Poet Dorothy Parker on Overcoming Boredom in Daily Guitar Practice
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“The cure to boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
Classical guitar demands repetition over time. We may work on the same piece of music for months. We may work on the same exercises for years.
But what happens when boredom creeps in?
And say we take time away from our practice, then want to return. It’s tempting to feel lukewarm towards the practice agenda we left. We may crave something new and fresh.
Advanced players rarely have this problem. Or not for long. That is because boredom stems from shallow practice. Deep practice creates its own novelty.
The specific piece of music or exercise matters less than how we approach it. When we create interesting challenges for ourselves, we engage.
The biggest reward of productive practice is a state of flow.
If we set the conditions right, we can experience this state. Here, time disappears. We enjoy single-pointed focus. The distractions of life fade into the background. And with a little effort, we can set the stage for flow states in our practice.
One of the most important ingredients of flow is appropriate challenge. We need our work to be hard, but not too hard. We need to stretch, but not break.
This means we zoom in on small details. We aim for specific outcomes.
Instead of simply playing the notes, we aim higher. We strive to play each note in the perfect spot behind the fret. We aim to connect the notes. We aim for specific rises and falls in volume. We target a speed just beyond reach. We aspire to play a difficult passage with ease in our bodies.
In each moment of practice, we can set a small challenge and go for it. And when we get the challenge/skills ratio right, we’re pulled into our practice. We immerse. And through these challenges we become curious. No more boredom.
In addition to appropriate challenge, immediate feedback helps us enter flow states. For this, we can listen with intent. We can remain aware and watch our hands, directly, or in a mirror.
Next, we can add risk. And the beauty of risk is that it doesn’t need to be life-threatening. We can create risk by imagining we are playing on the radio. Or we can imagine we are in front of a crowd. Or like in the children’s game, Operation, any buzzed or missed note can set off alarms in our heads.
Another way to create both risk and immediate feedback is to video ourself playing. This mock performance adds heat to the moment. Even though there are no real consequences for fumbles, it feels like there are.
With any of these additions to our practice, we lean in. We ask questions and seek answers. And in doing so, practice becomes the joy we desire.
Our practice skills grow when we add these elements. We can move past the “what” and instead inquire, “how?” And when we do, we find doors opening where before were only walls.
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.
Those videos on practicing the piece were just awesome, Allen! I've always thought that learning songs might be something completely different than practicing exercises, but the way you teach it makes it much easier than I thought. I'm positive that joining the Woodshed has been the best investment I've ever done for learning the classical guitar. Thank you so much for these lessons.
~ Ulysses Alexandre Alves
-Ulysses Alexandre Alves
Greetings from the UK. I would like to thank you for providing such an excellent resource. The effort and skill which has gone into creating this program is very evident. I started classical guitar a year or so ago with a teacher but was unable to commit to same time regular slots each week.
The Woodshed Program was exactly what I was looking for. I have found the site very intuitive and well structured and have taken your advice and started from the very beginning of the program whilst still practising some of the pieces I was already working on. It is clear that I will benefit greatly from these early technical studies. There were clearly weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge even though I am still at an early stage. Once again many thanks for the program and very best wishes.
~ Rodger Paylor
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