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.”
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.
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.
As I said before, I think your site is outstanding. I have spent my life teaching adults difficult stuff that they really wanted to learn but didn't have the time to learn at the speed we teach university students. Thus I understand only too well how many hundreds of hours you must have spent perfecting your lessons to make my learning as quick and easy as possible.
Those videos on practicing the piece were just awesome, Allen! I've always thought that learning songs might be something completely different than practicing exercises, but the way you teach it makes it much easier than I thought. I'm positive that joining the Woodshed has been the best investment I've ever done for learning the classical guitar. Thank you so much for these lessons.
-Ulysses Alexandre Alves
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