Socrates on practicing the wrong things
In the midst of our guitar practice, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture.
We may get preoccupied with playing fast. Or learning the new tune. Or with any other shiny new bauble that catches our eye.
But if you ask any master of anything, they will tell you this: It’s all about the basics.
In any field, in any endeavor, the masters of the game are the ones who focus the most on ingraining and honing the most rudimentary elements of their craft.
With the basics firmly in hand, any new technique or effect becomes easier. Any new pattern or complexity becomes a simple combination of already-mastered moves.
Speed comes easier and safer when the basic movements are efficient and safe.
We learn new music more quickly when we recognize the basic elements (chords, scales, right hand patterns, etc.) that form the piece.
Socrates said “It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly.”
So as guitarists, where are we going?
Here’s one answer: I want to play beautifully, with speed, precision and grace.
And what is the path to that destination? A perpetual focus on the basics.
Any practice that does not reinforce, challenge, and strengthen the basic movements in our technique is time wasted. Or worse, it’s time spent creating problems that we’ll have to go back and fix later.
Classical guitar practice is our time to look closely at the fine details of how we play. Over time, we add complexity. We form useful muscle habits that allow us to play more quickly. We learn to recognize musical and physical patterns. Before we know it, we’re playing beautifully.
Practice that doesn’t bring us to our long-term desire is what Socrates referred to as “activity”. He could have also called it “messing around”, or “doodling”.
How closely can you examine your basic movements in your practice? How do you hold the guitar? How do you use your body? How do you touch the strings? Is it different when slow than fast? How is it different? Should it be?
This type of practice can seem slow. But it’s been proven for millennia to be the surest and quickest route to excellence.
“It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement. ”