Pablo Picasso on Solving Problems and Finding New Paths
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”
In a piece of music, we often discover stumbling blocks. This shift or that stretch may resist clean execution.
We can think of these as “tricky spots,” and they are par for the course. And polishing these bits is what guitarist Scott Kritzer has called “detailing.”
When detailing and polishing, the path is not always clear. It may take time and experimentation to discover the issue and remedy. This act of discovery and correction is a major practice skill, and one we develop over time.
To “de-bug” a tricky spot, it helps to first list the known facts – where is the problem (on which note does the issue begin)? What needs to happen (which notes, which fingers)?
From here, we can envision the ideal scenario. We can note what the best hand and finger positions would be for each note. We can visualize graceful movements from one note to the next. We can find balance between tension and ease in our muscles and bodies.
Then, moving from one note to the next, with attention and intention, we can do the work.
To smooth out a rough bit, we may need to try several different practice methods. A practice method is a routine that aims to correct a problem. It may use rhythm or speed. Or it may include a deconstruction and reassembly of the musical voices. We may use a practice method we have previously learned, or create a new one for the challenge at hand.
Different issues call for varied approaches. And we may not know which practice method will work until we try several. Sometimes one practice method will bring the fix. Other times the act of trying many methods will bring the solution.
The important part is that we begin. We ask questions. We try truly practicing the tricky spots, instead of just playing the notes time after time. We increase engagement. We pull out our proverbial magnifying glasses and set to sleuthing the root of the issue.
Over time, we collect a robust toolchest of practice methods. We learn processes for troubleshooting. We get to know the usual suspects and how to move through them. We become more comfortable in the zone of the unknown, where we work without knowing the answers. We learn to trust in the process of practice, and in our ability to keep trying until we find what works.
Then, when we find a solution for the issue at hand, we make that solution an integral part of playing the piece. Every time we play that section, we use the movements or observations that led to the positive outcome. In this way, we build confidence in what was once the weakest link.
Practice is not always predictable. Sometimes, like a chef with a new dish, we experiment and play. We respond in the moment to new information. We find the music by playing with the music.
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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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.
I have lost my entire metallic sound while I am playing now. Even my single note practice sounds more melodious, less tinny. [The Woodshed technique practice] has made a major difference in my tone. Thank you.
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