anais nin guitar practice

Anais Nin on Musical Courage and Risky Practice

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”


“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Anaïs Nin




allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.


I also want to thank you for including more video lessons on the Bridges Guitar Series. I have learned to play Calatayud's Waltz. The most exciting thing about having done this is that I sight read the entire piece as I was learning it. Six months ago looking at a sheet of music was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Learning to read notation is empowering and I appreciate the sensible way you are teaching us to learn to read music.


-Steve Simpler

Hi, Allen! I am so excited to have gotten started on your program! I just upgraded to a yearly membership. Thank you very much! You do such great work!


-Linda Hansen


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