10th Year Anniversary Edition:
I’m revisiting some of my best old posts on playing guitar. Enjoy!
Playing classical guitar is technically demanding. There are a lot of hurdles even if you want to play a relatively simple piece well enough for it to be satisfying. The tendency for many players—and for many teachers—is to focus on technique, and leave everything else about music making largely to chance. Or to the advanced player. If you ever make it there.
And technique is usually attacked from a very dry and mechanical point of view.. …logic, how-to, mechanics, correct/incorrect positions, finger use, diagrams, principles, exercises, tricks, fixes….these sorts of words figure heavily in the language of classical guitar pedagogy.
And yet, most people start playing classical guitar because they fell in love with the sound of a piece of music, with a performance, or with the magic of a certain player.
But once they start playing, instead of re-encountering the joy that inspired them, they are immediately hit with an obsessive barrage of demands, expectations, shoulds and shouldn’ts, a storm of tension-inducing pressures which I call the Technical Obsession Barrier.
Actually, I just came up with the term. But it’s a pretty descriptive one.
It may still be fun enough occasionally, but the joy of playing is often muddied, forestalled, blocked out of awareness, even denied…and in its place is installed the Technical Obsession Barrier, a mountainous heap of technical to-dos which must be mastered before enjoyment can ever be regained.
The Technical Obsession Barrier is built out of endless levels, ideal positions, never-ending tricks, studies and exercises. It is colored with frustration, confusion, expectation, and tension. It is fueled by the adrenaline of focusing on goals and hurdles and metronome numbers, meeting the demands of the teacher, performance expectations, comparisons with other guitarist, peers, and the need to impress….
You get the picture.
There is nothing wrong with technique. Don’t get me wrong. All good technique is all good, all the time. But great technique is not simply something that can be imposed from the outside. It cannot be created by a busy, overactive mind telling your fingers what to do.
Great technique is an experience, the experience of your hands and your body, balancing pressure and flow, in resonance with the guitar you are playing, On a deeper level, it is the experience of your heart and of all your energy being in communion with the music that is flowing from all the parts becoming one, and about the magic that can happen from that.
Playing guitar is not merely about conquering technical hurdles: it’s about bringing music to life.
And there are ways to conquer the technical hurdles WHILE keeping the musical spark constantly alive and never losing touch with the simple joy of playing.
In fact, technique learned in this way will be more solid, more reliable, more fully mastered, more kick-ass, more amazing, than technique that is approached the “other” way.