Desmond Tutu on Getting to the Root of the Musical Issue
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
Bishop Desmond Tutu
As humans we have the knack of continuing to do what doesn’t work. Not that other creatures are immune to this. But we consider ourselves thinkers.
In music, we can spend years playing the same mistakes. We can face the same frustrations and never remove them. We may even be aware, yet still doggedly bang ourselves against them.
This is likely because the work of digging deeper feels like more trouble than to look the other way. It’s easier to tell ourselves that we’ll mend those cracks later.
But later never comes. And the cracks in our playing compound and create problems of their own.
So then we try to treat the symptoms. But the root causes remain.
Beautiful playing comes down to two things. First, how well our hands do what they are told. This is physical control. And second, how well we instruct them.
The best musical ideas will fall flat if our hands cannot complete the mission. And the fastest, cleanest player will sound drab without mature musical understanding. It takes both.
But we must start with our hands. And if our hands are inconsistent and unreliable, we need to go back to basics.
To play classical guitar music well, we need trustworthy habits of movement. And these are trained one day at a time.
We need steady practice ingraining the fundamental movements. And this allows us to put our minds on higher musical concepts.
As we advance, we may feel reluctant to go back to basics. But basics are the master’s sharpest tool.
The best in any field return again and again to first principles and work on the fundamentals. This is where positive change happens.
In guitar practice, it is best to slow down and pay closer attention. The more attention we pay, the more value we get from the practice.
We learn more by playing fewer notes with greater awareness.
Even if we don’t know the best solution or technique, awareness will bring us closer. It will allow us to experiment. We will ask better questions and burrow deeper for the answers.
Small frustrations and persistent challenges are excellent fodder for meaningful practice. Like ripe fruit, ready to harvest.
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, just wanted to provide some feedback. Since I've started doing the exercises [in The Woodshed program] my guitar is sounding a lot better, with fuller sound, less effort. Its as if I bought a new guitar or got a new pair of hands (or both). Amazing my friend. Thank you!
~ Nusret Aydemir
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
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