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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.”

Robert Schumann


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.

And we do this using skill and intention. We connect notes smoothly. We get louder and softer. We bring some notes forward and others to the background. We stretch and compress time.

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.


“Try to play easy pieces well; it is better than to play difficult ones in a mediocre style.”

Robert Schumann




allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.


This is the ideal starting position for me. As a relative beginner with no teacher this is helping me enormously in developing good technique and not falling into bad habits. I no longer feel (A) That it's a struggle to learn a new piece and (B) That I am alone in my endeavors. My advice is to try The Woodshed program. It is fantastic and will not only bring up your playing but his explanations of musical concepts as you go along put things into perspective.


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