J.S. Bach on How to Succeed in Your Daily Practice

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

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

J. S. Bach

Amateurs ascribe much to talent. But anyone who has reached a high level at anything knows the time and work involved.

The great 20th-century pianist Arthur Rubenstein once said, “Don’t tell me how talented you are. Tell me how hard you work.”

Even child prodigies have put in the hours, albeit at a young age. No one gains mastery without training and practice. While we may learn at different speeds than others, we all have to show up to the lessons and tasks.

To sustain a musical practice over time, a consistent routine is helpful. If we have to decide what to do each day, we’ll likely stray off the path. We won’t stick with anything long enough to learn it.

Practice is most effective when we can sit down and get to it. Having to decide what to do in the moment is often a hurdle we avoid. But with a general plan we trust, we can focus our attention on the work before us.

And “work” isn’t all drudgery and toil. Part of work is experimentation. It’s creating little games, then trying to win them. It’s learning how to find fascination in the minute details of movement and music.

Many beginners claim to get bored with practice. This is because they don’t yet understand the challenge. They don’t ask the right questions of themselves. They equate practice with entertainment, which it rarely is.

An advanced player can find endless interest and engagement in a simple scale. The way one note connects to the next. The relative volume and tone quality (sound) of each note compared to the next. The position of limbs and the movements of fingers. Each provides subtle challenges with attainable goals.

When we learn how to work, practice comes alive. This is because we breathe life into it. We take responsibility for our energy and attention. Sometimes the work is indeed hard. But the return we get is fulfillment on a deeper level. It’s a slower, more meaningful prize. Worth the work.

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.
Click here for a sample formula.

Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary.  Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice.  He is a very good,and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning.  I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.

-Peter Buck (r.e.m.)

Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.

-Joe Bazan

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