F. Scott Fitzgerald on Opposing Ideas and Intelligent Practice

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

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s said that wisdom comes when we are able to view any situation from multiple perspectives.

In part, this means we can play with thoughts that may be foreign or offensive to us. Doing this, we can entertain ideas without actually believing them. And this helps us build a richer, more multifaceted understanding of the subject.

In practice, this means trying things we suspect may fail. This creative exercise can show us weaknesses in our current ideas and methods. Our experiments stress-test what we previously assumed as fact.

We open ourselves to possible improvements, and new methods and solutions present themselves.

One way to run such an experiment is to ask, “How would _______ think about this? What would they do?” Insert any person in the blank.

  • How would Yo-Yo Ma practice this?
  • How would a five-year old make sense of this?
  • What would Einstein say to this problem?

(This is especially useful when inserting people or players we don’t like, or disagree with. They don’t even have to be musicians to spark new ideas in practice.)

Further, with this ability, we can operate in time-frames that appear to conflict. We can strive for short-term wins while we keep integrity to the long-term vision. We can more readily balance immediate gratification with far-reaching goals.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm.”

This is certainly true in our daily music practice. Here, we ride the edge of failure as an intentional strategy. We push boundaries, and learn from the mistakes along the way.

We can try various practice techniques and problem-solving games, like the one above.

When we do, we allow ourselves to practice differently than we play. We step outside the bounds of the music and get to kernel of the challenge.

And this lets us return to the music transformed.

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.

Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.

-Joe Bazan

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!

-Arnoud Reinders

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