David Spangler on magic and art

David Spangler on Keeping the Magic in Ordinary Music Practice

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

“Dividing our lives into “magical” and “ordinary” categories reduces or interferes with our creative energy. Any artist knows this.
To say that some things are worth looking at because they are special and others are not is to reduce our lives to an endless quest for scenic lookout points, missing the scenery that is actually all around us.
The end result is a kind of creeping blindness in which we eventually fail to see the magic even in the magical.” 

David Spangler

When we first begin guitar, everything is a wonder. We marvel that a special combination of fingers on frets creates a lush chord. We learn our first songs and feel we’ve spoken words in a secret language.

Encouraged, we continue to practice. We learn more chords. We learn more songs. We seek to understand the workings behind the notes.

We recognize our physical limitations and strive to overcome them. We learn to use our hands. We change how we sit and hold the guitar. We sharpen and hone, detail and refine.

And with our efforts come fruit. We play faster. We learn pieces more quickly. We discover ways to solve problems and circumvent obstacles. We advance.

But as we advance, we face common traps.

There is an old metaphor: “When the wise man points at the moon, the fool sees only the finger.” As we study method and technique, we can forget the larger point.

Practice can become rote. We may become entirely focused on the metrics of music, rather than on the music itself.

We may seek speed over clarity and lyricism. We may seek ever-harder repertoire, never imbuing our pieces with creative energy and care.

And here we find the great challenge of all art. We need work to build our skills. And we need to play to use them well.

Pablo Picasso once quipped, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

So how do we keep the magic in our music? How do we “play” when there’s so much work to do?

We can use an alchemical formula in even the most mundane of practices. We can breathe any humdrum scale or exercise into life. We can bounce and sing. We can flow and weave.

In our imaginations, we can hear the music in its ultimate beauty. Then we can listen for our hands to usher this sound into being.

We can direct in our mind’s ear. Then listen in rapt expectation. We can hear both the inner and outer song together. With time and courage, they merge.

We can play this game even if we haven’t yet built our finer skills. Indeed, this is the quickest route to those future skills.

And as we shape music in our minds, and will it into the guitar, we touch something deeper in ourselves and in the world. We transcend mere scales and pieces. We become as present and playful as children. We find what we’re looking for.

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.

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

Hi Allen,
First public performance ever! I am up to Level 1E in The Woodshed program. It is certainly mega helpful.


~ Peter Graham

-Peter Graham

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