John Cage on Conquering Boredom in Guitar Practice
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
Amateur musicians often seek novelty in practice. They bounce from one piece of music to the next in the name of variety.
And the curiosity behind this is positive. Curiosity drives us to explore the new and novel.
But for many musicians, the depth of curiosity is quite shallow. It only skims the surface. The only question asked is, “What are the notes?” or “How does this sound?”
These are indeed important and relevant questions. But they are only the first of many possible questions. And as we ask more questions we look closer and find more to be curious about.
On the physical level, we can notice our levels of tension in the many parts of the body. We can play with appropriate tension and notice when we use too much or too little muscle. We can become aware of balance and posture.
We can put attention on the way we use our hands – the movements and patterns. We can note the set of a jaw, or the hardness or softness of our eyes.
On a musical level, we can pick apart the different musical voices. The melody, the bass, and the accompanimental voices.
We can explore the mood and sentiment of the music. We can discover how the composer has demonstrated this in the writing.
On the level of sound, we can listen for the tone quality of each note. We can listen to each note connecting smoothly to the next.
We can listen to the harmony (chords) and the texture. We can listen for the melody to stay more prominent than the other voices. We can listen for clarity in our musical ideas and phrasing.
And we can wonder at how these different levels interact. We can ask questions such as, “How does the tone change when I let my muscles stay relaxed?” and “What does it feel like in my body when I play with more contrast in dynamics (volume)?
When we ask deeper questions, each piece becomes a much more lively adventure. We no longer need to start a new piece to add variety. Instead, we generate variety.
In this inquiry, we develop better technique. We learn to use our bodies more effectively. And this means we become more able to meet more complex musical demands.
Practice can move beyond entertainment and amusement, and into a self-study rich with endless discovery and interest.
This feeds both the intellect and the spirit. Deepening into the craft of playing lets us become more connected to the music, ourselves, and our innate humanity.
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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Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary. Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice. He is a very good,and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning. I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.
~ Peter Buck (r.e.m.)
-Peter Buck (r.e.m.)
I also want to thank you for including more video lessons on the Bridges Guitar Series. I have learned to play Calatayud's Waltz. The most exciting thing about having done this is that I sight-read the entire piece as I was learning it. Six months ago looking at a sheet of music was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Learning to read notation is empowering and I appreciate the sensible way you are teaching us to learn to read music.
~ Steve Simpler
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