Frank Herbert (Dune) on Selective Strength and Ignoring Strategically

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

“The willow submits to the wind and prospers until one day it is many willows — a wall against the wind.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

Learning guitar, we have myriad weaknesses and areas for improvement. We could focus our efforts on any one of many issues.

We may notice our fingers not as dexterous as we would like. We may notice buzzes, thumps, and other string noises. We may struggle with learning or memorizing pieces of music.

The list goes on: right hand technique, left hand control, tone quality, music theory, expression, speed.

Any individual snippet of music may need work in all these areas and more. And we may not even know how to solve the problems we notice.

But all this is normal. It takes time and training to develop these skills. Learning music is a long game.

So how to we persist in the face of such powerful headwinds?

Answer: We selectively sacrifice perfection.

To bolster any skill, we need to focus on it. And as we focus on one, we have to give others a pass. Not forever – just while we work on specific chosen challenges.

As we cycle through the individual skills, we become more able to zero in on first one then the next.

The goal is to raise the levels of all the various elements of our playing. And this is best done one by one, each in turn. This means we cycle our attention from one to the next in practice.

Some areas, such as right-hand movements, are worth putting more time in up front. This will offer more noticeable progress and skill-growth than, say, music theory (which is abstract and mental).

Again, it’s important not to ignore any one skill for too long. But in any given moment of practice, it helps to choose an area on which to work. Then another, and another. We bounce from one to the next, accepting that as we do, not everything else will be at its best.

The key ingredient is active choice. We choose and focus. This guides our work and lets us explore the micro-adjustments that will later become instinctual.

Over time, the holes fill. We get faster at shifting our attention between elements. We form habits and understanding. And to our benefit, we learn to recognize when we deviate from the ideal.

But this only happens when we spend enough time in each skill-area to discover the ideal.

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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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.

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

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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