Alan Cohen on Finding More Joy in Guitar Practice

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“Don’t postpone joy until you have learned all of your lessons. Joy is your lesson.”

Alan Cohen

Why do we play music? Why do we challenge ourselves with difficult pieces and challenging exercises?

Is it all for a future payoff? Is all our work to claim bragging rights on the advanced-level piece? or the faster scales?

In the day-to-day routine of guitar practice, it’s easy to forget the whole point of it all. We may lose track of why we started this game in first place.

For most of us, we came to guitar wanting a satisfying challenge. We wanted something that we could enjoy working on over time.

And we have started guitar with dreams of playing the grand showpiece. If so, we probably thought playing at that level would be fun and rewarding.

We wake each day with the opportunity to enjoy meaningful work. In any given practice, we have the power to set small challenges and meet them. We can focus our attention and reach for our highest standards.

Even in short practices, we can strive for excellence and meet each moment with our best self.

This type of practice may not always be “fun”. We may not register it as “pleasure” in the moment.

But it serves us at a deeper level. As we remain aware in each moment of our practice, we experience the joy of living.

It’s not the fleeting pleasure of cotton candy or chocolate cake. But the intimate rewards of a moment well-lived. The satisfaction gained from doing our best, flaws and all.

The prize of learning guitar does not lie in the future. The landmark triumphs are just steps along the way. Instead, guitar is a tool by which we engage ourselves. And that engagement is the prize.

Allen Mathews

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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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.

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.  

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

Hi Allen, I am thoroughly enjoying your website and I find it is just what I need in my renewed passion for classical guitar. I have rediscovered a great love for this instrument and the music I can learn and play and it has changed my life for the better dramatically! Thank you facilitating this process.

-George Rogers

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