How to Fall in Love with Classical Guitar Technique Practice
To play beautifully, we have to train our hands to move with power and grace.
We need speed, agility, and flexibility. We need to be able to perform whatever the music throws at us.
But that takes work. So how do we come to enjoy that work as much as playing the actual tunes?
The Problem: Not Enough Technique Practice
Some guitarists don’t enjoy practicing technique. They don’t wake up looking forward to scales and arpeggios. They don’t relish training their hands to sound and move just so.
Instead, they spend all their time playing pieces. They may do a minute or two of technique practice for every hour spent playing pieces of music.
The problem we encounter practicing only pieces is one of bandwidth. We spend all our mental bandwidth on getting the notes. This leaves none for the “craft” of playing guitar – the actual “how” we play.
To play pieces well, we need to be able to play with
and lyricly connected notes.
And all these demand attention.
It’s a mistake to think that we can reach our potentials playing only pieces. We need to train our hands. And that training can be every bit as fun and stimulating as playing pieces.
The Solution: Focus on Something Specific
One way to get more interested in technique practice is to focus on specific details.
“Playing scales” may not be much fun. After all, it’s the same thing over and over again, right?
But when we zoom in closer and listen to the little gap of silence between each two notes, making that gap as small as possible, then things start to get more interesting.
The more detailed and specific we make our practice, the more enjoyable it becomes. And better yet, focusing on specifics is what lets us play more beautifully.
The better we can connect notes, the more beautiful our melodies can be.
The faster we can play scales and right-hand patterns, the faster we can play our pieces.
The more awareness we have each note, the more we can sculpt and shape our music.
Specifics give us awareness and control. And these are the raw materials with which we can create anything we want.
But on what, specifically, do we focus?
Technique Focus #1: How You Move Your Hands
How are you sitting? How are your hands approaching the instrument? How do your fingers contact the guitar?
How we play a string with a right-hand finger is how we play. Our right-hand movements create the sound. They determine how rich or thin our sound comes out. How slow or fast. How graceful or gimpy.
“Tone quality” is how we sound. Are all the notes consistent? Is the sound of each note rich and warm, or thin and brittle? Does one finger jump out as louder than the others?
When we play pieces, our attention goes to the squeaky wheel: the notes. We can play for hours and not be aware of how the guitar sounds. Guitar music often has melody, bass and harmony. If we don’t craft it, they can all wash together like melted Neapolitan ice cream.
When we put the piece of music aside, we have the luxury of listening. We can take a breath and make a lovely sound. Then we can train our hands to make that sound consistently.
Tip: Bounce Around to Stay Engaged
At first, we don’t have the mental muscles to hold our attention on specific details for long periods of time.
The more curiosity we bring, the longer we can practice the items above. The more interested we become, the better we do.
And while each of the focii above are worthy of deep exploration, we may enjoy bouncing from one to the next.
We can focus in on one practice method for a few minutes, then switch to another.
Down the road, playing pieces becomes a moving circuit of attention. We fleet from rhythm, to movement, to tone, to connection, and more. This happens hundreds of times a minute, like a pilot checking his instruments.
Seek, and Ye Shall Find
The art of playing beautifully is the art of exquisite details.
But details don’t craft themselves. We have to recognize the opportunities before us, then take them.
We can be on the look out for clarity, connection, and consistency. We can listen. We can feel our fingers on the strings.
The first step to playing more beautifully is to become aware of the details. And the more time we spend focused on specific details in our technique practices, the better equipped we’ll be to create beautiful moments.
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.
Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!
Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary. Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice. He is a very good and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning. I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.
-Peter Buck, R.E.M.
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