Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status: Level II

Well, since I finally have some downtime between projects, this seems like a good point in time to flesh out my thoughts on “Level II” of Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. If you have not already done so, take a quick detour and read up on Level I: Knowledge.


‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ I remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.’
‘Quite so,’ he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’
‘How often?’
‘Well, some hundreds of times.’
‘Then how many are there?’
‘How many! I don’t know.’
‘Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.’ (Holmes teaches Watson a lesson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”)


Level II: Observation

Whenever I pick up a new endeavor (I despise the word “hobby”), I do my best to see what the professionals are doing. When you start off, these are the people you want to emulate and, in the future, outperform. In addition to accruing facts and building up a decent knowledge base (see Level I), you also have to build muscle memory by practically swimming in your craft. Like any other skill, you can’t become the best simply by reading books. You also have to train.

The traditional method, which hardly anyone does anymore, was to apprentice under a grand master. You would work hard, sweep the floors, wash the laundry, and do all the cooking; and, throughout your tenure, your teacher would fill your head with gems of knowledge and you would grow to fill his or her shoes. This is the route I have been striving towards. Each sunday I go to the record shop and get immersed. I help clean up the shop, move crates around, organize records, and help customers. And once a month I spin at Monarch Lounge where DJ M3 looks out for me by teaching me the tricks of the trade.

And all the while, I do my best to see and observe.

And as Sherlock pointed out, there is a big difference between seeing and observing. The former is passive, the latter is active and full of intent. In essence, one must see with a goal in mind. This is a little difficult to explain when it comes to learning about soul music. But, what I do is reach out to DJs and record collectors who have been in the game for a long time and connect with them. And although these people have lives of their own, it does not mean that I am necessarily limited. I suppose an example of what I mean by observation would be helpful.

Each month, I go to The 45 Sessions, a monthly all-7-inch dance party in Oakland, and I pay attention to what the DJs are actually doing. Not just paying attention to what they play, but how they play it. For example, how and when they transition from one song to another, how they handle the records, how they troubleshoot. And all the while, I note the crowd’s response and my own gut reactions. And I do this practically at all events that I go to now.

But opportunities for observation are not limited to these outings. I also listen to as many mixes as I can get my hands on, and replay them constantly while paying attention to the transitions. In essence, the whole observation philosophy can be summed up in a piece of advice that Skeme gave me at the first 45 Sessions I attended: “take notes on what to do, and what not to do”.

That’s some real Sherlock Holmes advice.

And for me, observation is not limited to the music world. For instance, due to repeated viewings of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I have not been able to watch any movie since without paying explicit attention to scene transitions, the musical score, and how characters are framed on the screen. My appreciation for film (and music) has shot through the roof because of this “active seeing”. And in addition, I gain a greater appreciation for life because I constantly pay attention to details that others might take for granted or completely miss.

Stay tuned for the final level of Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status.

“I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction.” (J. Watson)

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2 thoughts on “Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status: Level II

  1. DJ Enki says:

    Watching and learning is invaluable. I did it a hell of a lot when I was just starting out, and to this day, I’ll still observe and take mental notes when I’m at the club and another DJ is playing. There’s always something new to learn, it seems, some trick to pick up or something. And you don’t just have to learn from your own mistakes (though you should), you can learn from other people’s mistakes as well.

  2. Totally agree with you Enki. The learning never stops, you just gotta make sure never to get so full of yourself that you think you know it all. like you said, there’s always something new to pick up out there.

    also side note, Dick keeps telling me that we keep missing each other at his shop by just a few minutes!

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