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Why Learn Classical Guitar?

What really goes down in my practice room

I’ve come to realize something about my personal endeavors playing the classical guitar. ancient britonAnd it may sound blasphemous to some guitar players. I’ve tried to convince myself otherwise for a long time, but in the end, I must face facts.

The truth is, what I love about practicing the classical guitar has very little (at this point) to do with the classical guitar. If it wasn’t classical guitar, it would be something else. If I lost my hands, I would simply find something else to do the same type of work with.

I like the sound of the classical guitar. I think it’s pretty. But really what satisfies me on a deep personal level is not the instrument per se, but the daily challenge of mastering myself and my body and meeting the challenges that come with that.

I enjoy the discipline of practicing every day. I don’t always succeed at it, but I am grateful for the challenge. It’s not always easy to show up for something that has no urgency.  No one will know or care if I practice my guitar or not.  No one will fuss at me. There’s no one to answer to but myself.  Many days I would much rather do something else (which I can also often justify as being “productive” in other areas). So it’s all on me. Some days I succeed, and some days I don’t.

 

All that hippy dippy new age stuff

I used to be really into yoga. I would spend hours each morning doing it. I have also spentguitar journey years studying the Alexander technique. I became a certified hypnotherapist, not to hypnotize others, but to hypnotize myself.  I wanted to understand learning processes and what goes on in the subconscious that compels us to meet our goals or do the things we do (for better or for worse!).   And for the last couple of years I’ve had a daily meditation practice in the mornings.  (If you ever want to be humbled, try not allowing yourself to think using words or images for 20 minutes!  Holy moly.)

 

I’m not sharing all of this because I think that you should do any of these (except perhaps the Alexander Technique). I am not trying to impress or repulse anyone with my new-agey explorations. I’m just illustrating the point that self mastery has been important to me for long time.

 

My questions are often, “Can my body do this?” And, “Can I do this with my mind?”

Classical guitar is wonderful for this type of exploration, because of all the challenges involved. To be able to play fluidly with any semblance of appropriate muscle tension, or to memorize and hear all the different lines of polyphonic music, takes nothing less than personal mastery, or at least our absolute best.

So in this way, the classical guitar has become for me a tool with which to explore these issues. If I lost my hands, I would still endeavor to master the use of my body and my thoughts.  It would simply take another form.

 

Guitar Performance: The Ultimate Challenge

dancer

The ultimate challenge, I find, is performance.  Performance is where the pressure comes on a little stronger. The stakes are little higher. The environment is strange and unknown. This is the ultimate testing ground of our focus and skills.  (In my case, I still sometimes do really well, and others I struggle.  I am still working on consistency and a trustworthy focus.  Onward and upward…)

 

Of course, I also have the express desire of sharing music with others, and (hopefully) creating something beautiful.  But for me, these are merely the bonuses. Performance is something I have to do simply because the challenge is there. I feel compelled to perform, just as a martial artist may be compelled to fight, even though fighting is not really what it’s all about.

 

An Emotional Being

In my daily practice, I alternate through every known emotion (“I’m So Freaking Awesome!” and then “I suck.”)  But what makes it all worthwhile, is when I remember to focus on what matters and keep my eye on the correct ball. And the correct ball (for me) is using appropriate tension and form in my body, and focus and presence in my mind. When I manage this, the world seems to disappear and I am left feeling very satisfied at the end of my practice.  I experience “flow”, and a heightened sense of awareness.  Very cool.

 

It’s a constant journey, and we will all understand it all much better this time next year, and the year after that.  It’s not like we ever really “arrive”.  But for now, all we can do is be where we are and do the best we can do right now.

 

Do you have thoughts on all this?  I would love to hear them.  And please join my email list, which not unlike inviting a vampire into your house!

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14 Responses to Why Learn Classical Guitar?

  1. John K. May 14, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

    Hello Allen,
    I don’t know how I stumbled on your site, but I like it a lot. I enjoyed reading your philosophizing about this and that. I do a lot of that myself and your thoughts resonate with me, even though I am a completely different kind of “guitarist”, if I can be called that. I have played some electric and acoustic guitar in my youth (just fun and parties, you know), but then, for various reasons, have not touched the instrument for more than thirty years. At age 72, several circumstances conspired (a story in itself) that made me take up the challenge of learning to play classical guitar. As soon as I yielded to this impulse I became totally consumed by this incredible instrument. I love absolutely everything about the experience. Starting with the guitar (I now have three) I greatly appreciate the types and quality of woods and craftsmanship of producing it. I love to practice. It is the activity I most look forward to every day. I fully appreciate the reality that no piece will ever be played to “perfection”, but working on it and moving forward gives me great satisfaction. I play mostly for myself. I have to admit I simply get too nervous (shaky hands) if I try to play in someone’s presence, including my family. Even if I try to record myself things quickly unravel. I eagerly soak up advise I find in books and on line about everything from technique, expression and music theory. Of course I am retired and I can afford the indulgence. Somewhat in keeping with your expressed sentiments I feel like the total effort here is what counts.

