Oliver Sacks on the notes behind the notes

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

“Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”

Oliver Sacks

In the black and white world of notes on a page, it’s easy to think our music as separate from ourselves. It seems like music doesn’t come from us, but is something our fingers do.

And indeed, it does start out that way.

In a similar fashion, a new vocabulary word is at first foreign and hazy. Then in time it clears, and eventually emerges effortlessly from our mouths as part of a new thought. It gains meaning and relevance. It joins all our other words, cross-pollinates, and becomes a tool of creation in our tapestry of language.

Notes on the page, like vocabulary words, are only the beginning. They are a tool, a set of ingredients, a script.

To make music, we must certainly master the notes. But if we stop there, we miss out on the best parts.

When we read a good story, we don’t see words on a page – we see worlds inside our heads. We feel emotions. We live other lives. We become other people in other times. Reading is an act of imagination, using the words on the page as a catalyst.

Our music can be the same way. With practice and curiosity, the notes disappear and playing guitar becomes an act of creation.

Actors and orators hone their story-telling skills and diction. As musicians we hone our technique and phrasing. We work on the surface in service to the depths below.

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.

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

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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