The Bhagavad Gita on How to Train Your Musical Mind to Focus

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

“The mind is restless… impetuous, self-willed, hard to train: to master the mind seems as difficult as to master the mighty winds.”

The Bhagavad Gita

Is there a difference between body and mind? They certainly influence each other. They are two sides of the same coin.

But the body can move without the minds attention. We can be distracted in practice, thinking of other things, and our fingers keep moving.

To play beautiful music, we need absolute attention and awareness. We need to both guide and observe. We need to maintain an ideal, while navigating the challenges of the moment.

But how do we train this? How do we become more aware in practice? How can we use our attention more effectively?

Attention, focus, concentration – these words are often used interchangably. Whatever the title, it’s a muscle. And like other muscles, it must be exercised and trained. Otherwise it atrophies and withers.

Walter Geiseking was one of the greatest pianists of the early 20th century. He suggested that 20–30 minutes of highly-focused practice would exhaust most of us. So he would forbid his early-stage students from doing any more than this.

This is because we learn fastest when we avoid mistakes. The fewer mistakes, and the more correct repetitions, the faster we learn.

But to go slow enough to maintain strict attention and stay aware of every sound and movement? Isn’t this difficult?

Definitely. And that’s why it works.

Easy practice doesn’t help us improve. We need challenge[tk – recall]. Muscles (both mental and physical) need to work for it. When we struggle constructively, we grow.

To train our minds – this is one of the hardest parts of becoming a musician. But also one of the most rewarding.

So how do we train? …

…We pay attention to specific things. We set specific challenges for ourselves and strive to meet them. We keep it slow. We hold the highest standard and trust that the outcome will be positive. We do the hard work of focusing.

With this practice, we become better at noticing where and when our minds stray. And we get better and faster at bringing our minds back to the task at hand. Like reps in the gym, each time our mind wanders and we bring it back, we grow stronger.

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.

Great advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.


~ Karen Richardson

-Karen Richardson

Great Work!!!  I thank you sincerely for all the effort you have put in and the terrific work you do for the classical guitar community.


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