Max Pauer on Expressive Freedom and Technical Mastery

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

“The whole idea of technic then is to achieve a position through conscious effort, where one may dispense with conscious effort. Not until this can be accomplished can we hope for real self-expression in playing.” 

Max Pauer (pianist)

Music is commonly compared to language. And indeed, it does have the ability to speak to us. Leo Tolstoy called music, “the shorthand of emotion.”

Like language, music only works if we can “speak” it. Sure, we can gesture and pantomime. We can communicate basic ideas if we’re pressed. But nuanced communication is only possible to the extent that we know the words and can speak freely.

When we first begin to play guitar, our hands have not yet mastered themselves. We may be able to play loud and soft but are not able to play a gradient between these extremes. Especially at a quick pace.

Guitar technique practice is where we train our hands to do what we tell them to do. We build and hone the ability to issue subtle commands and execute them in real time.

And not only the black/white issue of playing a note vs. not playing it. Also included is the ability to accent notes at will, balance the voices, and structure the volume dynamics.

In language, this means knowing the vocabulary needed to speak on-topic. It means being able to speak with conviction and weight. It means using the voice to successfully transfer complex ideas and emotions to another person. And it’s the same in music.

On guitar, as in speech, this takes ongoing time and attention.

The payoff of this musical training is the ability to “speak.” We are more able to play fluidly and expressively.

To have good guitar technique means that our hands do what we ask of them.

The second half of communication is knowing what to say and how to say it. Many players take this for granted. They assume that if the notes are clean, the music will play itself. This confidence is admirable, if naive.

There is a difference between poetry and prose. A good poet brings language to new heights, crafting elegant ideas that transcend the words.

And the same is true with music. Not all expression is created equal. And we can strive to improve this side of our playing as well.

Here we have the two sides of the musical coin – the technique and the expression. Together, they form the craft of playing. Ideally, each serves the other. Each builds the other. And each gets quality time in the practice room.

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 have to say after over 12 months of one-on-one training with a teacher before joining The Woodshed, this is the first time that I feel I’m making technical progress.


~ Nusret Aydemir

-Nusret Aydemir

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.


~ Ken Montz

-Ken Montz

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