John Quincy Adams on How to Make Difficulties Disappear in Guitar Practice

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” 

John Quincy Adams

Patience and perseverance are like sensible shoes. They are helpful, but they don’t ignite anticipation and relish. We all agree on their value, but they don’t sound fun.

And like willpower, they are best used in small doses to bridge the gaps. If we rely solely on them, enthusiasm can grow thin and we may fall.

Patience and perseverance are at their best looking back. When we have achieved something for which we’ve been working, we look back and realize that we were patient and persevered. This is gratifying.

But in the moment? Not so much.

So what do we do when we need some P&P? Do we plow forward like the good ox? Do we march on with a stiff upper lip?

For any long-term endeavor, like guitar, it’s best to focus as much as possible on the process itself. And the closer we explore the process, the more we enjoy it over time.

Instead of playing a piece of music, we play a bar of music. Even better, we play a single note of music. Then the next, and the next.

Instead of working for speed, we work for consistency, ease, and clarity.

And instead of mindlessly drilling scales and patterns, we create specific challenges. We set small goals for the moment, using small sections.

And we play slowly enough, with frequent enough pauses, to tell whether we are getting it or not.

When problems arise in guitar practice, it is often because we need to zoom in more. We need to look closer, listen more actively, and think more critically.

They say that if we mind the pennies, the pounds take care of themselves. As a metaphor for practice, this is true. If we mind the moments, the days feel more fruitful and rewarding.

We will still feel frustrated sometimes. We may feel that we should progress or master a skill faster than we do. This is normal, even for very fast learners.

But when we practice the small moments, we improve. And this improvement helps motivate us to show up the next day.

Looking from the outside, this is a patient way to practice. We have persevered and overcome the obstacles. But inside the moment, it just feels like regular practice.

We toy with musical and physical puzzles. We play one note at a time, with full attention and awareness.?

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.

I practiced your system for three days, and it solved the I-M alternation problem I had been struggling with since I undertook classical guitar three years ago.  Many thanks!


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