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Music Is a Language By Victor Wooten

[Texto completo em ingls]
Well, thank you very much. And it is true I was born into a band. And very
literally, I mean that literally, when I was born my four older brothers, who
were already playing music, they knew that they needed a bass player to
round out the family band.
And so I was born into that role and as Im older, I am looking back on it now,
now that I am kind of called a teacher, when I look back on that and how I
was taught, I realize that I wasnt 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 it might be English, so I am just gonna go with
English. If you think about how you learned it you realize you were nt taught
it, people just spoke to you, but the coolest thing is this is where it gets
interested interesting as you were allowed to speak back. Now if I take the
music example and, in most cases, our beginners are not allowed to play with
the better people, you are stuck in the beginning class, you have to remain
there a few years until you elevate, until the, you know, intermediate and
then advanced and after you graduate the advanced class you still have to go
out an pay a lot of dues.
But with language, to use a musical term, even as a baby youre jamming with
professionals all the time, to the point that you dont even know that you are
a beginner. No one says I cant talk to you until you, you gotta go over there.
When you are older then I can speak to you. That doesnt happen. No one tells
you what you have to say. You are not made to sit in a corner and practice.
Youre never even corrected when you are wrong. Think about it, when you
are 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 and they start saying it wrong too. The coolest part of that is
you remain free with how you talk. And so you never have to follow the
musical rule of learning all these years and then going and finding your voice.
With your speaking voice you never lost it. No one ever robbed you of that.
And so because when I was young, that is 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 2 or 3", and I
say that just because that is more believable. But, when did you start speaking
English? Did you wait until you were 2 or 3? No. You were speaking, Id
probably say before birth. Whenever you could hear was when you probably
started learning it. To me, that is very very cool, and very very clever of my
brothers who are, my oldest brother out of the 5, I am the youngest, Reggie
is the oldest, he is only 8 years older than me, so how he was this smart, I
dont know. That is the real question. That should be the real Ted Talk. Is how
he figured out the ingenious way of not teaching us younger brothers how to
play. They didnt start me by putting a bass in my hands, no.
The first thing they did was play music around me. From my earliest ages that
I can remember, I can remember living in Hawaii and my brothers would set
up, and I can remember seeing a plastic stool. A lot of times we would set up
in the front yard but 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 is 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, and it had plastic strings on it, you would wind it up
and it would play a song but you couldnt really play it from the strings, and
it wasnt 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 wasnt about playing that instrument. That is the mistake a lot of us
music teachers make. We teach kids how to play the instrument first, before
they understand music. You dont teach a kid how to spell. Teaching a kid to
spell milk before theyve drank a lot of it for a few years doesnt make sense,
does it? But for some reason we still think it does in music, we wanna teach
them the rules and the instruments first.
But by the time that I was about 2 and they put that toy in my hands, I was
already very musical. Because I believe you are born musical. Just listen to
anybodies voice, listen to any childs voice, there is no more pure 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 so I would just bounce up and down and strum along too.

But the coolest thing about it again, is it wasnt 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 hi-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 are learning all of 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 ha d a n instrument in
my hands I was already very musical. When I turned about 3 years old, Reggie
took 2 strings off of one of his six string guitars, he took the 2 high strings
off and that became my first real instrument. And so Reggie actually started
teaching me to put my finger in certain places to produce notes to songs I
already knew. So I wasnt 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 is how I learned to talk. It wasnt about learning the
instrument first. Who cares about the instrument you are talking with, it is
about what you have to say. And so Ive always musically maintained my own
voice. Ive always had something to say and Ive 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 when I am speaking English again, not
being told what you have to say. You know, when a teacher teaches you a new
word in English she has you put it into a sentence, into context right away. A
music teacher will tell you to go practice it. Practicing works, but it is a slower
process than putting it into context, and we know that with English. And so
this was the way I learned. And as I grew older, about 5 years old, we were
actually on tour, the 5 of us. We were fortunate enough to be able to tour,
opening for a great soul singer named Curtis Mayfield and so if I was 5 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 Ive 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 Ive maintained something that
little children are born with, and thats freedom.

