The Music Lesson (2006)

My first read book (of what I hope to be many) of the new year was “The Music Lesson”, by Victor Wooten, a world-class, award-winning bassist. The book follows Victor on his “spiritual search for growth through music”. The way the story is told is reminiscent of William Paul Young’s “The Shack”, where the main character is taken on a similar journey of growth and enlightenment through his interactions with God or, rather, depictions and characterizations of God.

In “The Music Lesson”, the catalytic character is Michael, a rather curious individual who takes Victor on a journey that rearranges and reframes how he approached both Life and Music. Through a series of mind-blowing lessons, challenging concepts, and life-changing scenarios, Michael – and a group of equally curious individuals – show Victor what it truly means to be a musician and a human being. In fact, some of the content and scenarios as described by Victor are so “out there” that one cannot help but ask, “Is this real? Did this really happen?” Truth is, whether or not the story happened as told doesn’t really matter. Whether the story is all true, partly true, completely made up, or even remotely possible is irrelevant. After all, as Michael said:

“Truth? What is truth? And tell me, what importance does truth have anyway? Did you learn from the experience? Now, that is important.”

The story speaks on Life and Music through 10 Lessons – notes, articulation/duration, technique, emotion/feel, dynamics, rhythm/tempo, tone, phrasing, space/rest, and listening – and they each challenge what we would consider conventional wisdom. Out of all of these, the Lesson that stood out to me the most was Emotion/Feel.

“Emotion, when properly directed, can cause anything to happen”, according to Michael. Conversely, “emotion out of control can cause a person to spiral out of control.” We understand the power of emotion and the influence that has on ourselves and others. When you don’t feel well, you don’t feel like doing anything, and you may not even feel like you could if you wanted to. But, when you feel good, there’s nothing you feel you can’t do. Musicians understand that power, through the emotion they put into Music, and the resulting effect Music has on the emotions of others. Athletes know this power. Politicians understand that same power all too well. The Church knows that power, too. This power, the power of emotions and feelings, can be a source of great happiness and joy or great pain and sorrow – a tool for change or a weapon of destruction.

“So, how can one develop this power and ability and use it in a positive way,” inquired Victor? “Intention is the key to everything,” Michael replied. Emotions are natural – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Rather than get rid of one or more or try to control them, listen to what your emotions are telling you. Learn to recognize them and be aware of them. Once your literacy and understanding have reached a certain point, you can effectively use your emotions. If the purity and honesty of intention brings out the beauty in our emotions, then the proper technique is the understanding of how to use that emotion. When you’ve reached that place, you can allow yourself to be free and unapologetically exercise freedom in how you express your emotions (hopefully in constructive and positive ways). More importantly, you can then extend that freedom to others and provide them the space to express themselves freely and openly (also, hopefully in constructive and positive ways).

What’s the key, then, to using intention and technique the right way? “Just have a good heart,” instructs Michael.

“In each situation, whether it be in Music or in Life, take a moment to close your eyes and feel the current of your heart taking you where you need to be. If you can follow the current at all times, you will not have a thing to worry about…”

Although this book was published over 10 years ago, I believe I found it at the precise point in my life that I needed to. I have learned from this experience, not just as someone who considers himself a musician, but as a human being. This book has had an impact on how I now see Life and Music, and I am certain that it’s a book I’ll read again at another point in my life where I’ll need to.

Whether or not you’re a musician, there’s something in this book for you. If you’re at that point, either as a musician or a human being, where you feel somewhat stuck or stagnant, this just may be the book that provides the spark you may be looking for – or didn’t know you needed. Check it out!

Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten +