Louis L’Amour on facing new challenges
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
L’Amour was the great storyteller who brought “The Wild West” into the minds and hearts of millions. He told the tales of the early pioneers making their way through the American West.
Moving by stagecoach, the hopeful crossed the Rocky Mountains, braving mountain pass after mountain pass.
And when a family of settlers got to their promised plot of land, then the challenges really began.
The work of traveling was over and now the work of living began. Shortly after celebrating their arrival, they’d trade their wagons for farming tools.
With lower stakes (thank heavens), we face the same pattern in music.
It takes a particular type of work to get a piece of music up to 90%. But that type of work won’t take us the last 10%. It’s a different skillset. It’s a different mindset. It’s a different piece of music at that point.
When we first learn guitar (or anything), we rightly focus on the first 90%.
But eventually, we learn the notes. We learn the rhythm. We get it up to speed. And after we check all the boxes, it still doesn’t sound like we want it to.
This is the beginning L’Amour mentions.
We have to do something different. The tools we’ve been using won’t work. We have to find new ways to solve problems, new ways to hear, new ways to move.
And here’s the tricky part: We don’t like to step out of our comfort zones.
We spend all this time and effort building skills. And we start to identify ourselves at a certain level, such as intermediate or advanced.
We don’t want to start over. We avoid feeling ignorant and not knowing the answer. We want to stay safely in our inflated worlds of rightness (often by bouncing to the next piece and abandoning the current one).
But clutching to what we already know grinds our progress to a halt.
Instead, we have the option of learning something new.
In Zen, some call this “beginner’s mind”. It’s setting the ego aside and opening to new ways and new ideas. It’s holding our beliefs and habits loosely, and being willing to change if and when we find a better way.
Luckily, we retain all the good work we’ve done. Our ability to get up to 90% keeps getting better. We learn music more quickly and easily. And with time, we discover ways to approach the 10%.
When that happens, we become aware of other levels we didn’t see before, and so heralds a new 10%. Then another. Like mountains beyond mountains.
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.
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Great advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.
Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary. Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice. He is a very good and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning. I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.
-Peter Buck, R.E.M.
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