In the last 3 years, I’ve have lived in 4 different countries, and have been making a huge effort to understand their culture and adapt to them the best way possible. This would include intense language learning, getting to meet as many people as one can, visiting libraries, bookstores, museums, bars and art expositions. All these situations helped me to learn so much about the world and, curiously, about myself.
At some point in 2013, I remember enjoying so much reading a book written by Victor Wooten, the great bass player, because it made me feel great about music again. At that point in my life, I was living in considerable pressure (mostly created by myself…) with university, professional concurrence and the need to prove something to others and myself. It was a huge investment to be in a Canadian university, so I’d better get some work done! So the book helped me to relax and free up my spirit to experience the joy of music again. So I was ready to learn for real, not to prove anything to anyone.
When that became my new reality, learning was transformed into a completely different experience. Every album that I would listen would suddenly have so much more to focus on. Every book I would read would suddenly have plenty of details in each and every paragraph. Every new place I would visit would overwhelm me with their magical sights, sounds, and even smells. And, ultimately, every person would become endlessly more interesting and complex to my appreciation.
Suddenly learning languages became an unavoidable instinct as strong as learning music to me. So I dived in French, Italian and German, and have been investing some real time with them. During this process I have been remembering a very insightful part in Wooten’s book (http://www.themusiclesson.com) that I’ll paraphrase here:
- Learning music is like learning a language. Not only a new language, but your own mother language. Try to imagine your first years of life. As a baby, you could not understand or say a word. You certainly had no idea what grammar was, or even a word, a letter! And now you’re a great master of your language! Maybe not a respected author or speaker, but you certainly make yourself easily understandable and make use of this language to express pretty much everything you can imagine. The way you are connected to this language is really amazing. We usually don’t give this fact much credit because pretty much every human being has that learning experience with its mother tongue. But that doesn’t erase the fact that you’ve been through an incredible learning process and became a master of your own language. It became your own!
Wooten continues with the metaphor (paraphrased again):
- And how did you manage to do it? Was it studying grammar? Was it researching every word and their meanings? Although this has certainly helped you to get even better, when you were doing that, you were already fluent! So what was it? Jamming is the answer. You may have not realized, but right after you were born, you were widely exposed to daily jams with many of the great masters of your language: your parents and other members of family. You didn’t know what to say, and mostly you had no idea what they were saying. But you were there, communicating, all the time.
Needless do say that Wooten recommends you to go jam with the masters to learn music! I agree with his argument. It’s been true throughout my music career and it’s been true during my new attempts in learning new languages. I love my German conversation groups, even though I can’t express almost anything, I do understand things in a broader perspective every single day we meet.
It can’t be more true about music. For me, music is all about relationships. Improvisation is all about relationships. Of course I’m not saying you should stop practicing and just go jamming (and Wooten doesn’t either!), but this process should be seen as the music experience itself. Your own assumptions on music will either harmonize or conflict with others’, and that’s exactly when you will have to make real musical choices, express yourself no matter how much you know. And, in the future, music might become your mother tongue.