We live in a day and age of incredible technology with information streams at our fingertips. It is just so easy to do an internet search to get answers for Trivial Pursuit (that is cheating, btw) or find out what happened on an episode of our favorite show. It is also a place where many musicians, young and old, go to find answers on instrument repair, technique development, health advice, and dating advice. This is a very scary thought to me for many reasons. There are so many “Armchair Professors” out there that it is hard to know who actually knows what they are talking about and who doesn’t.
For example: A person takes to one of the many flute forums to find out what to do about any number of repair questions. Immediately they have 45 responses about their post. Some say they have never had their flute worked on in the 50 years they have owned it and it’s fine. Others tell them the local auto shop should be able to supply them with the right epoxy to keep the headjoint in the right tuning spot permanently. Yet others respond with their favorite instrument and day of the week and photos of their cats. And yet others, who actually know what they are talking about, get buried under the cat photos and at-home repair suggestions. In the end, the person listened to the wrong advice and what would have been a $50 repair becomes several hundred dollars because of bad advice and misinformation. So how do we know? Who should we listen to? What is the most appropriate advice to follow?
As an admin for several groups I also have to make choices about getting involved or letting things go their natural route because, well, you know, free speech. I am there to monitor for bullying, inappropriate content, and unwanted ads, not to filter information. There is just no way to do it from the admin side of things without severely crossing a line for the members.
So, how do we choose and filter the information?
Well, here is some of my advice regarding different topics. It will take you some work but it is worth it. You need to vet your sources and step back from the responses. Opinions are like certain body parts, everyone has one!
When it comes to repair information, most of the forums have very reputable repair technicians who will chime in as well as lots of people who know absolutely nothing about high end repair and don’t take any responsibility for the advice they suggest. When it comes to repairs, especially when you are panicking because a concert is imminent, stop and breathe. Call your technician before going to the forums. If you go to the forums, keep in mind that there are technicians there who assume you know more than you do, there are technicians there who will gladly talk you through a quick fix but not in the forum, and lots of other people who will suggest all types of glue, hammers, torches, and machinery to fix your issue. Take note of those who give matching information that seems level headed and heed their warnings. Most likely those matching responses carry weight to them for a reason. Ignore the outlying answers because those are the ones that will likely get you into deeper problems. For example, being told how to oil your piccolo headjoint by using a nut oil that you are allergic to AND ruin all your pads.
How about technique or player development? Well, most of these forums have some very well-known and respected teachers who often give their insight for free. There are a also a landslide of unaccomplished amateurs who will happily tell you that they don’t ever practice scales or do any kind of tone work and they are first chair in orchestra…9th grade orchestra. It doesn’t hurt to do an internet search on a few of the names recommending practice routines, because if they are well-known pedagogues, their name will pop up tied to a college or an orchestra. That isn’t to say that there aren’t wonderful teachers who aren’t well known, but if you don’t have a resume in front of you, then you don’t really know. The best thing to do is read the suggestions and filter them. If it sounds like the suggestion will take time to practice and develop, that is usually the best option. There is no quick fix. If it is a fingering suggestion for a tough passage, step away from the computer and give it a try yourself. More than anything, use your common sense. Responses that are so long they take five minutes to read or those that seem too easy or lazy are not likely the best responses. I have done research on some of the most active people on the forums and found nothing! I have also found people giving advice on flute pedagogy who have no degrees in music at all, not that they don’t know what they are doing, but that does give me pause before accepting their input as supported.
Shopping for an instrument? Ask the forum what they recommend and where to buy it but buyer beware! I also work for a major flute company as my day job and there are sometimes things on these forums that make me cringe. Example one is someone shopping for a handmade flute and having people recommend lovely instruments like Brannen, Miyazawa, Altus, etc., and then someone says how much they love their Armstrong 104 and it is such an incredible instrument. Now, not to knock any brand, but Armstrong is not remotely in the same category as the others. For many of us, this example caused a giggle, because this is something most of us kind of “know,” but imagine those who don’t know any better. Another example is recommending that someone purchase a brand of instrument from overseas because it is cheaper. Little do most people realize that most authorized dealers who import these brands are importing instruments designed for this market. They have specific tuning, specific padding, certain headjoint styles for this market. When people work around the authorized dealers they are not getting the same instrument and they are not getting the warranty that comes with the authorized import. Your piccolo cracks, that is unfortunate because with no warranty you will likely have to send it back to the country you bought it from in order to get it repaired. I have seen this happen and people have gotten angry with me because they bought a certain brand at a hugely discounted price (due to the exchange rate) but since we didn’t import it, it isn’t covered under warranty. Also, if the government catches up with you, you could find yourself paying import taxes that are owed on a grey market instrument that was never supposed to be in this part of the world. Scary, right? That unauthorized instrument could cost you twice as much in the end. Buyer beware!
When it comes to health and wellness and player injuries and the like, the only person I go to is my doctor. There are numerous medical websites on the internet and if you go looking you could find that scratch you got from a needle spring (this happens to me regularly) is radiation poisoning from an alien life form and you will soon sprout three more arms if it’s left untreated. Silly, right? Without the proper medical training and knowledge, you are quite literally gambling with your life by posting on the forums about a sprained wrist or swollen lip.
Just remember that when you post a question on any social media platform, everyone there is an expert and none of them know your specific details or challenges. The forums are a great place to go to get some advice, but you will also be bombarded with unsolicited suggestions for new instruments, find out someone’s favorite color, how they broke their toe, and how they never need to have their instrument worked on and it plays fine (I can assure you, having worked on these, that it does not play fine). In the end, use your common sense and vet those responses. Ask trusted colleagues and remember the names of reliable sources.