Richard Koch on Difficult vs. Easy Guitar Practice
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“What’s difficult becomes easy and what’s easy often creates difficulties.”
Learning to play classical guitar is learning how to practice.
Practice makes the bulk of our time with the guitar. And how we spend this time determines our outcomes.
Our general goals are ongoing discovery and ever-greater proficiency. We want to be better next year than we are today. We want to enjoy “Eureka!” moments. Bring on the breakthroughs!
And in our practice, we have a handful of tools. We work with these tools to shape our skills. These include scales, arpeggio patterns, exercises, etc. This is our technical practice.
We also play pieces and gain skills from the challenges within them.
But technical practice (or technique practice) improves our control, speed, accuracy, and precision. It trains our hands so we can rise to the occasions we find in pieces of music.
So how do we gain the most improvement from our technique practice?
Many people practice scales mindlessly and are distracted, then find them boring. They may think that the point is to memorize the notes or patterns. But this is the easy part.
So they may grow disheartened at their lack of progress. They may always struggle with clean and accurate playing.
There is a better, more effective way.
Here is the recipe for the most growth and benefit from technical practice:
- First, find something simple to do. This could be a scale fragment (a few notes of a scale) or a simple arpeggio pattern. It could be just one or two notes.
Define the notes, the tone, the volume, the movements, everything. The important part is that we fully understand what needs to be done.
- Next, play it perfectly. Not just once, but consistently. Use repetition to challenge and reinforce the skills.
That’s it. No more. That’s all it takes for steady progress and expanding capabilities.
But there is a catch. And that is that this is difficult. Each practice task is simple, but simple does not imply easy.
When we insist on a high standard of execution, we must stay alert, aware, and focused. Each little imperfection screams. We listen with acute attention. We will each note to issue forth clean and clear, right on time and with beautiful tone.?
This is difficult practice. When we practice this way, we ride the grey zone between hard and too hard. We stretch and challenge ourselves. We raise the bar and strive to clear it.
In time, the point of “too hard” moves further and further from where it started. We improve. And like an athlete reaching for a heavier barbell, we grow stronger, adjusting our practice to match.
So it always feels the same. It always feels hard, because we are always near the edge of what we can do.
If we opt for lazy, distracted practice, we can expect paltry gains. But when we choose to practice for results, we see them. Practice is more engaging and we get better each day.
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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