Socrates on Activity vs. Achievement
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement. ”
In the midst of our guitar practice, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture.
We may get preoccupied with playing fast or learning a new tune. Or with any other shiny new bauble that catches our eye. But if you ask any master of anything, they will tell you this:
It’s all about the basics.
In any field, in any endeavor, the masters of the game are the ones who focus the most on ingraining and honing the most rudimentary elements of their craft.
With the basics firmly in hand, any new technique or effect becomes easier. Any new pattern or complexity becomes a simple combination of already-mastered moves.
- Speed comes easier and safer when the basic movements are efficient and safe.
- We learn new music more quickly when we recognize the basic elements (chords, scales, right-hand patterns, etc.) that form the piece.
Socrates said, “It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly.”
So as guitarists, where are we going?
Here’s one answer: I want to play beautifully, with speed, precision, and grace.
And what is the path to that destination? A perpetual focus on the basics.
Any practice that does not reinforce, challenge, and strengthen the basic movements in our technique is time wasted. Or worse, it’s time spent creating problems that we’ll have to go back and fix later.
Classical guitar practice is our time to look closely at the fine details of how we play. Over time, we add complexity. We form useful muscle habits that allow us to play more quickly. We learn to recognize musical and physical patterns. Before we know it, we’re playing more beautifully.
Practice that doesn’t bring us to our long-term desire is what Socrates referred to as “activity”. He could have also called it “messing around”, or “doodling”.
How closely can you explore your basic hand and finger movements? How do you hold the guitar? How do you use your muscles and skeleton? How do you touch the strings? Is it different when slow than fast? How is it different? Should it be?
This type of practice can seem slow. But it’s been proven for millennia to be the surest and quickest route to excellence.
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.
Thanks to you (you are my only teacher) in only a few months I've gone from very basic beginner pieces to having just completed learning Bach's Gavottes 1&2 in good form and execution. As a non-classical electric guitarist who has always used a pick and never his fingers, this has been no small feat!
~ Gregg Olson
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
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