Food, Fashion, and Fretboard Knowledge

Have you ever known someone who seems naturally predisposed to gather as much information as they can on a certain topic? Maybe it’s your friend who can recite the starting five of his favorite basketball team since 1946, or your coworker who functions as a walking storehouse for peripheral superhero trivia. The pursuit of information about a person’s passions never seems quite as laborious as a purely academic quest for knowledge, and it genuinely seems like lots of people get real pleasure out of a deep understanding of a particular subject or field. We often think of the fanatics, nerds, and geeks that we know when we talk about this brand of dedication, but we all participate in this kind of knowledge seeking in one way or another. Maybe you can relate to one of these scenarios:

  • You like to eat. More specifically, you like to eat food that tastes good. So rather than throw yourself headlong into the culinary world, you research. You mentally compartmentalize restaurants based on taste, service, and practices as you scour their menus to find their most consistently satisfying dishes. You explore the worlds of complementary beverages and sauces to ensure that you get every nuance of flavor out of your food. You may even venture into cooking for yourself, spending a great deal of effort, time, and even money to become a personal appropriation of every Food Network competition ever. All the while, you’re not thinking about how arduous a task it is to learn about food. You’re just trying to eat well.
  • Though you’re confident in yourself for all the right reasons, you like to look good. So rather than throw yourself headlong into the world of fashion, you research. You mentally compartmentalize different varieties of clothing based on their utility, aesthetic styling, and cultural relevance as you scour both local and online retailers to find pieces that are both flattering and expressive. You explore the worlds of color coordination and accessorizing to ensure that each ensemble is constructed with nuance and function. You may even venture into creating looks for yourself, spending a great deal of effort, time, and even money to become a personal appropriation of every fashion design competition ever. All the while, you’re not thinking about how arduous a task it is to learn about clothing. You’re just trying to look your best.

In an attempt at relevancy, let me ask these questions: why are we willing to expend so much energy, time, and other resources in the pursuit of knowledge pertaining to food, fashion, sports, art, film, etc., yet often so reluctant to put forth the same commitment to truly understand the instruments that we claim are so vital to our everyday identities? Why is it easy for me to tell you the first and last names of every character to take on the mantle of Robin, but so difficult for me to sit down and learn a scale or arpeggio shape across the fretboard? Why do I know which kind of beer goes best with every entrée imaginable, but am unsure about what notes will sound best over a certain chord? Why do I know which pair of socks will complement each combination of pants and shirts in my closet, but claim that learning complex chords is too inconvenient to really pursue?

We respect a masterful understanding of a certain subject or field because we admire not just the quantity of information amassed, but also the dedication it takes to achieve such an understanding. We respect and admire Hendrix because he never put down his guitar even after he had reached his peak, just as we respect and admire Steph Curry for practicing three pointers for what must have seemed like an eternity before and even after he could make them at will. If we are really passionate about our instrument, we’ll make understanding how it works a priority, not as some academic chore we complete out of obligation, but as a natural extension of our passion.

You eat well. You look your best. It’s time to make your music say what you mean.