Backing Up to Go Forward: Faster Learning, Better Playing, through Easier Pieces

Recently, I have been recording YouTube videos of the pieces in level one book of the classical guitar shed blogBridges Guitar Series (which I use with many students, and like a lot). I’ve been doing this for number of reasons. One of the main of which is that I didn’t think that there were very many (if any) good examples of the pieces on YouTube, and students frequently go there to hear what the pieces sound like, to see if they want to play them.

As it turns out, I am thoroughly enjoying the process. With some students at a certain level, I sometimes suggest what I call “a piece a week”. This is where they choose one piece, just a short little piece that is easy for them to learn, and bring it up to performance level within one week. Then the next week, they do another one, while bringing the previous one up to the next level.  Two weeks total per piece, and this goes on for two or three months.

There are many benefits to this.  One is that they build a quick repertoire that is performance-ready.  Another is that they get used to bring things all the way up to performance level. This means not only fingering issues and learning notes, but more importantly, phrasing and articulation. The technical difficulties are typically very few, and so we spend time in lessons focusing on the musical issues involved.

I have seen enormous  growth take place in a short amount of time using this method. By taking out technical challenges, we are left with musical ones. After really digging in and affording the time to sculpting every curve and detail, their entire playing level elevates.

It’s like musicality boot-camp.  By working on easier pieces at a higher musical level, more advanced pieces progress as well.

I am finding that exactly the same thing is happening for me as I focus in on playing the pieces in the Bridges level one book. Some of the pieces are so simplistic that to make them into beautiful, compelling pieces takes great attention to detail and some creativity.

I am really enjoying polishing these little gems.  It’s great fun and truly rewarding to put everything I’ve got into “easy” pieces.  I am finding that some aren’t so “easy” after all, and that I might not be as good as I thought!  (It seems I attract a wealth of opportunities to humble myself!)

So once again, through this project I am shown that I should more frequently take my own advice, and buckle down on the fundamentals.  (Me and my big mouth!)

Read more on musicality on the guitar here.


Any thoughts?  Please leave a comment!

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.
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