Charles Peters

Designer / Developer

How We Learn

When I was 16, I read an interview about Beck. He learned to play guitar in such a peculiar way. He started with a single string on his guitar: the top string. He played the guitar with a single string until he felt he had learned everything about it. Then he would add another string and another until he had 6 strings.

Each time he would learn the interactions of each string with each previous string, their sounds, their resonance, their timbre, their details. He approached learning guitar as more of a science than an art, intimately understanding the power & quality of each string with their relationship to each other. Bit by bit, he took each detail in intervals.

At the time it struck me as odd. If you were going to learn to play the guitar wouldn’t you want to learn with all six strings at once? Aren’t you going to play with all six strings when you play for other people?

Beck’s method stands out to me. At the time I thought it was eccentric and one of those weird things artists did. I didn’t really consider how intimate and methodical it might be.

When I talk to students I know who want to learn something about web design, they usually want to learn everything at once. For them, it’s either quick bullet points or simple instructions. They want to drag the tools for print design to the web, because writing markup and codes isn’t as simple as they’d like it to be. Or worse, they want to slap things together and put them out on the Internet. Each time I hear these things, I’m a little disquieted because they have little reverence for the complexity of the Internet, end users and the understanding needed to really build websites and web applications.

The Internet is rich with complexity, detail and interactions. To want to decompress all of what it takes to build something on the web down to simple bullet points, is like cramming a whole city square onto a park bench.

Then I remember Beck and he doesn’t seem so eccentric anymore.