Beverly Sills guitar practice

Soprano Beverly Sills on Shortcuts and Musical Practice

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

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

Beverly Sills

There is always a chasm between where we are and where we ultimately want to be. It’s healthy and natural to aspire to new and higher levels.

The question at this point is, “How do I get there?”

It may the big piece of music or virtuoso-playing. It may be emotional expression, or just playing a simple chord without buzzing notes. Whatever we set our sights upon, we must choose the route to get there.

Some decisions seem obvious, in part because of “common knowledge”. For example, take the truism: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This is true in geometry. And it’s also true in many other realms of life.

Learning an instrument, the straight line appears to be the goal itself. If the goal is the big piece, then just dive right in and get started. If the goal is speed, then playing fast seems like the logical straight line.

But these fail to take quality into account. And without quality (of movement, sound, attention), the end result will be lacking. Speed without fundamental technique is out of control, and messy. The trophy piece without musical insight and physical training will fall flat. It will sound hollow and slipshod.

There is a most direct route to mastery (or even to the next incremental step on that path). And this is through deepening awareness and understanding of the basics.

The best performers are the ones with the most deeply-ingrained basics.

At any age or current ability-level, we can go from our current level to the next. And we can eventually rise to our full potential. The straightest line, the most direct path, is fundamentals.

In the moment, it feels like working on the basics makes for slow progress. But in fact, there is no faster path.

It’s true that other pursuits may offer flashy early wins. And others may be more entertaining for the unfocused mind.

But to play well, and enjoy all the benefits that come with musical maturity, the “slow road” is the fastest. Time spent on the basics moves us ever-forward.

Depth beats breadth, but only every time.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

Beverly Sills

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

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