Andy Bliss is a percussionist, conductor, professor, and contemporary music collaborator living in Knoxville, TN.


He is also a tech enthusiast who is interested in tools and workflows that can reduce friction in creative output.

Peer Learning

A favorite podcast of mine is The Tim Ferriss Show, and I particularly enjoyed Episode #168, his interview with Malcolm Gladwell. In the course of the interview, Ferriss asks Gladwell "What is an example of some of the worst advice that you hear being dispensed, or given?"

The beginning of his answer included "I think the American college system needs to be blown up and we need to start over." Okay - you  have my attention.

Gladwell shares:

"The sole test of what a good college is, is, is it a place where I find myself late at night, having deeply interesting conversations with people that I like and find interesting...Am I so inspired by what I learned during the day that I want to be talking about it at one in the morning, and do I have someone who will have that conversation with me and will challenge me? That's it, everything else is nonsense."

Gladwell goes on to discuss the importance of students not being interesting, but interested, and the value of asking good questions. I've thought about Gladwell's response multiple times over the last year and often struggle with how to respond when I am frequently asked about how a half-dozen schools stack up, and where a student should consider attending. I came across this wonderful quotation this week that helped to further articulate this point that Gladwell raised:

Base4 following our PASIC 2003 Showcase Concert

Base4 following our PASIC 2003 Showcase Concert

It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes, after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces that assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.
– C. S. Lewis, “Introductory” to Reflections on the Psalms

One reason I offer group classes at the freshman and sophomore level at UT, in addition to one-on-one applied study, is this transfer of knowledge that can happen among peers. I often think back to my time at Northern Illinois University and can't begin to articulate how much I learned from Pat Schleker, John Pobojewski, and Steve Lundin while playing together in the Base4 Percussion Quartet – rehearsing together on our own [crazy] ambition for ~6-8 hours a week over 3 years, outside of class, working through dozens of musical puzzles together that shaped the way I work now.

Andy Bliss