One of the first things you learn when learning to read music is how to read rhythm, more specifically how long you have to hold a note for. The second thing you learn is the rests, or silences, and how long you have to be silent for. Well I’ve been rather silent for a while on my blog and I thought what a perfect aspect of music to write about.
A whispered voice can be as powerful on the stage or in the classroom as a yell, and so can the deadly silence that follows a new idea as it is absorbed by a room of eager learners. I must admit though, that as a musician and as a teacher it took me quite a while to appreciate the power I could wield through silence.
I remember writing my first composition for a music assignment at age 14, and wanting to show off that I knew all sorts of rhythmic ideas, but I don’t think I put a single rest in there. In fact, I don’t think I put a single rest in my music (excepting the last bar/measure of a piece) until I was at least in second year university aged 18. Perhaps this was because as a singer, I mainly viewed rests as an opportunity to breathe! Learning how and when to be still and silent in an ensemble is a very valuable skill to have, and as worthy of practice as playing the notes.
I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘The Music Lesson‘ by Grammy award winner Victor L. Wooten and in it he suggests that space/ rest is an element of music. In one chapter he describes a group of musicians soloing at a club. A really tight groove is laid down by the bass player (Victor) and the drummer and that’s what everyone plays their solo over. In fact the groove is so well established that when it’s the drummer’s turn to solo, all of the musicians, including the drummer, stop playing and it’s as if the audience continue the groove. After a while the drummer throws in the occasional hit of a cymbal while the audience continues to imagine the groove. They’re able to do this in the silence because the groove was so strong. Reading this was a welcome reminder of the power of silence or space in music, as they say, less can be so much more! As I get back into writing music I have to keep reminding myself of this.
On a somewhat different note, I’ve learnt so much from reading/ watching Victor Wooten’s ideas over the past few weeks, I highly encourage you to watch some of his bass playing tips that I’ve put below, I particularly like how he and Anthony Wellington simplify rhythm patterns.