to my whole universe of being. I feel that you've gifted me with a lot of thoughts that might help my days onwards. May God continue to bless your musical journey, so it will become a sacrament, the medium of God's mysterious presence to humanity. Greetings!

  7. We are TAUGHT to speak from the day we are born. Parents sit and say "say yes" "say no" "nose" while they point at your nose. We are taught.
    Also, if we walk around as a child saying a word over and over, we are corrected. Parents teach their children how to properly say words all the time.
    Found a TedX I don't agree with, lol.

  8. Victor Wooten-wow. 🎶🎸🎶 Victor Wooten is such an inspiration. 😀Music the Cupid bomb on the battlefield of life!♥️⚡ Too true. Music -songs have defined most moments in my life.🌈 When a song first came out and I played it for hours I remember exactly what I was doing and going through at that time. 🎼So many bands have played such a massive part in my life in shaping who I became. 🏖That is also important. For bands are not just about making music but connecting with people and music can bring you through the darkest time and also take you to the greatest places. 🏞Throughout History music has been so important in cultures worldwide. Think Aborigines and the dreamtime. 🐨There is so much to learn and discover and sometimes I think too many people overlook the real beauty of it and people focus on fame and fortune which in reality is irrelevant. 🤔

  9. Fantastic talk! Great speaker. He is a living demonstration of why it is good to be a musician.

  10. Don't you think it would be awesome to go back, feeling like a child again, and experiencing this beautiful way of learning and being? If yes, how would you do it?

  11. 3:17 hold up, Reggie as in Reggie Watts? Cause these two speak in similar ways and are both very skilled muscians

  12. Met Victor in the NAMM music show in LA, clearly didn't want to be bombarded by people (many fanboys in the bass area of the convention show) but made time to chat to me; a guy he didn't know, performing a few booths down.

    A true gent, something that should be valued equally if not more with his musical skill.

  13. É muito bom quando, pra além da admiração enquanto músico, cê consegue admirar o ser humano. Legal demais a fala dele.

  14. "When people put you up on a pedestal, don't come off the pedestal acting like you're humble. Stay up on that pedestal. Because if they put you there, that's showing you how high they can see. Stay there and then pull them up. And they'll grow faster than if you come down." <3

  15. Such a beautiful talk, and so very inspiring. Smiling ear to ear just listening to what he has to say, and I gotta say I have at least ten new quotes that I'll keep close to my heart. I'm glad I decided to listen.

  16. Hey Ted X! My name is Noam and I'm a music teacher and educator from Israel. I really want to add an option for Hebrew captions and I wanted to ask you for premmision to do it. I won't bother anyone, I'll make them myself. I never really done this before so I don't know what's the bureaucracy

    involved, but I'm highly motivaTed 🙂
    Thank you for this amazing lecture about music and life 🙂

  17. I went to Denbigh High School with his 4 older brothers and "the Wooten's" played at our Ring Dance and young Victor came out and did some magic tricks too. That was in the mid 1970's! Keep it up Victor!

  18. For me, theres no greater joy than using 'that greatness' to break down other peoples mental barriers and watch they bask in something they once fantasized of.

    I once had a close friend buy an ukulele and was very timid about playing, too focused on strumming correctly or messing up. Hed always asked the strumming pattern and Id say "you know it, think about it, feel it"

    One day, soon after I started teaching him, I said were taking a walk down the street. Grab your uke and I grabbed an acoustic, before heading to the neighborhood pub on a busy Friday. I gave him 4 simple chords to remember during that walk and as we drew closer he began to get nervous, realizing what I had in mind.

    It's been 3 years since that night and he still regards then as something very special to him. You see, using those 4 simple chords to follow my lead, a crowd of about 20-30 people gathered around us in a circle and were singing along with me at top of their lungs. I remember looking at him and he was playing him heart out, worried about nothing and in a state of bliss.

    As of today, he plays guitar too and is singing as well. He trusts me fully and when I ask him to sing on demand (to teach others) he belts out vocals whether it sounds good or not. He sees other people who were too nervous/doubtful, as he was and tells them of the night I dragged him to the pub and how all the sudden a crowd of people were gathered around enjoying the music.

    As someone who's spent much time teaching for free, moments like that, the value it had on someone else and the barrier it broke down make me feel like a millionaire. I'm proud as heck for the times I've spontaneously given away a guitar, that ended up opening doors of joy for other people.

    I've been playing for 16 years and I'm certain that anyone can and should too

  19. A beautiful piece about music, and parenting. Your parents raised you to be musical by validating what they heard.

  20. Wow! Revelation! I remember Fazil Say told, that his teacher asked: "Now, fazil. What happened on your way here today? Fazil gave a description and the teacher said: "Play it!" So Fazil Says musical imagination was fed by everyday life – every day. It is close to this.

  21. I always wonder about people around me understand Im all about this world… i usually feel lonely, and its hard to deal because i was born a twin, so that makes me feel like 'hey its almost impossible to feel like that with all your family closer' but when i talk about it i dont see people vibrate with it, nor my gf, nor my friends. But im sure i will find the people that make me feel like home someday.

  22. This is such a beautiful talk. Really reminds me why I love music so much & how important it is to share that. I love that he says everyone can be a musician – it’s really true. Music is so much more that knowing the right notes to play.

  23. I was nearly three before I started to speak, in fact, my parents started to worry about it. But the funny thing is.. I can remember understanding almost everything my parents, we're saying to each other, and to me… and I could do THAT from eight/nine months onwards.

  24. Victor is, of course, one of the greatest bass players alive today, and on top of that, besides being a great musical communicator, he seems to be a great verbal communicator as well. But he says that when you're little, people don't correct you when you don't speak correctly. I would guess that he wasn't raised by an English major like I was- I was constantly being corrected by my dad when I brought home schoolmate grammar, and today I speak pretty well because of that. So I wouldn't completely throw out the value of learning from the learned.

  25. wow i've ben playing bass for only a month and a half but this has give me a whole new perspective about the flaws in my playing. So glad i found this.

  26. Victor, great talk! I have been a musician for 45 yrs although i haven't performed for 20yrs due to health concerns. Even though i'm not playing – my love for music and desire to pick up my instrument to hear it never goes away! One gaffe he walked into was not inculdin the singer into the group of musicians.

  27. 1. Talk about being oblivious to your privilege. 2. Why is everyone so desperate to find a way to learn/teach music with some "magical method" rather than just learning the proper ways music works (I know the answer to this – it's because the last 100 years we've allowed people completely unqualified to teach music ruin our society by idolizing musicians we enjoy listening to and allowing musicians to be the teachers instead of technicians). 3. 6 and a half minutes in and he's literally said nothing of substance, but I'm sure every fan of Wooten is sitting there trying to convince themselves they've just heard divine wisdom.

  28. This guy represents everything wrong with music instruction. He is condemning exactly what he is guilty of. It doesn't matter, though, he's a great performer so therefore people are going to bend themselves in knots to convince themselves they just heard something profound, novel, and wise despite it being devoid of all substance or value.

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