Take Off The Training Wheels Already!

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Yes, this is audio related. Read on.

The San Francisco Bike Coalition teaches that training wheels aren’t very effective in teaching one how to balance on their own.

Once they’re removed, the rider knows how to pedal, but they aren’t confident in their ability to keep upright without crashing. They haven’t developed the muscle memory to keep balanced, and therefore don’t trust their instincts enough to take their feet off the ground. They do so anyway, but they’ve skinned their knees a few times by the time they pull it off.

Instead, by focusing on teaching people to trust themselves enough to find balance on their own, by the time they move on to using pedals they’re able to take off with ease and stay upright.

How This Relates To Audio:

This reminds me of the audio industry, and any time someone says “learn the rules so you can break the rules”. If they were rules, they couldn’t be broken. Just look at physics.

Yes, there are technical limitations. Those rely on physics, as stated. Those are the basics, which is part of learning how to balance. On a bike, you need to instinctively know what happens when you shift your weight. In audio, you need to instinctively know what happens when you see red lights blinking. But once you learn how to balance on the bike, or in this case in the studio, you should be able to understand what’s happening enough to think critically and problem solve.

The following does not apply to those enrolled in an audio school, as I would seriously hope they are instilling the principles behind why we do what we do into the minds of the next generation. But many of today’s engineers are autodidact’s, teaching themselves this craft and asking fellow users for help along the way. One would hope the right voices are there to help them understand what’s happening in a way that helps them grow as engineers.

Women Building The Model T in 1913

Instead, we teach people “best practices” without explanation. Topics like gain staging, mic placement, and headroom are taught as specific rigid practices that one should only deviate from at their own peril, as though the person learning them is about to start working a dangerous position on an assembly line. And by drilling “best practices” without explaining why they are seen as such, and without teaching what’s happening behind the scenes so they can make their own call based on knowledge of engineering…you’re giving them training wheels! You’re not giving them the chance to think critically about the science behind their field, and you’re not allowing them the chance to develop the instinct for staying upright.

What’s at the core of riding a bike? Balance. Pedals aren’t needed for balance, they are merely a momentum tool. But without balance, the fundamental understanding of how to stay upright on your own, you’ll fall over. Instead, with training wheels, we focus on the wrong thing first. We focus on momentum without helping the rider develop the fundamental skill needed for riding a bike…at least not as the first one they develop.

Is it time to rethink how people should be expected to learn audio? Should “best practices” be out the window and exchanged for teaching people to trust themselves? I do believe mythology has no place in an engineering field, because how can someone make informed choices if they believe something that isn’t true? So isn’t it time we prioritize facts and knowledge over “best practices”?


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