Eliminate Confusion and Reduce Random Guitar Mistakes
Most folks studying classical guitar aim to play pieces through with no mistakes. This is a popular and noble goal.
But often, little mistakes pop up. These can be random, or they can be consistent (every time we play a certain passage).
Either way, there is often a common cause. And when we get rid of this cause, we play cleaner, with fewer mistakes. Below you’ll find a simple way to practice so you play with fewer mistakes.
Blind Spots: A Common Root of Guitar Mistakes and Fumbles
Often when we mess up in a piece of music, it’s because of a “blind spot.”
A blind spot is an area that is just out of our visual field. We can see around it, but not within it. In driving, this is the spot our mirrors miss.
In music, this is an area where we don’t know exactly what needs to happen. Some aspect, large or small, is invisible to us.
We can think of these areas in music as patches of fog. They are not as clear as other areas. We are slightly confused, whether we know it or not. And this confusion leads us to stumble and falter.
When we reduce this confusion (you’ll learn how below), we experience myriad benefits.
Benefits of Reduced Confusion
As we become clear about exactly what needs to happen in our music, a few positive effects follow. Once we explore a problem-spot closely, we feel better and are more likely to play it beautifully.
Less Excess Physical Tension
The “choreography” of a passage is the dance our fingers need to perform. When we understand the precise demands we can maintain appropriate tension throughout.
When we have a moment of confusion, we often tense our muscles. This extra contraction tells our nervous system that something is wrong. This creates stress. Stress lowers our mental faculties and distracts us from our work.
One of the goals of learning to play guitar at a high level is to use appropriate tension. And eliminating confusion is one way to do this.
When we understand what needs to happen, we feel more confident. Instead of hoping for the best, we take each step as it comes.
Then, after we have played through a previously difficult spot a few times well, we feel more capable. We’re self-assured that we can execute the moves as they come, in time and with the desired expression.
More Awareness = Faster Learning
When we become clear about all facets of a musical passage, we learn it faster.
Having explored it from various angles, we memorize it more easily. We have richer context for the notes.
And not only do we learn the piece faster, but we also improve faster on guitar in general. We become more aware. And awareness leads to cleaner execution, better listening, and more beautiful playing.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of reduced confusion is that we make fewer mistakes. This allows us to play through our pieces, moving from one phrase to the next.
And the fewer mistakes we make when first learning a piece of music, the fewer mistakes we’ll make when playing it for friends and loved ones.
How to Eliminate Confusion in Classical Guitar Music
Okay, so how do we eliminate confusion in our pieces? What is the process by which we form clear, direct mental instructions for each note?
In practice, we can first be on high alert for moments where we experience confusion. Any “foggy patches” can raise the red flag and signal that we need to give special attention.
Then we can pull out the sheet music, and ask one simple question…
Ask The Big Question: “What’s Going On Here?”
Perhaps the most important question we can ask in our guitar practice is “What’s going on here?”
This encourages us to look closer at the fine details. We can look at each spot of ink on the page.
Look at every element of the music
We can first check the notes and rhythm. We can look for any patterns or shapes in the left and right hands.
In the left hand, we may have a shift. A finger may need to hop quickly to another note. We may have a stretch that needs preparation. Or we may have a slur (hammer-on or pull-off) that needs special attention.
In the right hand, we may have an inconvenient fingering. We may have a string-crossing with the potential to trip us. Or a pattern we haven’t seen before.
If we know music theory, we can look at the harmony (chords). We can notice the different parts and voices of the music, such as the melody, bass, and accompaniment.
We can note the musical expression. We can look for dynamics (swells and fades), accents, or changes in speed (tempo).
Over and over, we can ask the question, “What’s going on here?” Then play with the answer we find.
With this work, we’ll usually discover the solution to any problem with which we may be struggling.
Speed-Dependent Clarity: The Speed of Thought
Once we’ve gained clarity, our job is nearly done. But there may be a speed at which we become confused again.
We may be able to track all the nuances and details of a passage at one speed. But above that speed, we stumble and make mistakes.
When this happens, we can ask our master question again, seeking the exact note at which we falter. We can find the technical or mental material that is tripping us at speed.
Having found the exact note or place in the music where things go wrong, we can seek more and more clarity. We can define the precise physical and musical demands.
We can “zoom in” and become intimately aware of every movement, every velocity, every pressure.
Then, as we play faster and faster, we can be alert to any feelings of confusion still arriving. We should find ourselves much more clear about what needs to happen.
With practice, we can train ourselves to recognize confusion. Then, we can ask the question, “What’s going on here?” and gain clarity of all the details involved.
This makes practice a joy. We become more effective and strategic. And this means we learn more music in less time. We feel better playing guitar – alone or for others.
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.
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