Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Risks and Safety in Classical Guitar Practice

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Risks and Safety in Classical Guitar Practice

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

“What matters isn’t what a person has or doesn’t have; it is what he or she is afraid of losing.” 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Learning and playing a piece of music, we go on a journey. We start at the beginning, and over time we discover the terrain and arc of the piece. With luck, after work and exploration, we arrive at a point where we can play it reliably.

Each piece is a different journey. Though they may share common elements, unique challenges arise.

To play a piece of music reliably is no small feat. Even when we know the music and have practiced long and hard, mistakes can still happen. Buzzes, missed notes, random sounds, unintended changes in volume or tone quality – much can go wrong.

To play a piece of music – clean, fluid, and intentional – this is one of the great goals of guitar.

And it is in service to this goal that we practice. We want to play beautifully. The daily practice is also an end in itself, but it’s guided by a desire to play real music.

In our practice, we face test after test. Some of these we know and have become comfortable with. (Learning the notes, taking the repetitions, etc.) But our usual tools may not solve all the problems.

The “tricky spots” in our music may resist our normal approach. What we do may not work. What then? Here is where many people stumble.

We may be called on to step outside our comfort zone and try something new. This may demand creativity and experimentation.

But in the time before the solution presents itself, we may not feel safe. We may not understand. We may feel lost and adrift.

And this is why we avoid this type of practice. Even though we may intellectually know that we need to “play” with the problem, we fear failure. We fear the idea that we don’t already know the answer. We fear the possibility that what we do may not work.

And this threatens our very identity.

And the smarter we deem ourselves, the more we feel we have to lose. Even alone in our practice rooms with no one to see.

It takes courage to allow the possibility of failure. This is the very definition of “skin in the game.”

And when we take the risks and gamble our egos, we move closer to the prize. And more, we enjoy better practice. We more often find flow. We meet new parts of ourselves, and make life a renewed 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.

Allen: Just wanted you to know I have thoroughly enjoyed The Woodshed program. I'm in Level 1C and love how every part works together. It has improved my "general" playing already.


~ Lydia Chance

-Lydia Chance

I just upgraded. I have been thinking about it since day one, but wanted to see how it works out for me. I have to say, even though I did not put as much effort in as I expected to, I already hear and feel Improvements when playing compositions I learned some time ago, before joining The Woodshed.



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