Desmond Tutu on Getting to the Root of the Musical Issue

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

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu

As humans we have the knack of continuing to do what doesn’t work. Not that other creatures are immune to this. But we consider ourselves thinkers.

In music, we can spend years playing the same mistakes. We can face the same frustrations and never remove them. We may even be aware, yet still doggedly bang ourselves against them.

This is likely because the work of digging deeper feels like more trouble than to look the other way. It’s easier to tell ourselves that we’ll mend those cracks later.

But later never comes. And the cracks in our playing compound and create problems of their own.

So then we try to treat the symptoms. But the root causes remain.

Beautiful playing comes down to two things. First, how well our hands do what they are told. This is physical control. And second, how well we instruct them.

The best musical ideas will fall flat if our hands cannot complete the mission. And the fastest, cleanest player will sound drab without mature musical understanding. It takes both.

But we must start with our hands. And if our hands are inconsistent and unreliable, we need to go back to basics.

To play classical guitar music well, we need trustworthy habits of movement. And these are trained one day at a time.

We need steady practice ingraining the fundamental movements. And this allows us to put our minds on higher musical concepts.

As we advance, we may feel reluctant to go back to basics. But basics are the master’s sharpest tool.

The best in any field return again and again to first principles and work on the fundamentals. This is where positive change happens.

In guitar practice, it is best to slow down and pay closer attention. The more attention we pay, the more value we get from the practice.

We learn more by playing fewer notes with greater awareness.

Even if we don’t know the best solution or technique, awareness will bring us closer. It will allow us to experiment. We will ask better questions and burrow deeper for the answers.

Small frustrations and persistent challenges are excellent fodder for meaningful practice. Like ripe fruit, ready to harvest.

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.
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.


~ Mike Barron

-Mike Barron

I am a 61 year old physician, reconnecting with the classical guitar after a hiatus of nearly 40 years. After a couple of weeks [in the program], I’m now producing a much clearer, yet somehow more mellow and beautiful sound. It was really good to feel it happening in my hand, and that it felt more comfortable and somehow “right”, compared to the way I had played before (“curved picking”). The fog started to lift and I found that I was remembering more, and it felt great (also a bit of a relief!), giving me confidence to keep going. Thank you for making your course available - your love of music and the guitar shines through the teaching. I am very happy I found and registered with CGS.


~ Brian Davey

-Brian Davey

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