    I am looking forward to reading more of your articles. (It fits with what I have tried to express above).

    • Allen May 15, 2015 at 8:41 am #

      Hi John,
      Thanks so much for the note and kind words. I’m with you: the daily experience is at the heart of my love for it as well. It’s wonderful that you are immersing yourself in the study. If I can ever help, reach out anytime.
      All the best,
      Allen

    • ANNE GALLAGHER November 30, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      Hi Allen,

      Love your lessons and look forward to becoming a reasonable guitarist over the next twelve months.
      Your tuts are great – designed for beginner and advanced. I’m a raw beginner so I’m pleased with all your extra info.

      Thanks for the many happy hours of video & text.

      Anne.

      PS: I scratch my head, wander around, but cannot work something out. Later I watch another of your videos, and guess what?
      You show the solution.

      • Allen November 30, 2016 at 8:52 am #

        Thanks Anne, best of luck with everything!

  2. L Elaine April 3, 2015 at 5:09 am #

    Allen,

    Your expression of your discipline was beautiful and, finally, someone’s personal practice has explained why I love the guitar so much and continue to strive to be excellent at it.

    I have played other genres of guitar but have recently begun taking classical guitar lessons. The “rules” push me to discipline my fingers, body, mind, and self in ways that, though frustrating, reward me with self satisfaction when I can see and hear results.

    Now that I have your perspective of a discipline, I can use it as motivation.

    Thanks!

    Linda

    • Allen April 3, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

      Thanks Linda!

  3. George Clark January 28, 2015 at 8:30 am #

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on why you are learning to play classical guitar rather than just learning to play a few chords to make music. I did the latter and I felt there was still something missing so I found a very good teacher (classical guitar) and began about six months ago taking lessons. There are times I feel I’ve gotten in over my 76 year old head but this stubborn brain of mine says to labor on and so I do —-with encouragement from my more musically talented wife. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!!

    • Allen January 28, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      Thanks for the note, Mr. Clark! Keep at it!
      Cheers,
      Allen

  4. debbie April 7, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Can’t say I enjoy the required discipline so much as the results of the discipline. I’m really just an undisciplined hedonist. I enjoy learning for the sake of learning, meeting challenges and the personal satisfaction from doing the best I can in any pursuit with the existing limits. Can’t say “mastery” itself has been a goal, however.
    I never thought about “mastering” the guitar. I absolutely love the guitar and the music and have looked at it almost as a living thing of which I can experience some if its beauty, nuances, subtleties, complexities if I do the work and the stars and moon line up. I play mostly for myself and experience music on a completely different level when I play it myself(however poorly) than when I listen to it played by someone else. There’s that experience of excitement and discovery as the music and guitar slowly reveals itself to you.
    BTW, the listener does care about whether you practice or not. We notice. One of my favorite concerts of yours was, I believe several years ago in Oct. downtown

    • Allen April 10, 2013 at 7:37 am #

      Hi Debbie,
      Great thoughts! It all certainly is a multi-faceted experience. Mastery is a process, and your attention to detail and desire to play beautifully tell me that you are on that path as well, even though you may not think of it in those terms. Really examining the beauty, nuances, subtleties, and complexities is what it’s all about! Mastery imerges out of that examining.

      Thanks so much for the comments, and the kind words,
      Allen

    • tim Bergdall May 11, 2015 at 11:43 am #

      Hello,
      Short story is I decided at 56 to take up the guitar. After a few weeks of online exploration and picking I came across CGS on Youtube and was instantly attracted to the tones of discipline and self awareness through imporvement. I have practiced a classical Martial Art since I was 15. The similarities of each are close. The Martial Art I practice demands personal control, challenge & leading to an awareness, not the focus of destroying as quickly as possible. I picked up quickly your reasons and self motives without reading the above, though it confirms what I believed to be right about you. Stick to methodology and motives as you are. It is a compliment to the teaching curriculum.
      Regards,
      Tim

      • Allen May 15, 2015 at 8:46 am #

        Hi Tim,
        I find the study of CG very similar to martial arts as well. It’s all about mastery of self, mind, body, etc. as opposed to simply gaining some end (play the piece, defeat the opponent). Those ends get accomplished as a by-product of the process.
        Thanks for the thoughts!
        Cheers,
        Allen

    • mark June 19, 2015 at 7:34 am #

      Hi Debbie,

      For decades, I too was an undisciplined hedonist when it came to guitar playing. I began playing in 1973 at the age of 8; but was mostly just self-taught. However, and most recently, I’ve finally begun to understand what it is that Maestro Allen is talking about. Mastery. While I can play, I never mastered the instrument. I can’t read musical notation. I can’t do alot of things that one should be able to do after more than 40 years of playing. This is why I have decided to begin anew… forgetting everything I knew, or thought I knew… and return to square one! I’m 50 now, and am so excited about this new journey. I feel like a child all over again. I hope you will too!

      Sorry for butting in on your conversation.

      Mark

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