January 4, 2011
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Ignorance and incompetence are underappreciated. There may be a lot to say for training, knowledge, and expertise, but with so much emphasis being placed on acquiring more and more knowledge (especially by those in the knowledge-peddling business) a dose of ignorance these days can offer incredible value.
I first realized that the value of knowledge was overinflated when I was an aspiring teenage bass player in Ohio. I took lessons with a number of well-known university-level double bass instructors. These instructors were all brilliant, no doubt about it. They had all devoted their lives to the art and technique of playing the bass. They had published books and articles, they had formulated theories and methods, and they had all analyzed bass playing to an extraordinary level. Whenever I had a lesson with one of these superstar teachers, I was mesmerized by their knowledge of the double bass.
Unfortunately, since all I could think about was how brilliant they all were, I didn’t get any better myself. I could never imagine myself doing all the many technical feats that they described in minute detail. I felt stupid when I dared to practice for my next lesson, for in the presence of such great teachers I felt like I was nothing. I only practiced to avoid quaking in my boots with shame for not having done so. In my heart, I felt practicing was pointless, for no matter how much I practiced, I knew these teachers would find, and carefully point out, every little error I was making.
I also knew that they would then offer ever more suggestions for improvement, far more than a mere mortal like me could ever hope to comprehend or implement. There were so many things I didn’t know how to do, it all seemed hopeless. I felt that I could never play at their level, no matter how hard I might try. So I didn’t try. My one solace was I was able to say that I was studying, however pointlessly, with some truly brilliant teachers.
The result? I became just another average high school bass player.
When I graduated high school, I wound up taking lessons with a fellow who I knew as “Uncle Bob.” Uncle Bob played the bass in the Boston Symphony. He had a reputation for turning out quite a few highly successful bass players. He had a very liberal policy about who he would accept as a student, so despite my mediocre audition, I found myself studying with him.
I assumed that lessons with Uncle Bob would be similar to my experiences with my previous double bass instructors.
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