The Music Lesson

The Music Lesson
How do you teach music? When do you start teaching musicality? What is musicality? What is music? In his book, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music, Victor Wooten, five-time Grammy Award winner bass guitarist, gives many avenues for discovery into these questions. I found it to be a very provocative book and plan to read it again. Those who have read Richard Bach’s Illusions will find this story very similar. Additionally, there is an audio book available that is excellent and was named as a 2011 Audie finalist.

In Measure One (chapter one), Victor, a struggling bass guitarist finds himself low on income with no upcoming performance engagements and decides that he better “practice.” Practicing scales, chords, and arpeggios, he quickly loses interest and gets sleepy. Suddenly, the teacher appears, dressed in a NASA-style blue jumpsuit with a motorcycle helmet on his head, carrying a skateboard in one hand and a burlap sack on his back. His name is Michael and he states that he is a teacher. When asked of what, he replies, “a teacher of nothing.” The discussion winds its way around to music, and Michael asks the student, “What is music?” After more dialogue, Michael finally says, “Music comes from the word mu which is the ancient word for mother; sic is an abbreviation of science. Therefore, music is the mother of all sciences.” “Music is important.”

Music teachers know that music is vitally important for many reasons. Music has the power to transform and change lives, as well as unite people of differenct cultures and backgrounds, not to mention all of the educational and health benefits that are now being discovered. While devouring the book, I realized that like the main character of the book, I too, especially in teaching, can get so stuck in the notes, the music theory and the technique, that I forget about the language. Our instruments are but a vehicle through which we express our ideas and feelings, like a pen is to a writer. Michael, the teacher in the book, guides Victor through a journey of self-discovery and spirituality through exploration of the ten elements of music. Of those ten elements, notes and technique take up only two. Of course, the notes must be learned, and the technique must be developed, but there is so much more. Here are the ten elements of music that are expertly discussed in the book:

    1. Notes: melody, harmony, scales, modes, chords, etc.
    2. Articulation/Duration
    3. Technique
    4. FEEL (groove or emotion) “You should never lose the groove in order to find a note.”
    5. Dynamics
    6. Rhythm, tempo
    7. TONE
    8. Phrasing
    9. SPACE: rest, not playing, breath

This year in my teaching, I have made it a goal, even with beginners, to keep the larger picture in sight and to incorporate as many elements of music as I can into each lesson; to help students get beyond the notes to the true essence of the Music; to help them find their own unique voice with their instrument and to communicate their own story with the music.

At the end of the book, I found a profound quote that I will end with. “Strive not to practice only to make yourself better, but have the pure intention to make all musicians better – The spirit of Music herself will be on your side.”

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