When it’s not busy being a crippling source of insecurity, lack of knowledge can be a secret repository of strength.
Back in my college days, as a music education major, I had to learn how to play every instrument in the orchestra so that I would have at least a fundamental idea of how the instrument worked and how to solve some of the more common issues. I also had a part time job in the New Horizons Band teaching beginning band instruments to people over the age of 60. I was the “floating instrumentalist,” which I so wish was as cool as it sounded. But no, rather than hovering 10 feet off the ground suspended by a wire while playing the tuba, I was assigned to give lessons to anyone who wanted them. I mostly taught trombone players, but they would occasionally give me other instruments to teach.
One day I was assigned to give a lesson to a flutist. Flute was one of my favorite instruments to play, having mastered the arcane arts of making a sound remotely flute-like weeks ahead of my classmates. This flutist was taking lessons with a professional to jumpstart her playing in the band, but was having problems making a non-diffusive sound. I, having just learned the flute a year or two earlier, recognized that the issue probably stemmed from her not pressing firmly down on the keys. This is something that her private teacher, a professional flutist, was so far removed from that she hadn’t even thought it might be an issue. I, in my ignorance of the finer points of enflutening, was able to find a commonality and a solution to her problem.
The clean slate approach to solving problems often leads to more innovative solutions. When I began recording my music at home, I was armed with a flea market microphone, a free version of Pro-Tools on Windows 98, and a half-semester class about sound reinforcement. I’m sure the things I did would have made professional audio engineers across the country weep in unison, but I was trying to see if I could produce the sounds I wanted with the resources I had. Over time, my knowledge and equipment have improved significantly (Audio Technica 3030 and Pro-Tools LE on a Macbook Pro for those playing along at home), but I still feel like I’m treading virgin water when I enter the studio. Even across the last year when I was recording my songs of 2011, I’m sure I still trampled all over some best practices. I’m haunted by the Facebook posts of audio engineering friends of mine stumbling into my music and wondering what the hell I was thinking. But so far I have learned so much in this process, and perhaps more significantly, I continue to unravel the process of learning itself.
The same hold true for designing a website, practicing an instrument, developing networks, and writing a blog. These are foreign and scary processes for which I feel vastly unprepared. I can only hope that taking an exploratory tone will give me the tools I need, and that my lack of knowledge can open up a way to approach these processes on my own terms.
And yes, I did use the term “Treading Virgin Water.”