From The Bottom Of The Barrel

A few years back I attended a music camp for grown up people.

From a playing perspective, I was in way over my head. My skills and understanding put me somewhere close to the bottom of the barrel, but I had some good, friendly company and genuinely enjoyed myself.

There were several daily clinics as well as nightly concerts and, for some reason, no one else seemed eager to sit in the front row. I very happily jumped into those up-close seats, giving me great views and opportunities for friendly banter with the camp’s featured teacher-performers.

I still get a chuckle when I think about being totally out of my depth, and consistently front-and-center. It was a goofy, fun combination!

It also made for great learning and, truth be told, several lasting, treasured connections.

The more I think about it, the more irony I see regarding the open front seats…

On one hand, people will jump through fiery hoops and hand over heaps of cash to snag those same chairs for shows and concerts.

On the other hand, when there’s learning on the line, it seems most folks prefer to hide, to create distance and place other people (and chairs) between themselves and those they’ve come to learn from.

I’m guessing it has as much to do with vulnerability as it does with avoiding being spotted doing something wrong.

The challenge is that it’s pretty much impossible to learn and progress without messing up. Mistakes give our big, sophisticated brains reference points to use as comparative data.

We’re helped to recognize what sounds good by hearing the occasional clam. (That’s guitar-speak for “oops! Not that note!)

Had I not placed myself up front, I would have missed out on having a sub-optimal picking habit corrected. It was a small thing, but an expert eye caught it, and it’s made a world of difference in my playing and likely helped avoid an overuse injury.

That was a bonus win-win, eh?

Here’s the thing: I could have easily handed the fact that I was a less-than-skilled player off to my ego and, in an effort to avoid being found out, wandered to the perceived safety of the back of the room.

But I could have stayed very well hidden, with better coffee, by the way, at home!

I went there to grow as a musician and meet some new peeps. And it worked.

It’s a sure bet that, as long as we put ourselves in learning situations, we will inevitably find ourselves at the bottom of the barrel.

When that happens, I highly recommend grabbing the best possible seat in the house.

The chair won’t change the circumstance, but it sure can change the view from the bottom of the barrel – and that can be downright transformative.