Composer Robert Schumann on How to Play Well and Avoid Mediocrity
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Enjoy!
“Try to play easy pieces well; it is better than to play difficult ones in a mediocre style.”
It’s perfectly natural to want to play harder and harder pieces. And indeed, we should always challenge ourselves in practice.
But we have many types of challenge.
One area of increasing challenge is speed. Another is note-density (thicker chord textures and voicings). Yet another involves the physical demands of shifting around the entire instrument.
We can tackle these more obvious challenges, and should. However, the notes don’t make the music. We do.
Music cannot speak for itself. We the musicians breathe life into music. It’s a collaboration between composer and performer. (Just as with architect and builder, writer and orator, manager and maker.)
We take the simple dots on the page and create the sounds that trigger an emotional response.
These are the musical elements that take music from mere notes to something more. This is where we find humanity and meaning in our daily practice.
But we can’t do this more musical work if the notes take all our attention. Instead we can stay with “easier” pieces longer and do this different work with them.
In time, if we’re patient, we will play the difficult pieces. But instead of playing them, as Schumann warns, “in a mediocre style”, we’ll play them beautifully.
This only happens if we build the skills. And we learn the skills on the easier pieces.
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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I am a 61 year old physician, reconnecting with the classical guitar after a hiatus of nearly 40 years. After a couple of weeks [in the program], I’m now producing a much clearer, yet somehow more mellow and beautiful sound. It was really good to feel it happening in my hand, and that it felt more comfortable and somehow “right”, compared to the way I had played before (“curved picking”). The fog started to lift and I found that I was remembering more, and it felt great (also a bit of a relief!), giving me confidence to keep going. Thank you for making your course available - your love of music and the guitar shines through the teaching. I am very happy I found and registered with CGS.
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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