Schwartz on Practice Guitar

David J. Schwartz: Nothing Grows in Ice

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“Nothing grows in ice. If we let tradition freeze our minds, new ideas can’t sprout.” 

David J Schwartz

As individuals, like society itself, we are in a constant tug-of-war.

New ideas seek to expand and change the status quo. And older ideas seek to keep us stable and preserve what works.

We need both.

Without new ideas, we become stagnant and limited. We calcify and wither.

But unchecked change in the name of progress can ruin the good work of the past and create predictable and preventable problems.

The ideal is to stay grounded in the wisdom of the past while forging bravely ahead. Each side serves, and a healthy balance is created. Each side pulls for all it is worth, and the result is progress rooted in wisdom. Sustainable evolution.

As practicing classical guitarists, we can become mired in rote routines. These routines were once were fresh and vibrant, but have grown less so.

For example, playing scales. Scales can be a major lever to improve our hands and ears. They can build speed and help us master melodic expression.

But they can also become a hollow ritual. Something we do because of tradition, but with little thought or intention. We check the box and move on.

Instead, we can create new challenges using our scales. We can push the boundaries of what we can do. We can ride the edge between hard and too hard. We find what Steven Kotler calls the “challenge/skills sweet spot”.

Indeed, this is what scales are for. Scales are a tool with which we can improve our playing. The scales themselves are not the point. The point is better control, stamina, legato.

It is the same for our repertoire. Pieces can evolve over time.

The great cellist Pablo Casals recorded Bach’s cello suites at different times over his life. And his understanding and conceptions changed over time. He continued to explore and hypothesize while keeping them in rhythm and in the proper style.

We need traditions. We need daily technique practice. We need pieces we can live with for years and decades. These are part of a rich and healthy musical life.

But we also need fresh new challenges. We must resist becoming “frozen” in our practices.

It has been said that balance is a myth. That what we actually have is constant correction. Some days may be all tradition. Others may be all experimentation and exploration.

Over time, we enjoy new breakthroughs and revelations. We progress forward while strengthening our foundations. We root and we soar.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

Great advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.


~ Karen Richardson

-Karen Richardson

I have to say, two practices later [after a video review] with the new position - the difference it's made in my playing is... unbelievable, really. It's like many months of improvement overnight.

Everything is so much more secure, left-hand stretches are easier, I feel like I'm getting way more volume for the same effort, the tone is noticeably better all along the neck, and the list goes on.

Thank you!

~ Alexander Mosolov


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