The Power of I Don’t Know

January 19, 2015

Regularly, new students will ask me, “Am I playing the right mouthpiece?”  My answer is usually, “I don’t know.”  This answer often surprises them.  I explain that because we are just starting to work together, I’m still learning their strengths and weaknesses, and planning how to address them.  That might include equipment.  It might not.

I don’t know.

It’s important to be aware when “I don’t know” is the best answer.

In college football we’ve been told all year that the SEC is the best conference and that the Big 10 is not very good.  In the bowl games this year, the Big 10 went 3-1 against the SEC.  So which is the better conference?

I don’t know.

We’re given long term weather forecasts daily.  You can open the weather app on your phone and get one right now.  I’ve done this a number of times when planning travel.  It’s astounding how often and wrong the forecast can be.  Why?  Because even with the best information we have today, predicting the weather is not an accurate science.  So what’s the weather going to be like in 10 days?

I don’t know.

Although sports and long term weather forecasts are trivial when compared to teaching, they provide excellent examples of how reticent people can be to admit how much they don’t know.  As someone who has (rightly) been accused of being a know-it-all, I hope I can help you learn this lesson.  When put in a position of leadership, it can be easy to feel the responsibility for knowing..well…everything.  Should you take on that impossible responsibility, you can quickly alienate those around you that could help because they know things you do not.  You can also lose the trust of those you lead.

Here’s my message for you this week:  I don’t know can be the best answer you give.

Teachers can have a hard time admitting there are things they don’t know.

Students can have a hard time not getting an immediate answer to a question.

Teachers- Please be honest with your students, which includes admitting what you don’t know.

Students- Be respectful to your teachers.  Realize they are real people that can’t be expected to know everything.



  1. Great post, Joey. Often the best mouthpiece is the one you consistently practice with for the longest time – funny how that works……

  2. Reblogged this on Husting Low Brass Studio and commented:
    Something I’m still learning how to say.

  3. Great post, Joey!

    I’m thinking there’s perhaps a direct relationship between age/experience and willingness to admit “I don’t know.”

    So in my case, when I was first starting out teaching (and my oldest student was only a few years younger than I was), I really didn’t know all that much. How could I have any authority – i.e., why should anyone pay me for lessons – if I admitted to not knowing stuff when I didn’t know it? The pile of what I *did* know was waaaay overshadowed by the mountain of what I *didn’t* know.

    But now that I’m older and I know a lot more and have a ton more experience, I find it’s much easier to acknowledge when I don’t know something. My confidence and authority don’t rest on needing to *look* like I know what I’m doing – I *do* know what I’m doing, even if there are still some gaps.

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