Robert Breault on Enjoying Each Moment of Practice
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big ones.”
In the documentary Fourteen Peaks, Nirmal Purja, a Nepalese mountaineer, climbs the world’s fourteen tallest peaks in under seven months.
It’s an astonishing accomplishment. It broke eight world records.
In this film, we see him on each peak, triumphant. And on each peak, he talks about the next peak he and his team will conquer. After coming down from the last peak, his focus is on how he thinks the reception should be bigger.
And at the end of the film, when asked what he will do next, he has no idea. But he wants it to be bigger and better. There is only “Next, Next, Next.”
We can easily make this same blunder in guitar practice. We can put too much emphasis on goals and endpoints. And in doing so, miss out on the gift that each practice brings.
Claude Monet, the great painter, said, “When I work I forget all the rest.” When he paints, he enjoys one-pointed attention. There is no later, no next mountaintop. Only the current brushstroke, the light in the moment.
If we listen closely to our thoughts in practice, we may be surprised at how many are based in the future or the past. Having made time for playing the guitar, we spend it talking in our heads about anything but.
A common performance suggestion is “Play your music as a gift.” And in the moment of performance, this can seem a useless platitude. It seems so abstract, especially when the adrenaline is pumping.
But we can use this in daily practice to great effect.
To play as a gift is to take the ego out of it. To not worry about missing notes or making unwanted noises. Like a picture drawn by a child, offered as a simple and pure gesture, flaws and all.
We can intend this gift for ourselves, someone we love, a situation, or the world. We can dedicate the practice to anyone or anything. The point is that we project it outward and release it.
To play as a gift means to bring gratitude and presence to each moment of practice. It is no longer about proving anything. It’s just about being there and doing something for the enjoyment of it.
We can bring this attitude to each note of a scale, each chord of a piece. We can tune our guitar as a gift. We can practice sight-reading as a gift.
For anything we do, we can let go of the need to be right about it. The greater implications can drop away.
This allows us to focus on process. We can relish each step, one at a time. And this leads to better outcomes anyway.
It’s not always easy – the mind likes to wander and create stirring stories. It takes gentle discipline to remind ourselves that none of those thoughts really matter.
Operatic tenor Robert Breault also said, “No matter what it is, if you aren’t happy striving for it, you won’t be happy achieving it.”
Each moment of practice is precious. It’s a chance to feel how our bodies move, to work at worthwhile challenges.
Sure, it will be wonderful to play our pieces at a high level. But if played well, they too will be only a series of present moments. One at a time, lived with appreciation, compassion, and generosity.
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!
~ Johnny Geudel
I just started level 1C...I was able to look at a Carulli piece, albeit a simple one, and understand it. And that understanding allowed me to play it much more easily on the first run through, and I expect it will allow me to make it fully musical at tempo quite soon. That's a huge personal victory for me. Until very recently my mindset was: "Notes on a page. Jimi didn't need them and I don't either." But I ain't Jimi, and now I want those notes on a page.My work in CGS, even at these early levels, got me to that personal breakthrough. And that's given me more confidence that continued work will get me to greater places in due time. So to answer your question: yes, I absolutely feel like I'm making headway and moving forward in my playing. Thank you for that.~ Matthew Ecker
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