Walter Gieseking on Fatigue and Technique

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

“Where fatigue begins, technique ends.

Walter Gieseking

Many of us hold triumphant images of the suffering musician. He toils long hours in service to the craft. He works through tired and hurt, through hunger and pain. He is the very archetype of struggle.

But this is a myth. It’s the stuff of stories and tales.

Real musicians don’t work this way. Or certainly not for for long. Biographies rarely find the juggernauts pushing beyond the point of exhaustion.

Why not? Because it doesn’t work.

Great musicians value quality over quantity. They care most about the quality of movement. They judge success by the quality of attention.

Concert pianist Walter Gieseking wrote the book “The Shortest Way to Pianistic Perfection”. In it, he maintains that absolute focus, above all else, is the goal of practice.

To this end, he recommended beginners play no more than 20 or 30 minutes a day. And in this time, to stay entirely engaged and focused.

Over time, we build the mental stamina to practice longer. But until then, fatigue will take us. And when we get tired, our practice suffers.

Fatigued, we make more mistakes. And these train us to make and accept even more mistakes. We form habits of mind-wandering and distraction.

To play beautifully takes our entire self – mind, body, spirit. Each takes training. And when we lose focus (mind), the body falters (techinque). This is disheartening. Doubly so when we recognize the loss of quality and continue anyway.

What is the fastest way to improve at guitar? Through correct repetitions of challenging material, performed with focus and awareness.

Therefore, it’s more productive to choose shorter, more focused practice-times. And to gauge success more by attention than by number of notes played.

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.


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-Gloria Mader

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