Dorothy Parker on Banishing Boredom in 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.”

Dorothy Parker

One of the most common objections to improving one’s guitar playing is boredom.

The thought process goes like this: “I would like to play more fluidly and comfortably, but scales are boring.”

The great pianist Josef Hofmann drew a distinction between practice and study. Practice, in his definition, includes lots of repetition. It takes a lot of time with very little mental engagement.

In other words, boring.

Study, on the other hand, is highly engaged. It takes constant attention. It is completely “tuned in” and active. It includes all the expression and movement of the music.

Practice is making decisions and creating art.

The quick route to better technique (without boredom) is to treat it as study. Instead of rote repetition, we instead have a purpose for each time through. We take a moment to reflect on how it went. We make observations and test again.

When we engage with technique practice in this way, we ask little questions. We wonder how a slight change in our hand position may alter the sound. We create criteria for success that pushes our boundaries (just a bit).

In other words, we get curious.

To reach our aspirations on guitar, it’s best to take personal responsibility. If we get bored, it is because we’re not doing it right.

It is up to us to ask the questions, set the tasks, and push the envelope. We must engage to be engaged.

But what if we don’t know what to do?

We try something. We zoom in on some small detail and we look for a way to improve it. This could be rhythm, tone, consistency, anything. It could be based on something we’ve learned from a teacher or something that just sprung to mind in the moment.

The important part is that we set small challenges and work towards them. We explore, we try and fail and try again. We play with the scientific method like kids in the yard.

Over time, we get better at this sort of play. We find the points of interest in what we failed to notice before.

As Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

Moving from one practice to the next, we can build on yesterday’s successes. We can poke and prod in similar ways and with new results.

In this way, technique practice becomes a delightful puzzle. It becomes a plaything. But only when we get curious and tinker.

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

Life is good, still enjoying [The Woodshed Program], the progress is life altering, I love it. The physical challenges of my situation have rained havoc for over half my life. In spite of those little pests this 40$ Yamaha classical who needed a new home and your course has given me the "part the clouds for the sun to shine through" outlook. You see, even when I am unable to play I know she patiently waits for my return as I do. A giant void in my journey was filled with light.


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