Robert Schumann on Playing with Elegance and Grace
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Endeavour to play easy pieces well and with elegance; that is better than to play difficult pieces badly.”
What does it mean to play a piece “well and with elegance?” When we are near the beginning of our guitar journey, we may not know.
It takes time and study to discover the elements that make for beautiful music. It’s not all feelings or “soul.” There are definable ingredients to discover and cultivate.
And musical elements have a hierarchy. Without the foundational building blocks, the more subtle effects fall flat.
At the ground level, we have the notes on the page and we have the rhythm. Whatever else happens, if these are not right, it won’t come together.
And to play the notes and rhythm with a strong, consistent tone quality and grace? Here, we do best with safe, efficient, ingrained strokes. This is the beginning of guitar technique. Form, positioning, movement.
Now we can listen to the connection of the notes. Each note can connect smoothly to the next as if sung. We can patch the choppy bits and round the edges. Think cursive rather than print.
Next, we can shape the melody, bass, and interior lines. This introduces volume dynamics. We build or dissolve from one note to the next. We find the arrival point of each phrase and work toward it.
To wax and wane in a line of music, we can start with some basic formulas. And this is also the time for experimentation and creativity. Either way, we must make decisions. We can change them later, but we must first decide what to do to best show the musical ideas to a future listener.
Alongside dynamics, we can add special touches that will make the music more elegant. We may slow down or speed up in certain spots. We may change the placement of some notes to give a specific effect.
All of the above can be performed with even the most simple of pieces. Indeed, easy pieces are where we learn to go all the way to the end of this process.
In harder pieces, we may never get beyond the foundation of notes and rhythm. By the time these are solid, we may be ready for something new.
If playing harder pieces, we can decide on dynamics and other musical interpretation early in the process. This will keep a higher ideal in mind, so we are less likely to quit the piece before bringing in these elements.
Easy pieces give us the opportunity to work at very high levels of artistry without the technical challenges of advanced-level pieces. Then, when we do play harder music, we have a standard by which to hear them.
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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