Theodor Leschetizky on the “Hopeless Quest” of Repetition in Practice
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“The player who repeats the same passage, wearily expectant that he will accomplish it in process of time, is a lost soul on a hopeless quest.”
Repetition is a part of practice. We need to do things more than once to imprint them in the mind. However, mindless repetition can do more harm than good.
Mindless repetition encourages mind-wandering and low focus. It trains us to play without awareness and without listening. And it can lead to repetitive stress injuries, such as focal dystonia. (Plus, it’s boring.)
Instead of the grinding treadmill of mindless repetition, we can do better.
How can we do better? Through variation.
Many of the best musicians from history, most notably pianists and violinists, have written about variation in practice.
Variation can help dissolve problem spots. It creates a more flexible and dexterous technique. And it’s more fun.
We can use rhythmic variation, accents, dynamics, articulations, and more.
For example, in a scale or melodic passage, it is common to play a straight rhythm, such as all 8th notes, in practice.
We can accent every first of two notes. Then every second of two notes. Then every third note, fourth, and so on. Or we can accent a given right-hand finger.
We can play the scale or passage staccato. We can play every third note staccato and all others legato.
We can play the scale at each of the five main dynamic levels, from very quiet, up to very loud. We can get louder and softer in intentional patterns.
And we can combine the above in endless experimentation.
We can devise variations for right-hand arpeggio patterns, scales, exercises, and all other elements of technique practice. And we can invent creative ways to practice each bit of each piece we play.
Learning to play classical guitar is actually learning to practice classical guitar.
We learn methods by which to practice, and this allows us to play the music we want to play. Practice is different from playing, and the more different we make it, the better.
John Culkin (or was it Churchill?) wrote: “We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.”
Variation in practice is one of the most useful tools we can shape. It takes more mental energy, and this helps to improve at guitar more quickly.
Variation keeps practice engaging. And it lets us ride the zone of constructive challenge – the razor’s edge of hard but not too hard.
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.
Those videos on practicing the piece were just awesome, Allen! I've always thought that learning songs might be something completely different than practicing exercises, but the way you teach it makes it much easier than I thought. I'm positive that joining the Woodshed has been the best investment I've ever done for learning the classical guitar. Thank you so much for these lessons.
~ Ulysses Alexandre Alves
-Ulysses Alexandre Alves
Hi allen, it amazes me how good and precise your teachings are. The best thing I ever did was to download a piece of music from you and to listen to your videos. The enjoyment I now have from playing is ten fold. Thanks!
~ Tony Christopher
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