Anders Ericsson on Keeping the Changes We Gain in Practice

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

“The cognitive and physical changes that come from training require upkeep. Stop training and they go away.”

Anders Ericsson

The old adage holds true: “Use it or lose it.” This is true perhaps nowhere as much as with playing guitar pieces.

We toil away at learning pieces. We hone and polish. We struggle to iron out the kinks and smooth all the rough edges.

And what happens when we finally get to a point we can be happy with (or at least resigned to)?

We give ourselves the prize of starting a new piece.

But then the process starts over again, and the old piece may slip into the background. We get drunk on the promise of our new projects and forget our previous ones.

Before long, days and weeks have passed. Months, years. And when we do decide to play it again, we find it’s not there anymore. This can be heartbreaking.

And the same thing happens with our technique and training in general.

If we get too wrapped up in our current pieces, we may feel tempted to skip our scales or exercises. We may save our real training to the end of practice, then cut it short.

We may convince ourselves that playing pieces is all the training we need. And it can be, but only if we transform the challenges within the piece into exercises themselves.

So what should we do if we slide back in this way? The only thing there is to do: We accept it, learn from it, and move forward. We mourn the loss, then forgive ourselves and look ahead.

We can always restart our training today. No matter how much time has lapsed, we can do something meaningful to train our hands now.

And how much time is needed to maintain our gains?

Not that much. We just need to reinforce the basics and meet the far edges of our abilities. This means we review our fundamentals, and use them to meet challenges that are hard, but not too hard.

A weight-lifter needs to continue to add more weight, even if only a little. And in the same way, we need progressive challenge.

In our pieces, in our technique work, the trick is to find something to push us. Then we rise to the task and do the work. And if we let embers grow cool, we give them a new spark and forge ahead.

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.

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!


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