Anais Nin on Musical Courage and Risky Practice
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
As we sit down to our guitar practice, and consider what we’ll do for the next little while, the world seems safe.
We’ll play this tune, and maybe that one. We’ll be “good” and run some scales.
It all feels comfortable and straightforward. As Bach reportedly said, “Music is easy – just play the right notes at the right times.”
So we try to play the right notes and call it a day.
But music isn’t that easy. Not real music anyway.
There’s a transformation that happens that turns notes on a page into emotionally meaningful music. And it doesn’t happen by itself.
Notes only become “music” through a collaboration between composer and player.
When we just play the notes, and “let the music speak for itself”, it’s not yet music. It’s just notes. It’s a starting point – a script. It’s our call to action.
And in a familiar environment like our practice space, it can be hard to step outside our comfort zone. After all, who are we to make bold choices and experiment?
It’s scary to experiment. As silly as it sounds, it’s scary to count aloud and clap rhythms. It’s scary to play a scale getting louder and softer. It’s scary to play one part of the music (like the melody) and ignore the rest.
It’s all risk and vulnerability. And this is while we’re alone. It can be downright terrifying to let someone else hear us.
This is where we need courage. And the more expressive we want our music to be, the more courage we need. We all want meaning and fulfillment from our daily practice. And for that we have to push our current limits.
The goal isn’t to play notes. The goal is to make music. And music requires vulnerability and engagement, even though it feels safer to play it cool.
Luckily, we get braver with practice. In time we become more comfortable being uncomfortable. We recognize the failures and mistakes for what they are: necessary steps on the way to artistry.
To adapt Nin’s quote, “Music (and the quality of our practice) shrink or expand in proportion to our courage”
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.
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