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.

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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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.

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!

-Arnoud Reinders

Hi allen, it amazes me how good and precise your teachings are. The best thing I ever did was to download a piece of music from you and to listen to your videos. The enjoyment I now have from playing is ten fold. Thanks!


-Tony Christopher

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