Jan Huitema on Musical Versatility and Flexibility

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

“Change breaks the brittle.”

Jan Huitema

Many guitarists get to a point where they don’t seem to progress anymore. They stagnate. They hit a false ceiling and go no higher.

This is usually because they have built their house on a shaky foundation. This usually comes from self-teaching in the early stages.

How can we rise to ever-higher levels of ability and understanding in music? Through strong fundamentals.

When we add increasing complexity to poor form, positioning, and movement, things break.

New challenges may bring excess tension. And this can lead to injury or pain. It certainly leads to mediocre renditions of pieces.

When someone with poor fundamentals plays a challenging piece, it sounds like a struggle. It sounds like a student performing above his or her level, and having a hard time of it. This is not the desired result.

Instead, it pays to focus on creating a robust and flexible technique.

What is technique? Technique is how we use our bodies (including hands) to make the sounds we want to hear.

And what makes for a robust and flexible technique? Constant challenge.

For best long-term results, we need to give some time and attention to technique. This usually includes scales, right-hand patterns, and exercises. These are the tools with which we create our daily challenges.

The challenge may be clarity and cleanliness. It may be speed. It may be shaping the volume in intentional ways. Accents and dotted rhythms are also excellent challenges.

Almost any clearly defined challenge will help us grow stronger as players. This is productive so long as we ride the edge between “hard” and “too hard.”

What will not help us is ’robo-practice.” This is when we are not engaged, but just playing rote patterns. This is not helpful. In fact, it reinforces non-attentive playing, which bleeds over into our music.

In our best technique practice, we look closer at something simple. We bring something very basic (fundamental) up to a higher level. Notes are more cleanly connected. The right hand is more consistent and released. The volume of each note is more intentional.

We can go deeper instead of wider. New exercises are rarely the answer. Rather, it is doing more with whatever exercises we already know. Quality is the goal, not novelty.

Luckily, the pursuit of quality creates its own novelty.

As we practice this way, we become less brittle. As we advance to more complex pieces of music, we are more able to meet the new challenges. Because meeting new challenges is what we’ve trained for.

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.

I think the program levels are a great way to teach the guitar. I have had several teachers over the past few years and none came close to the structured organization that you have put together.


~ Peter Marior

-Peter Marior

I have to say, two practices later [after a video review] with the new position - the difference it's made in my playing is... unbelievable, really. It's like many months of improvement overnight.

Everything is so much more secure, left-hand stretches are easier, I feel like I'm getting way more volume for the same effort, the tone is noticeably better all along the neck, and the list goes on.

Thank you!

~ Alexander Mosolov


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