David Leisner on The Craft of Daily Guitar Practice

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

“Practicing is not an art. Art comes from dreams and the unconscious. Practicing is a fine craft that is honed by intelligent, aware, and conscious forethought.”

David Leisner

We can play artfully. We can render a piece of music such listeners have an emotional experience. Music can move beyond notes and rhythms and become something more.

But to create this music, we must practice. And practice, as David Leisner wrote in his book, Playing With Ease, is a craft.

A craft is a learned skill. While some people may have special aptitude in a field, anyone can learn the craft. There are vocabulary, processes, tricks, and formulas. And anyone can learn these.

When we first begin to learn guitar, we may not know how to practice. So we play notes over and over, hoping for clarity and progress.

As we advance, we learn practice methods we can use for various situations. And we discover which situations call for which practice methods. We build a collection of “tools” we can use to learn and polish our music.

We use exercises to build strength and speed. We explore muscular tension and strive to use appropriate effort for each note.

High-level players make everything look easy. Jascha Heifitz, the great violinist, once said that everything is either easy or impossible. He meant that we must play with ease, and that excess tension or strain will work against us.

David Leisner also speaks of physical tonus. He writes, “What we must strive for is a balance between physical ease and musical engagement.”

This is a study, an ongoing development. There is no one arrival point. Instead, there is a balance. We adjust moment to moment, consciously or unconsciously. And we find that balance through intentional practice.

Practice is different than playing. And while we say we are learning guitar, we are in fact learning to practice guitar.

As we progress in our practicing craft, we become more able to demonstrate the sounds we hear in our heads. We imagine a line of music in a certain way. And with practice, we can give sound to that idea. The end result is art. But it is born of craft.

Daily practice is the time and place to hone our craft. We focus our attention and practice with purpose and strategy. And while this work may be different than we envisioned when first beginning, it is deeply meaningful and rewarding.

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.
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