What really goes down in my practice room
I’ve come to realize something about my personal endeavors playing the classical guitar. And 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 spent 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
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!