Walter Anderson on Lowering Anxiety on Guitar

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

“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” 

Walter Anderson

Why do we stop practicing guitar? Why do we avoid sharing our music with friends and loved ones?

The culprit of many thwarted musical journeys is anxiety.

Anxiety is fear. It’s a grown-up word for being scared. And usually, this fear is of the unknown.

In performance, we’re afraid we’ll fail and look foolish. In practice, we may be frightened that we’ll do things wrong and waste our time (also looking foolish, to ourselves).

And even the smallest shred of the unknown can trigger this emotion. It need not be rational, because emotions play by their own rules.

For example, say we want to pick up the guitar. We feel the urge and we have some time.

Then we wonder what we’ll do first. This can feel like a big decision. We want to be productive and smart, so we had best get this right…

And this small friction can make it easier to instead turn on the TV or go to the kitchen. Practice abandoned before it starts.

The solution to this common scenario is simple: Just do something.

Once we’re in motion, it is easier to stay in motion. Overcoming this initial inertia that takes the most energy.

In front of people, anxiety can be acute. We may feel our pulse pounding and see sweat beading on our fingertips. Our breath goes shallow, and the world seems a very threatening place.

Here, one of the best strategies is to focus on something specific. We can zero in on the musical rhythm, for instance. Or finger placement. Anything works, so long as it is specific and actionable.

This doesn’t mean that all the fear will go away. But it does give us something to do with our attention. And putting our attention on our playing and the music is a positive step toward playing well for others.

To lower the anxiety and stress in our music, we can first recognize and acknowledge it.

Next, we can forgive ourselves for it.

Then we can (briefly) explore what may be at the root of it. And finally, we can decide to act anyway and set to it.

For specific issues, we can decide on a course of action in advance. Then when it comes up, we know what to do. Following a course or program can take away much of the confusion and doubt.

For the example above, we can have a basic routine for the first few minutes of practice. This makes beginning a practice feel comfortable and safe. A known quantity.

As we shave off one little apprehension after another, we may find deeper fears lurking. That’s fine. With forethought, experimentation, and time, these, too, will fade.

And practice and performance both become richer, more rewarding, and generally less scary.

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, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.

~ Joe Bazan

-Joe Bazan

I came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.


~ Gloria Mader

-Gloria Mader

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