von Franz guitar practice

von Franz on Balancing Realism and Idealism in Guitar Practice

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

“It’s easy to be a naive idealist. It’s easy to be a cynical realist. It’s quite another thing to have no illusions and still hold the inner flame.”

Marie-Louise von Franz

As musicians, we balance on a razor’s edge. We toe along on a wire suspended between two chasms.

On the one side, we imagine what could be. We hold grand visions for our music. Because we have good taste, we know what we want from our music. And even beyond that, there is some transcendent experience we sense possible. We may not have words for it, but we know it’s real. And we want it.

On the other side, we strive to hear what is truly coming out of our instrument. We train ourselves to listen and separate the actual sound from the music we create in our heads. And the reality rarely, if ever, lives up to our ideal rendition.

So how do we, as the celebrated Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz said, “have no illusions and still hold the inner flame”?

Just as any tight-rope walker, we take it one inch at a time. We stay fully invested in the moment at hand. We bring our entire focus and awareness to one note, then the next.

There will be no lasting time when we reach our ideal. Like the horizon, the perfect ideal is always moving ahead.

Our job is to live in the present, while also holding a shining vision of the future. We gain nothing by regret or dismay at what is not yet real. And we gain nothing by ignoring what is real right now. Indeed, this is all we can do: play one note, then the next.

Part of our daily practice (as much so as scales or etudes) is to show up with our feet planted firmly on the ground and our eyes forward, neither naive nor cynical.

Marion Woodman, another Jungian psychologist and poet, said it this way:

“As long as we try to transcend ourselves,
Reach for the sky,
Pull away from the ground and into spirit,
We are heroes carved in stone.
We stand atop the pillar alone
Blind to the pigeon’s droppings.
Do not try to transform yourself.
Move into yourself.
Move into your human unsuccess.
Perfection rapes the soul.”

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.

Hi, Allen! I am so excited to have gotten started on your program! I just upgraded to a yearly membership. Thank you very much! You do such great work!


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-Linda Hansen

I think the program levels are a great way to teach the guitar. I have had several teachers over the past few years and none came close to the structured organization that you have put together.


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