A lot of us are taught 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
theres no right or wrong, its not about the right or wrong notes, its not
about the instrument, they are playing because it feels right. So its the same
way and reason that you sing in the shower or when you are driving to work,
you are singing. You are not singing because it is the right notes, or you know
the right scales. You are singing because it feels good.
I spoke to a lady at breakfast who said I am Ella Fitzgerald when I am in the
shower, and of course she is right, so why does that change when someone
outside starts to listen? That freedom becomes lost as we grow, as we learn
and we need to find a way to keep that freedom. And it can be done. It is not
gone forever. A kid playing air guitar will play with a smile on their face. Give
them their first lesson, the smile goes away. And, a lot of the times you have
to work for your whole musical lives 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 his freedom. As I got older, a little bit
older, and our brothers and I started to tour and play a lot. My mom would
ask the question that I never understood really until I got much older and had
kids of my own, but my mom would asks us boys, she would say, what does
the world need with another good musician?.
Think about that. And I am saying music but insert your own career. What
does the world need with you? And it really made me realize that now, as I
got older, music is more than just a language, music is a lifestyle. It is my
lifestyle and dont get me wrong I am not talking about the lifestyle a lot of
musicians lead, because we can look back at our musical heroes of the past
and realize they were huge successes in music but just as huge failures in life.
And I could name a few of them but I dont want to upset anybody, but if we
think about our heroes, a lot of them, and I think our parents were preparing
us for something we didnt know at the time, but I think she could see ahead.
What does the world need with another good musician?. So, we are
practicing all of these hours, they you know, we turned our whole house
into a music room where all the neighborhood, all the statewide musicians
would show up.

You know, we would practice, my parents would spend money they didnt
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 we
can make money? So that we could stand on stage and bask in the glory? I
realize now thats much more than that. Music is my lifestyle and now as I
have gone into really studying music so I can share it with other people in a
teachers role, I realize that theres a lot that we can learn from music, and
apply to our lives. It doesnt matter how great I am as a bassist or any
instrument, it doesnt matter how great I am. We can put 5 of the worlds best
musicians on this stage but if were great separate from each other, it is going
to sound horrible. But if we listen to each other and play together.
Individually we dont have to be as great, and it will 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 of what the next 4 years of their life
might be like, and 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 am still safe, you
know. But we were able to pick someone out of the audience who had never
played an instrument before. Usually it was a female, have her come up, we
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, all right? (no
caso a pessoa comea a se mexer por causa do ritmo da msica). And I say
"thats music!".
If you listen to that bass like any instrument in a music store, when it is
sitting there it doesnt make a sound, so if you want music to come out of
that, you gotta put it there and that groove that is in your neck you just gotta
put it in that instrument. So, I just had her with the left hand squeeze neck,
because everyone knows how to hold an instrument, thats not new. Squeeze
it and then let your right hand dance on the string, and she starts bouncing
on that note and the band kicks up around her, all of a sudden she is a bassist,
more so, shes a musician. A dancer never has to ask questions before they
dance, a singer doesnt 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 are great, she doesnt have
to know anything, and all of a sudden, anyone who were to walk into the
room and see this band with this new comer 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 at Stanford is she got to take the bass home, you know, so.
And I saw her recently and she is still a bassist, you know, so thats great.
So, listening is a great musical key that we can use for life, working together,
of course, being great to help other people great, when people put you up on
a pedestal, dont come off the pedestal acting like you are humble, stay up on
that pedestal because if they put you there that is showing you how high they
can see, stay there and then pull them up and they will grow faster than if you
come down, right? So, we are going to help these people because we are great
and in music, usually I am not great until you say I am anyway, you know they
say oh he has won all of these Grammys, I cant win anything without you
all. But, another thing my mom always taught us is that you boys are already
successful. The rest of the world just doesn't know it yet.
I didnt understand that then, but I really really do now. So, really quickly
before I get out of here, I just want to you to think about this. If I were to play
2 notes, lets say I play a C, youre just gonna have to use your imagination, if
I play a C and a C# right next to each other, it will probably sound like those
notes clash. Wrong. Bad. But, if I take the C up an octave and play the C# and
the C again all of a sudden it sounds beautiful. The same two notes. That C
becomes a major 7 to the C# which is a key element that makes a chord almost
too beautiful. Too nice sounding. So, how can these same two notes sound
bad and clash in one instance and beautiful in another?
Lets take that to life. When we see something bad or awful or horrible in life,
maybe we are just viewing it in the wrong octave, maybe we can change our
perspective. Actually, if you see something that is wrong, you should know
that you are seeing it in the wrong octave and find a way to change your view
point, 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 are sent. This happens
from the top down, the government down. This is our answer.

It 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 is called music and every country has
their own version of it. And it works. It brings people together. You dont have
to know a thing about it to get it. It is a language, it is a lifestyle and it can
save the world. My name is Victor Wooten, I am a musician and I hope you
will join me on the battlefield. Thank you.