von Franz guitar practice

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

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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.

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