Hebert Simon on a More Focused Classical Guitar Practice

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

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Herbert Simon

With the advent of the internet, information abounds. Learning guitar, we can go to Youtube and find millions of videos. We can get tips and next steps to send us in a thousand directions.

The problem is this: we don’t need a million tips. We need to decide what to work on now. Then we need to work on it.

In our exuberance, we can tackle too much at once. We can, with all the best intentions, hop from one great thing to the next. And in doing so get the benefit of none of them.

Time passes, and though we’ve worked hard, we have nothing to show for it. This is because we’ve studied wide, instead of deep.

We see more learning, ability, flexibility, etc. when we choose a few fundamentals, and focus on them. We don’t need 120 right hand studies. We see quicker progress when we work just a few to mastery.

The mastery we gain on a small group of actions generalizes to most others. We then pick up other new skills and techniques more quickly.

In our practice each day, we face a challenge: Get the most benefit and enjoyment from the time we spend. When we decide beforehand and stick to that decision, we meet the challenge. We grow and advance. We see progress and feel good about our work.

It’s not always easy. The allure of the new, shiny piece or exercise is powerful. It takes more effort to stick with the plan than it does to jump to the next great method.

We have to trust. It doesn’t even matter if we haven’t chosen the absolute optimal tasks for our practice. Deep focus will still be more advantageous than switching too soon. (This ties in with another Herbert Simon philosophy: that of “satisficing”.)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb also wrote, “To bankrupt a fool, give him information.”

Practice time is not the time to decide what to do. Practice time is for doing what we’ve already decided. Now is the time for quality focus, correct repetition, and a positive agenda.

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.

Thanks to you (you are my only teacher) in only a few months I've gone from very basic beginner pieces to having just completed learning Bach's Gavottes 1&2 in good form and execution. As a non-classical electric guitarist who has always used a pick and never his fingers, this has been no small feat!

-Gregg Olson

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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