Who Made Learning Obsolete?

by Craig Anderton


The other day I got an email message from someone who wanted to know which 88-note weighted keyboard to buy, and included a list of several keyboards in the running (none of which I had used). Since my primary instrument is guitar, this is not a subject about which I have a lot of expertise. But I try to respond to people whenever possible, so I suggested he also try a couple ‘boards I had used and liked that weren’t on his list, and that he post his question in the Opinions on Equipment or Synths & Samplers forums so he could get opinions from others.

I then received a quite nasty and sarcastic follow-up that basically said “thanks for nothing” because I hadn’t told the guy, right then and there, which keyboard to buy. He expected me to drop everything, check out all the 88-note keyboards out there, and give him my opinion. He was really upset that he might actually have to go and think for himself, and maybe even do some <shudder!> research.

Wouldn’t he be happier if *he* dropped everything, checked out all the 88-note keyboards out there, and formed his *own* opinion? After all, people’s needs are very different. My test of a good synth is whether it includes sample RAM. My test of a cassette deck is whether it has three heads and variable bias. These features are totally inappropriate for some people, but they’re essential to me.

To think there is a single “this-keyboard-is-best” answer is naive. If there was one supremely magnificent keyboard, everyone would buy one, and the rest of the keyboard companies would pack up and go home. But it doesn’t work that way.

The guy who emailed me probably subscribes to the “manuals suck” school of thought as well. Granted, some manuals do suck, but truthfully, most of them are pretty good at defining an instrument’s features and describing what they do. The problem is that people expect that somehow, the manual will transfer all the knowledge of how to play an instrument in a magical manner that requires no work. It doesn’t work that way.

Imagine this: a wanna-be guitarist walks into a music store. He buys a guitar and a Mel Bay method book so he can learn how to play. A week later, he still isn’t playing very well. So he draws the conclusion that the Mel Bay “manual” sucks.

Ponder this: Suppose a piece of gear has five hundred variable parameters. If it takes you an average of five minutes to read about and check out each parameter on the keyboard, that’s *over 40 continuous hours* of reading and learning.

The point of all this is really quite simple. People have to take responsibility for their own education, whether it’s reading a manual or finding out about what product will best suit their needs. Music stores present seminars; check them out. Holes in your knowledge? There are a lot of great books out there. Pose questions in the forums. It’s unfortunate we have to go through a huge learning curve before we can use our tools effectively…but isn’t that true of everything?

–Craig Anderton


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