John Salvatier on How to Avoid the Musical Rut

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

“If you wish to not get stuck, seek to perceive what you have not yet perceived.

John Salvatier

John Salvatier has an illuminating article titled “Reality Has a Surprising Amount of Detail”. In it, he discusses the myriad details of anything and everything in the universe.

Actions we take to be commonplace and simple, may not be. Instead, we’ve mastered the process to a level that we no longer think about it.

Driving a car, brushing our teeth, or playing a “C” chord on the guitar… Each of these was at one point a series of individual steps. We learned each step. We practiced them one at a time.

Over time, we stopped thinking of the individual steps. Instead, we lumped all the actions into one master idea.

And here is where we run the risk of becoming stuck.

We may take the same path to work each day. Or we may have the same interactions with someone every time we see them. When we do it the same way every time, we become effectively blind. We stop looking.

And the same holds true in our music. When we play the same pieces or use the same techniques for long periods, they become easy for us. This means there is no challenge.

And without challenge, our primal survival systems turn our attention elsewhere. (Perhaps to look for predators or mates.)

In music, we often call this “being in a rut”. And it is very common, especially for players of non-composed music. With composed pieces, we can choose a harder piece, and the challenge renews.

Still, we can also become stuck in the cycle of ever-harder pieces.

And in doing so we may remain blind to the musical possibilities of less-difficult music. Here, we only challenge our fingers, and ignore other challenges. We fail to notice challenges of phrasing – dynamics, form, rhythm, etc.

So how do we avoid becoming stuck in the musical rut? As Salvatier suggests, we seek to perceive what we have not yet perceived.

We can look more closely, assuming we’re missing something. We actively search out the fine details in our music. We ask questions. We get curious.

And with the deeper investigation, we become more interested. We discover new ideas. We regain the thrill and excitement than comes with novelty. And so our joy rekindles, and our music soars.

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.

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

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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