J.R.R. Tolkien on Precision, Accuracy and Consistency in Guitar Practice

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

“The hasty stroke goes oft astray.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Playing too fast – this is the bane of most of our guitar practices. It’s easy to do. It takes discipline and awareness to avoid. It feels good in the moment, but yields poor results over time.

So how do we slow down in practice? While it sounds simple, it’s not necessarily so.

The key to high-quality slow practice is specificity. When we focus on specific things, we change the level of our listening.

When we play fast, we listen to the gestalt of our music. And as such, small mistakes slip by unnoticed.

But instead we can slow down and focus on specific goals. And when we do, we slow time.

On what should we focus? Anything. Everything. Just one at a time:

The connection of each note to the next

The volume of each note in relation to the one before

The placement of our left-hand fingers behind the frets

The movement of our right-hand fingers through the strings

The difference in volume between the melody and bass notes.

The feeling of the string under our finger

Anything specific will do. When we get curious about a single element, we are pulled to slow down. Otherwise, we can’t focus on it.

And this is the way to better guitar technique. It’s the way to more expressive playing.

We cannot play a piece of music – we can only play one note, then another. And after the sequence is done, what happened happened.

The quality of our playing is determined by the level of awareness we have of each moment in turn.

When we slow down and put the microscope of awareness onto our playing, we improve. We find challenging opportunities for growth.

This is timeless knowledge, shared in many ways:

“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

“Haste makes waste”

“Mind the pennies and pounds take care of themselves.”

But common knowledge is not common practice.

Each day, when we sit down to play, we have to manage our own attention and energy. We can be mindful and inquisitive, or we can be hasty and careless.

Which will it be today?

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.

For the first time ever, I have achieved great tone on my acoustic guitars. I've been studying fingerstyle guitar and music theory for about one year now. Tonight is the first time, I feel quite satisfied with my ability to produce a nice clear tone when striking the strings with my right hand fingers. By following your training videos in the program, I'm gradually developing my fingerstyle playing ability. KUDOS to you, Allen Mathews.

-Joaquin Kenyon

I just want to thank you for your lessons. You are helping us to understand how a piece is composed, the parts to analyze and how to do it. You are teaching a lot about how to read and play, and the most important part: PLAY with the music and ENJOY it.

-R. Martinez

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