Robert Browning on the Truth and Emotion in Music

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

“There is no truer truth obtainable by man than comes of music.”

Robert Browning

Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Barring some circles of academia, the general goal of music is to express emotion. And beyond expressing, music can elicit emotion.

This is a reliable way to measure music—by how well it elicits emotion. Does it make us feel something?

With this as a gauge, we can come to understand music more.

This is true even for music that repels or confuses us. We may not enjoy the emotion the music brings. Rage, anguish, sentimentality, indignation. These have their time and place, and there is music to communicate them.

We may have preferences for certain harmonies, instrumentation, or tempi (speeds). We may prefer a given level of simplicity or complexity.

And we may deem some expressions more appropriate or beneficial than others. Some may even threaten our beliefs or sense of good.

But music has no inherent politics or agenda. It is open to the entire range of human experience. And through it, we can more fully experience what it means to be human.

In our everyday lives, we may have a limited range of emotions. If desired, we can seek out content to spark different emotions. Movies, books, social media, and news can all give rise to various emotions.

But music is the shortcut. Music can change emotion with a single note. It can hint and suggest. It can swing 180 degrees and back within a few moments. Music can contrast emotions in ways seldom found in normal life.

And more, it can do this without a story. We need not sift fact from fiction or invest time in background information. We need only listen and open ourselves to any feelings that arise.

As musicians, we can come to find the avenues of emotion in our music. We can work to master the small details that lead to effective communication.

Our work on technique should be in service of this communication. And as such, never rote or mindless. Always seeking a more reliable clarity, control, and maneuverability.

And our pieces (at all levels, beginning to advanced) can be explorations of emotion.

We convey different attitudes and stances by the way music gets louder or softer. How one note leads to the next. How each fits into the greater whole. In our practice, we build a vocabulary of expressive tools and devices.

And as John Culkin (and others) have written, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

This is the larger study of music. Not just on guitar, but as listeners as well. We can notice when and what we feel, then question what happened (technically) to lead us to those feelings. What worked and what didn’t? Which opportunities were taken and which were missed?

These are two different types of listening. First, we listen as people. This is enjoying music for its own sake.

And next, we listen as musicians, students of the art. Here we study the masters and employ the scientific method. We theorize, experiment, tinker, and play.

And through this exploration, as we come to accept the emotions that arise from music, we open. We move past narrative and through to a richer human adventure.

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 came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.


~ Gloria Mader

-Gloria Mader

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.


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-Steve Simpler

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