Walter Gieseking on Fatigue and Technique

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“Where fatigue begins, technique ends.

Walter Gieseking

Many of us hold triumphant images of the suffering musician. He toils long hours in service to the craft. He works through tired and hurt, through hunger and pain. He is the very archetype of struggle.

But this is a myth. It’s the stuff of stories and tales.

Real musicians don’t work this way. Or certainly not for for long. Biographies rarely find the juggernauts pushing beyond the point of exhaustion.

Why not? Because it doesn’t work.

Great musicians value quality over quantity. They care most about the quality of movement. They judge success by the quality of attention.

Concert pianist Walter Gieseking wrote the book “The Shortest Way to Pianistic Perfection”. In it, he maintains that absolute focus, above all else, is the goal of practice.

To this end, he recommended beginners play no more than 20 or 30 minutes a day. And in this time, to stay entirely engaged and focused.

Over time, we build the mental stamina to practice longer. But until then, fatigue will take us. And when we get tired, our practice suffers.

Fatigued, we make more mistakes. And these train us to make and accept even more mistakes. We form habits of mind-wandering and distraction.

To play beautifully takes our entire self – mind, body, spirit. Each takes training. And when we lose focus (mind), the body falters (techinque). This is disheartening. Doubly so when we recognize the loss of quality and continue anyway.

What is the fastest way to improve at guitar? Through correct repetitions of challenging material, performed with focus and awareness.

Therefore, it’s more productive to choose shorter, more focused practice-times. And to gauge success more by attention than by number of notes played.

Allen Mathews

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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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. Click here for a sample formula.

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.  

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

Hello Allen,
I feel my guitar proficiency is improving considerably. Every day I’m exceedingly comfortable with my right hand technique and overall fluency. And my sight-reading has improved as well. Thank you for creating the Woodshed. It’s thoughtful construction and scope and sequence of knowledge and skills has advanced my guitar skills significantly. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

-Michael Immel

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