Germer on How to Make it Through Hard Practices

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

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”

Christopher Germer

To practice an instrument like guitar is to embrace daily challenge. To play any better than yesterday means to push the boundaries of our abilities. We must stretch enough to struggle, but not so far as to get discouraged.

And with all the challenge, failure is a daily experience. Failure is how we learn. We try something, fail, take stock, make adjustments, and try again.

Without failure, we don’t improve.

But failure hurts, too.

On these days, a moment of self-compassion can change the frame.

We can zoom out and look at the situation from a distance, and see ourselves as the humans we are. We can acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers up front. We can remind ourselves that the challenge is what makes it all so rewarding when we do succeed.

Most of us assume that we should already be good at everything. We forget all the practice it took to develop our existing strengths. We get used to feeling competent, and forget how it feels to flail.

To practice well is to show up with full awareness of the risk and probable failure – indeed, to hope for it. It’s to say to ourselves, “It’s okay – this may not work, but I’m going for it anyway.”

As students of music, we can celebrate our child-like sense of wonder and curiosity. And when that child gets overwhelmed, we can come to the rescue. Gently and without judgement, in small moments of self-compassion.

And on these days we can also adjust our practice to stack up more successes. We can balance the scales by slowing down and taking it a bit easier.

There’s no shame in slowing the pace sometimes. Guitar practice is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as we put one foot in front of the next, we move forward. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

Self-compassion keeps us in the game. It helps us try again tomorrow. And in time, we find our breakthroughs. Over the years, we change as musicians and as people. We lessen our need to be right and realize that to gain the joy of discovery means to risk failure.

We come to know and accept new parts of ourselves. What seems like just plucking strings becomes the adventure of a lifetime.

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.

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.

Hi Allen,
Greetings from the UK. I would like to thank you for providing such an excellent resource. The effort and skill which has gone into creating this program is very evident. I started classical guitar a year or so ago with a teacher but was unable to commit to same time regular slots each week.

The Woodshed Program was exactly what I was looking for. I have found the site very intuitive and well structured and have taken your advice and started from the very beginning of the program whilst still practising some of the pieces I was already working on. It is clear that I will benefit greatly from these early technical studies. There were clearly weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge even though I am still at an early stage. Once again many thanks for the program and very best wishes.

-Rodger Paylor

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