Ryan Holiday on the Marathon that is Learning the Guitar

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

“Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon.” 

Ryan Holiday

They say that satisfaction is the death of desire. And this is as true in learning guitar as anywhere else.

It’s often useful to set dates for goals. Performances are one example. Constraining a given project to a limited time frame can help us focus and stay on task.

And when we reach the chosen finish line, we may feel thrilled or elated. Or we may feel we could have done better or taken it further. Either way, the glow wears off fast.

We should certainly acknowledge our hard work and congratulate our efforts. It takes discipline and mental energy to maintain a regular guitar practice. So regardless of the outcomes, we should say encouraging and kind words to ourselves.

Then we start new projects. It may be a new piece of music. It may be an intensive technique study to build a specific skill.

And we are once again in the daily practice.

Daily practice is 99.9% of what we do as musicians. Even for professionals, practice time dwarfs performance time. (And performance itself becomes a different sort of practice).

Annie Dillard, in her book ‘The Writing Life’, says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.”

Learning to play guitar is learning to practice guitar. And the more we embrace practice as an end unto itself, the more we enjoy it.

Like a marathon, it’s not always easy or fun. Sometimes it feels more like work than like play.

And also like a marathon, we play an inner game. Attitude counts. Internal dialog matters.

The more creative and engaged we become, the more we can find entertaining hurdles. We can invent enthralling challenges and playful puzzles.

On performance day (whatever that looks like) we can relish our success. We can praise our past self for all we did. Champagne all around.

Then we can put back on our proverbial running shoes and start the next lap.

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.
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