Creativity is the Mother Tongue

Victor Wooten delivered this talk to TEDx Gabriola Island. He is a remarkable musician, master of the bass and a genuine and erudite educator.

The focus of his talk is music as a language. Listen carefully and you will learn.

I want to take his words and comment on them as they apply to other creative arts: writing and art.

Creativity (writing, art, film and music) is a language. Learn to speak a different tongue. Or in some cases, we need to relearn to speak our mother tongue.

Victor Wooten – Music as a Language (click link to view the talk)

I have taken excerpts from his talk, either quoted directly or paraphrased, and extrapolated their application to other artistic endeavours such as writing and art.

Your first language is not taught. People spoke to you. You were allowed to speak back – creativity should be learned with your mother tongue. Give children pencils and paper and allow them to speak in their own way. Give yourself pencils and paper and find your mother tongue again.

Beginners are not allowed to play with the masters – in music, the beginner and the amateur are separated from the genius of the master, able to watch but not participate. In all aspects of creativity we should learn from and participate alongside the masters.

As a baby, you’re jamming with language. Not made to sit in a corner and practice; not corrected when you’re wrong. Even to the point your parents learn the new way of speaking. You remain free in how you talk. When you could hear it (language), you started learning – Language is a freedom we have, a freedom of expression. Creativity is another freedom of expression. Learning language is immersive; we are around it all the time and learn the nuances from what we hear.

Growing up in Hawaii, Victor learned to play not by being given an instrument, but by being played to. A plastic stool was there for him to sit on and so he sat and listened. When older he was given something to hold – even before we understand what creativity is, how we should hold a pencil or a paintbrush, we must immerse ourselves in creativity activities and involve our children so they too, learn the language. When we surround ourselves with creativity we internalise the language.

Music is a pure voice. We want to teach the rules and the instrument first. We teach to play the instrument before they understand music. Learning to play music, not the instrument. Knowing the phrases, tones etc, learning – when we instigate boundaries and restrictions, demonstrate how-to or chastise for what we perceive as incorrect, we must stop and let the creativity flow from within. When our children see, and when we see, the joy flowing from the creativity within, we understand the process. The rules and techniques are there to serve as a creative conduit, not the tool itself.

When he was finally given a bass to play, Victor was playing to songs he already knew. He has listened and internalised the music. Therefore music flowed through the instrument. He was musical first, learning to talk not about learning the instrument first. It’s about what you have to say. He learned how to speak through his instrument – when our children have been given opportunity to be creative with great freedom, given the chance to express themselves, they will find their voice to speak clearly.

Practicing works but it is a slow process – practice alone for the sake of practice will develop skills but we will learn more when we participate in community and learn to speak with our own voice.

Children are born with freedom. A lot of us are taught out of our musical freedom when we’re first given a lesson because a teacher rarely finds out why we’re there in the first place. Playing air guitar where there’s no right and wrong. It’s not about right and wrong notes; they’re playing because it feels right

A woman said to me, “I’m Ella Fitzgerald when I’m in the shower.” And she’s right. The freedom we have a child is grown out of us, but we need to find a way to keep the freedom. Approach music like a language and allow it to keep that freedom, to keep the smile on the face, and not taken away by lessons – Creativity is expressive freedom and we would do well to instil into our children the freedom of creativity.

What does the world need with another good musician? *insert own creative choice here* It has become a lifestyle. To be a good musician, you have to be a good listener – this is good life advice. Choose your words wisely before you speak, or better still, saying nothing at all. It’s not all about you, or me; it’s about the people around us.

If you want music to come out of you, out of your instrument, you have to put it into you – do not let the well run dry. Fill it at every opportunity from whatever source.

If I use my greatness in the right way, it can help others rise up. If you’re on a pedastal, don’t come down, bring them up so they can see and they’ll grow faster – help others to find their creative voice if they have lost it. Create community to help others grow. Better still teach your children to be creative so they never lose their voice.

We speak our mother tongue verbally and artistically.

For some, we need to find our voice again.

For others, it is strengthening their voice.

Creativity is our mother tongue. Let people hear your voice.


3 responses to “Creativity is the Mother Tongue

  1. It sounds like it was a very feel-good talk, especially for those of us who have little trouble refilling the well. Some of these things are intuitive to me, and I have the hardest time helping others find their own selves.

  2. Really inspiring, thanks for sharing:-)

  3. Pingback: Creativity Week Wrap Up | A Fullness in Brevity - Adam Byatt

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