Beverly Sills guitar practice

Soprano Beverly Sills on Shortcuts and Musical Practice

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

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

Beverly Sills

There is always a chasm between where we are and where we ultimately want to be. It’s healthy and natural to aspire to new and higher levels.

The question at this point is, “How do I get there?”

It may the big piece of music or virtuoso-playing. It may be emotional expression, or just playing a simple chord without buzzing notes. Whatever we set our sights upon, we must choose the route to get there.

Some decisions seem obvious, in part because of “common knowledge”. For example, take the truism: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This is true in geometry. And it’s also true in many other realms of life.

Learning an instrument, the straight line appears to be the goal itself. If the goal is the big piece, then just dive right in and get started. If the goal is speed, then playing fast seems like the logical straight line.

But these fail to take quality into account. And without quality (of movement, sound, attention), the end result will be lacking. Speed without fundamental technique is out of control, and messy. The trophy piece without musical insight and physical training will fall flat. It will sound hollow and slipshod.

There is a most direct route to mastery (or even to the next incremental step on that path). And this is through deepening awareness and understanding of the basics.

The best performers are the ones with the most deeply-ingrained basics.

At any age or current ability-level, we can go from our current level to the next. And we can eventually rise to our full potential. The straightest line, the most direct path, is fundamentals.

In the moment, it feels like working on the basics makes for slow progress. But in fact, there is no faster path.

It’s true that other pursuits may offer flashy early wins. And others may be more entertaining for the unfocused mind.

But to play well, and enjoy all the benefits that come with musical maturity, the “slow road” is the fastest. Time spent on the basics moves us ever-forward.

Depth beats breadth, but only every time.

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.

Thanks to you (you are my only teacher) in only a few months I've gone from very basic beginner pieces to having just completed learning Bach's Gavottes 1&2 in good form and execution. As a non-classical electric guitarist who has always used a pick and never his fingers, this has been no small feat!


~ Gregg Olson

-Gregg Olson

This is the ideal starting position for me. As a relative beginner with no teacher this is helping me enormously in developing good technique and not falling into bad habits. I no longer feel (A) That it's a struggle to learn a new piece and (B) That I am alone in my endeavors. My advice is to try The Woodshed program. It is fantastic and will not only bring up your playing but his explanations of musical concepts as you go along put things into perspective.


~ John Andersson

-John Andersson

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