Christopher Parkening on Playing Music Beautifully (and missing notes)
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“As my father used to tell me growing up, ‘Play it beautiful, play it beautiful.’ He said, ‘I don’t care if you don’t hit all the notes. If you don’t move a person’s heart, it’s not music.’ ”Christopher Parkening
“Play it beautiful.” What does this mean? Are we expected to conjure a flood of emotion as we cramp under barre chords and wide stretches? And does our personal emotion guarantee a beautiful performance anyway?
No and no. Emotion is more a product of beautiful playing. It can be a creative influence on our musical decisions. But the decisions make the music beautiful.
Beautiful music, music that moves the heart, is not magic. It’s not witchcraft or supernatural phenomena.
The musical decisions we make include these elements.
We decide when to get louder, and how loud to get. We decide when and how much to slow down or speed up. We connect our notes well.
As we progress as musicians, we get better at making these decisions. It’s easy, like beginning actors, to misjudge what is needed in the moment.
And beyond making the musical decisions, we must also demonstrate them. We must play them so that a listener will hear them and understand. It’s a game of show-and-tell.
Some music is difficult. Some music we don’t understand. Here, we may become preoccupied with playing the notes. We may move the line of success from “beautiful” to “clean.”
And we should strive to play cleanly. To play without major mishap is a noble feat in itself. But this alone will not make the music beautiful.
The only way we can share beautiful music with others is to make decisions, practice them, and demonstrate them.
Sometimes, this puts “clean” at risk. The musical decisions may add to the complexity and challenge. Or they may simplify them.
So we need courage and priorities. We must be willing to sacrifice our safety and security for something more.
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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.
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