Albert Einstein on How to Find More Opportunities for Beauty in Music
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory you use. It is the theory that decides what can be observed.”
What does it mean to be a “mature musician?” And how do we mature as musicians?
Learning guitar and music, we go through stages. When we begin learning guitar, we direct our energy toward basic skills. Our main goals involve developing the skills that allow our fingers to do as we tell them.
These first stages are the foundation. We learn to read musical notation. We learn how to move our hands to create beautiful sounds.
As we progress, we discover more ways to practice. The act of practicing becomes a craft. We learn to troubleshoot and problem-solve. And we continue to improve our physical skills using exercises and an increasingly challenging repertoire.
At this point in development, there is always much work to do. And perhaps this why not everyone moves beyond this midpoint. We can spend a lifetime playing harder and harder pieces. Many fine players hit a ceiling here and progress no further.
But there is another stage included in “mature musician.” This stage includes a study of expression and intention in music.
Instead of just playing the notes cleanly and in rhythm (which is indeed a feat), we also seek to bring life to the music. We use volume, rhythmic placement, tone quality, and special effects (slides, vibrato, etc.).
A mature musician studies and learns how these elements combine to communicate specific emotional ideas. Any player at any level can use these elements. But a mature musician makes these an integral part of the music (as opposed to added after the fact, like a finishing salt).
Guitar pedagogy is largely lacking in discussion of this stage of learning. We can find more resources when we look to other instruments. Piano especially has a long tradition of expressive artistry. Great musicians have written on the subject.
As we practice, at whatever our current stage, we can work with an eye toward this higher level. This means that as we train our hands, for example, we also practice swells and fades, louds and softs.
And as we look at a page of sheet music, we look for more than just the notes. We also become curious of what chords are used. We notice which notes lead to other notes, and which are themselves arrival points. We can experiment with playing the notes in different ways using tone and volume.
As Einstein suggests, if we don’t approach our music with this in mind, we will most likely fail to recognize the opportunities for beauty and expression. They slip by without our notice.
Over time, as we observe and search, we discover patterns and methods that work well. We build a vocabulary of expression that allows us to lift our music to new heights. And as we do, each practice becomes both more challenging and more enthralling. We see more because we look more.
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.
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Great advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.
~ Karen Richardson
I appreciate the organized, well thought out progression of each level, as well as a measurable means to determine when to proceed to the next level. I had burned myself out by pushing too hard and playing beyond where I was comfortable. This course is just what I needed, and I am happy to be back on the road to playing again.
~ Susan Kidney
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