Mlle. Nadia Boulanger on Attention and a Life Well-Lived
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.”Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger was one of the most influential music teachers of the twentieth century. Many of the best and brightest went to Paris to study with her.
Leonard Bernstein, Phillip Glass, Astor Piazzola, Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, and hundreds of others sought her out. Instrumentalists and composers alike flocked to her studio.
Stories abound of her teaching. She was heavy on fundamentals. She expected full attention.
And not just attention to her – but attention to every moment of practice and performance. She, as well as anyone, knew good music when she heard it. (She was also a respected music critic.) She could hear distraction in a single note.
And she knew that practice does not stop when we put down our instruments.
To play guitar with calm awareness – to listen and respond in the moment, we cannot train this in 30 minutes a day. It’s a habit. It’s a thread we weave throughout all of life.
We cannot expect our minds to clear when we play, if they are never clear otherwise.
One of the fastest ways to improve at guitar is to build the “awareness muscle” throughout our daily lives. To see that at which we look. To hear the sounds around us. To stay alert to what we’re doing.
And what is all this for? Why is this important?
For one, this trains us to recognize when we’re NOT aware, so we can bring our attention back to the task at hand.
When we first decide to pay attention, we’ll notice our mind wandering. Sometimes more, sometimes less so.
And when we notice, we can simply refocus our attention. No shame, no blame – it’s normal. Until we train the muscle, it will likely be weak.
Over time, we recognize the mind-wandering sooner. So we spend less time distracted by inner dialog. And we get better at letting the stray thoughts go and returning to alert awareness.
It’s an ongoing practice. It can last a lifetime, and so much the better. Not only does it help with our masterpieces, it also yields cleaner windows!
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 came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.
~ Gloria Mader
I just started level 1C...I was able to look at a Carulli piece, albeit a simple one, and understand it. And that understanding allowed me to play it much more easily on the first run through, and I expect it will allow me to make it fully musical at tempo quite soon. That's a huge personal victory for me. Until very recently my mindset was: "Notes on a page. Jimi didn't need them and I don't either." But I ain't Jimi, and now I want those notes on a page.My work in CGS, even at these early levels, got me to that personal breakthrough. And that's given me more confidence that continued work will get me to greater places in due time. So to answer your question: yes, I absolutely feel like I'm making headway and moving forward in my playing. Thank you for that.~ Matthew Ecker
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