George Santayana on Musical Fanaticism and Losing Our Way

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

“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”

George Santayana

The word “fanaticism” often conjures images of fringe political or religious groups. But with this simple definition, George Santayana allows us to look closer to home.

Often in our guitar practice, we play scales. We drill exercises, chords, right-hand patterns and more. We may do this to train our “technique”.

And we also learn and practice pieces of music.

But in both our technique and repertoire practice, there are larger aims. But we may forget them.

The aim of scales, for instance, is not to play scales. The purpose of scales is to synchronize the two hands. It’s to connect notes smoothly. It’s to play with consistent tone and controlled volume. Scales are a vehicle we use to gain these abilities.

And when we began guitar, we likely wanted to play beautiful pieces of music. We wanted certain experiences and revelations. The goal was probably not to simply check the box on one piece and move to the next, over and over. (Most graded book series and programs encourage this mindless approach.)

Hours of scales each day will yield lackluster results if we don’t direct our work towards desired outcomes. And yes, playing the notes of a piece is a worthy goal in the beginning stages. But it is only a first step to playing with musical maturity and insight.

As we grow, we can discover new possibilities. We can refine and redefine our conceptions of what is possible for our music.

When we forget our aims, yet redouble our efforts, we trigger Santayana’s definition of fanaticism.

To stay engaged and move toward our goals, it helps to revisit them. Before the scales, we can state our objectives. Before practicing a piece of music, we can state our ultimate aims.

This way, our practice today can move us forward – calibrated and guided by our larger visions for the future.

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.

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.  

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

Life is good, still enjoying [The Woodshed Program], the progress is life altering, I love it. The physical challenges of my situation have rained havoc for over half my life. In spite of those little pests this 40$ Yamaha classical who needed a new home and your course has given me the "part the clouds for the sun to shine through" outlook. You see, even when I am unable to play I know she patiently waits for my return as I do. A giant void in my journey was filled with light.

-Ken Montz

Become a Member and Play More, Beautifully!

“The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin

Join the program that takes you from the beginning fundamentals to advanced mastery, so you…1

  • Move your hands safely and fluidly
  • Enjoy fulfilling practices and meaningful work
  • Play beautifully with expression and flow

Click the button to take a step towards an
organized, effective guitar practice. >>>

Featured Courses

jesu bach classical guitar

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Bach

One of the best loved of all classical pieces.

See more...

read music guitar high positions notes

Play and Read Music in the Higher Positions

Learn to read music and identify notes on the entire neck.

See more...

how to play segovia scales

Better Technique, with “Segovia’s Favorite Scales”

Detailed explorations of this popular technical tool.

See more...

« » page 1 / 2