Why Self-Awareness and Communication Are Key for Self-Taught Players and Luthiers
It’s worth reminding self-learners about the dangers of knowledge gaps and the resulting risk of failing to correctly connect the dots.
It's hard to believe, but this is my 100th column for Premier Guitar. So, this month, I'd like to allow myself to get a bit more personal and talk a little about what it means to be on this side of the desk. When I first started writing this column, it had a huge impact on my workflow by adding two additional deadlines to my already busy monthly schedule: an early one to decide on the topic for the month, and the submission deadline for PG. I'm sure every colleague at PG knows the feeling of panic when searching for a subject and then collecting all the needed information with a deadline looming. I was certain I couldn't manage it for more than six months before needing a break. Well, here we are approaching nine years.
It's no secret that I'm not an expert when it comes to vintage stuff, but often, historical contexts play an important role in why things have developed in a specific direction. The amount of information out there is vast, and it's easy to overlook or misinterpret certain details when researching decades of developments and products. I feel pretty safe when it comes to physics, but I'm also aware of the massive amount of collective expertise among PG readers regarding many topics. Luckily, I haven't caused—or don't know of—any remarkable shit storms so far!
We're all learning. Autodidacticism is self-learning—self-taught education without the guidance of masters such as teachers and professors, or institutions like schools and universities. Interestingly, the number of autodidacts among musicians and luthiers is huge. But what does this mean for our expertise and skills?
Luckily, making and hearing music has such a high emotional value that a relatively small amount of self-taught playing skills can create rock-star fame. Similarly, simply knowing how to work with wood can result in a good instrument, but, in both cases, it's more by accident than on purpose.
Some argue that self-teaching is the ideal and only way of keeping a free mind, and that it often results in “outsider" art. However, self-learning can easily turn into cherry picking while quietly skipping all the difficult, unpleasant, and toilsome parts. It's worth reminding self-learners about the dangers of knowledge gaps and the resulting risk of failing to correctly connect the dots.
It's like a friend who wants to study quantum mechanics, but insists on skipping all classic physics. (As if there is any sort of real understanding in quantum mechanics anyway!) Or the one who likes to study astrophysics without the basic ballistics and equations of motion in gravity fields. It's pretty obvious that this kind of learning will end in dilettantism. As applicable to music, this is exactly what created the outsider genre, synonymous with self-taught, untrained, naive, and primitive.
Somehow, we are all doing self-teaching in certain areas of our lives, but there is a line before it becomes involuntarily comical due to a lack of self-awareness, incompetence to judge your own standing, and a lack of communication. Communicating with others is like getting your knowledge tested. A good example would be a luthier and “marketing expert" talking about physics and the acoustical outcome of their instruments, or me writing columns about vintage instruments.
Nobody can reach an expert level in all areas, so at least be aware of that, especially once you have professional ambitions as a musician or a luthier. Otherwise, proclamations like “we use roasted maple for the neck, as the resonances are hardened" in a marketing video, or “there is no F# on a bass" by a self-taught bassist can easily backfire.
I'm here in hopes of helping to raise your knowledge about all things bass, and I look forward to continuing to do so. Thank you for your continued reading and commenting!