James P. Carse on Education vs. Training

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

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” 

James P. Carse

Playing pieces of music, it’s not uncommon to make unexpected mistakes. Indeed, the random buzzed note or missed string is a regular occurrence for most players.

These surprise mishaps are due to lack of training. We know the notes, and we know the moves. But we have not properly trained them to be accurate every time.

And as we study and learn, we also discover common pitfalls. We notice patterns of tension and mental distraction. We recognize recurrent scenarios and find solutions and remedies for them. This is what James P. Carse refers to in the quote above as “educated” (taken from his book, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility).

“Training” is embodied education. This take time, repetition, and one-pointed attention. “Education” takes study, experimentation, and often an experienced teacher.

We need both. We need to know what may go wrong, and how to avoid or recover should it happen. And we need to train our bodies and hands to execute consistently.

There’s an old saying in the theater world: “An amateur studies her lines until she remembers them. A professional studies her lines until she can’t forget them.”

Amateurs are often shocked by how much work it takes to truly train something. It’s more concentration that they are used to. It takes more time and effort than it seems like it should.

Actor Robert Downey, Jr. is a professional. He is said to memorize his lines to the degree where he can say them quickly in reverse order. (i.e. “See Jane run” becomes “run Jane See.”) This is more than learning – this is training. And it’s motivated by his understanding of his craft.

It takes massive focus and practice to perform consistently at the highest level, with each note clear and intentional. This is true even for “easy” pieces.

Many players lose interest and move to a new piece before the work is done. This is why the random errors appear when we play. When we don’t spend the time to fully polish a piece, we miss many of the lessons and obstacles needed.

So errors are no mystery. They are usually a lack of training. And if we don’t understand and anticipate the errors, it’s a lack of education.

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.

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