Charles Poliquin on reinforcing the basics
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“The rule is: the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin is one of the top strength coaches in the world. He works with the most elite athletes in all sports, and has for over 20 years.
What the most advanced players (in any arena, be it sports, music, etc.) know is that to do complicated things, we have to make them simple.
We do this by ingraining the basics.
And what are the basics?
The basics are those simple, often obvious elements that we tell our coaches, “Ok, got that. What’s next?”
In basketball, the basics are running, dribbling, shooting, passing and jumping. The best players have done more of these basics than anyone else.
In health, the basics are sleep, water, and exercise. Everything works best when we have these basics taken care of. And getting these three back in balance usually goes far to bring us back to health.
In classical guitar technique, the basics are playing a note with the right hand, and holding down frets with the left.
(“Sure, already knew that, but how do I move forward?”)
It’s tempting to scatter our mental resources, always looking for the new pattern or exercise. In doing this, we gloss over the practice that could get us the results we want, and in far less time.
When we hit our upper limit, we rarely need to learn anything new. Most of the time, we just need to refine and hone our basic movements, and the limits disappear.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously wrote, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
If we work with Charles Poliquin, his gym won’t have a thousand specialized exercise machines. He’ll train us with basic bench-presses and squats.
The basics aren’t fancy.
It takes trust and courage to embrace the simple. It takes humility to practice simple patterns with focus, awareness and specific intention. And it takes patience to stick with those patterns long enough to make them automatic, consistent and reliable in our muscle-memory.
How do we go forward to the next level in our playing? By going back to the beginning and starting over, with the knowledge that the closer we get to the beginning, the further along the path we are.
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.
I also want to thank you for including more video lessons on the Bridges Guitar Series. I have learned to play Calatayud's Waltz. The most exciting thing about having done this is that I sight read the entire piece as I was learning it. Six months ago looking at a sheet of music was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Learning to read notation is empowering and I appreciate the sensible way you are teaching us to learn to read music.
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.)
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