It's been years since I've done a Q&A, so I wanted to bring you one this week. (I play too, though;)
I'm ambivalent about hierarchies.
At Berklee, I'm told, they have ratings for everything from improvisation to sight-reading.
At Interlochen, they had the Challenge System.
Everything was about "what chair are you". Even in otherwise-egalitarian sections, there was a rank-order.
Time that could have been spent practicing repertoire of fundamentals was spent practicing the "challenge music."
Those who won probably had an inflated sense of their abilities, and those who lost too-little hope.
Sounds like a clear-cut case for no-hierarchies-in-music, right?
Except I've seen hierarchies work immensely positively. Not in music, but in martial arts.
And I've seen their lack cause frustration and disappointment in music.
Done right, here's what the "belt system" allows you to do:
Feel good about your level relative to your experience
In music, we've got the "American Idol"/"Whiplash" effect. To illustrate, an anecdote from MSM:
When I sat in Gary Dial's class with other musicians with as much as 15-years-of-experience on me, I'd nontheless get frustrated that I didn't sound the way I wanted, and that I was inconsistent.
You could tell me that to think I'd be able to hang with such musicians was unrealistic, but I wouldn't have bought it. Everybody thought they were either born-with-it or not. Everybody wanted to be Harry Potter, or Neo.
By contrast, on the mats at Renzo's, I don't have to feel bad getting smashed by a brown belt. And you can "feel" the learning curve. Roll with a four-stripe white belt, and he'll usually feel looser, and a-beat-behind, even if he's got a strength or explosiveness advantage.
You'll be getting stuff on him, and won't know exactly why. Your OODA loop is shorter.
You really think that isn't also the case in music? It's not like we trade out our brains. The human-brain-is-the-human brain.
Belts in music would let a 5-year musician feel good about the solo he took, without lamenting that a 25-year musician ate his lunch.
If you saw a black-belt on that 19-year-old Monk Institute phenom, and looked down and saw only blue around your waist, you'd see visually that even though the other guy was younger, he'd put in a lot more time than you.
Belts work in jiujitsu because they're exposed to adversity every day. And, at least in the academies I've been exposed to, there are no "challenges" or "tests". The instructors watch your progress, relative to others and yourself, and make a decision. It's stochastic, bottom-up, and imperfect. And that's why it works.
Music could use more hierarchy. And more "sheds" - the musical equivalent to "rolls" in jiujitsu.
But art is still different than martial arts.
It's true that there's far too much relativism in music these days. (A fan of the channel once told me "there's no better-or-worse in music, it's just styles." Try telling that to James Brown when one horn player keeps tripping over the part.)
But it's also true that music, unlike a fight, is not "zero sum".
In jiujitsu, certain styles might be aesthetically beautiful, but they might get dismantled, by, say, Gordon Ryan.
In music, something that's unique and beautiful is allowed to just be unique and beautiful.
And I think arts hierarchies get malevolent when the go the direction of the Interlochen challenge system.
For one, you'd want the students challenging the instructors to get a truer idea of where they really stack up. (Being first chair in the high school jazz band is like being the hottest cowboy in the pickup truck.)
...and you'd want some accounting of the experience differences.
Folks, this is a thought experiment :P
Anyway, after writing reams, I give you The Lesson.
Hope you enjoy.