Andres Segovia Top Advice: How to Study Music

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

“The advice I am giving always to all my students is above all to study the music profoundly…”

Andres Segovia

What does it mean to “study the music profoundly”? What advice is the great champion of the classical guitar sharing here?

Does he mean to learn all the notes? Sure.

Does he imply we should get these notes clean, secure and up to speed? That’s a big part of playing music, so surely he would agree.

But what else? Because moving the fingers and sounding the notes in time are basic necessities. These are foregone conclusions – not profound at all. Challenging, certainly. And a great deal of what we do in practice. But not profound.

So how to we study “profoundly”?

To study the music profoundly, we must look closer. We must ask questions and seek insights. We must get curious.

We explore the harmony (chords) and melody . We hypothesize about the composer’s intent for each melodic line. We ask the big question, “What’s going on here?” And we look for answers.

Each note has role. Every note either moves toward an arrival point, or it is that arrival point. And even then, it may also move toward the next arrival point. Our job as performer (even alone at home) is to tell the musical story the composer intended.

So first we must decide the role and intent of each note. Then we must demonstrate that intent clearly to anyone listening.

And how to we demonstrate the music? We use our tools: Volume, tone quality, and time.

The composer gives us the pitches, and the written rhythm. They may also suggest a general volume (dynamics) or tone quality. But the degree the note-to-note swell or fade, or the rate of each slow-down or speed-up: these are on us.

To study the music profoundly means to understand the music. We must discover its goals, directions, surprises, and emotional character.

And it means we then use (and develop) our skills to bring what we find to life.

The notes are but the first step in the journey that is a piece of music. When we strive to move beyond the notes, our practice expands. We find infinite variations of mood and expression. We find new challenges and thrilling possibilities.

And this all start with the act of looking closer and asking questions. It start when we “study the music profoundly”.

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 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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I appreciate the organized, well thought out progression of each level, as well as a measurable means to determine when to proceed to the next level.  I had burned myself out by pushing too hard and playing beyond where I was comfortable.  This course is just what I needed, and I am happy to be back on the road to playing again.


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