von Franz guitar practice
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von Franz on Balancing Realism and Idealism in Guitar Practice

As musicians, we balance on a razor’s edge. We toe along on a wire suspended between two chasms.

On the one side, we imagine what could be. We hold grand visions for our music. Because we have good taste, we know what we want from our music. And even beyond that, there is some transcendant experience we sense possible. We may not have words for it, but we know it’s real. And we want it.

On the other side, we strive to hear what is truly coming out of our instrument. We train ourselves to listen and separate the actual sound from the music we create in our heads. And the reality rarely, if ever, lives up to our ideal rendition.

So how do we, as the celebrated Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz said, “have no illusions and still hold the inner flame”?

Just as any tight-rope walker, we take it one inch at a time. We stay fully invested in the moment at hand. We bring our entire focus and awareness to one note, then the next.

There will be no lasting time when we reach our ideal. Like the horizon, the perfect ideal is always moving ahead.

Our job is to live in the present, while also holding a shining vision of the future. We gain nothing by regret or dismay at what is not yet real. And we gain nothing by ignoring what is real right now. Indeed, this is all we can do: play one note, then the next.

Part of our daily practice (as much so as scales or etudes) is to show up with our feet planted firmly on the ground and our eyes forward, neither naive nor cynical.

Marion Woodman, another Jungian psychologist and poet, said it this way:

“As long as we try to transcend ourselves,
Reach for the sky,
Pull away from the ground and into spirit,
We are heroes carved in stone.
We stand atop the pillar alone
Blind to the pigeon’s droppings.

 

Do not try to transform yourself.
Move into yourself.
Move into your human unsuccess.
Perfection rapes the soul.”

“It’s easy to be a naive idealist. It’s easy to be a cynical realist. It’s quite another thing to have no illusions and still hold the inner flame.”

Marie-Louise von Franz




allen mathews classical guitar

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 work with teachers, 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 sore after playing.  I was frequently frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward.  Then I studied with two stellar teachers –  one focused on the technical, and one on the musical.  In time, I came to discover a fundamental set of formulas and movements. These unlocked my playing, and brought new life and enjoyment to my practice. Now I help other guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.


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.


-John Andersson

Great advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.


-Karen Richardson


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