10th Year Anniversary Edition:
I’m revisiting some of my best old posts on playing guitar. Enjoy!
There are thousands of ways to play guitar, and most of them aren’t “classical,” by any stretch of the imagination.
Why would anyone choose to play classical guitar in specific, when there are so many other options?
I don’t know about you; for me there’s only one real reason, and it’s pretty simple. I love all kinds of music and I’ve tried many different kinds of guitars and guitar playing. For instance:
But classical guitar is where it all started for me.
I love to play classical guitar.
I love the feel of it, the challenge of it, the sound of it, the music I get to play and experience and even create. Learning classical guitar has been one of my greatest lifelong sources of pure enjoyment.
Of course there are secondary forms of motivation when it comes to learning classical guitar. One is simple accomplishment. I get a real sense of accomplishment (and amazement) when all the work I’ve put into memorizing a difficult piece of repertoire has resulted in my ability to play it well. How the heck did that happen? This piece started out as a frustrating mess, and now, a few weeks later, it’s rolling along nicely. Yes, with some glitches. A few more weeks, and it’ll be more solid. Those bits I once found impossible are actually getting comfortable. A few more weeks, and much of it will be second nature. What did I do to deserve this miracle of brain, heart and body?
Another secondary motivation for me is competition. It’s actually embarrassing for me to admit this because I was trained to be humble and non-competitive by idealistic parents in idealistic times. But I admit it: I get a tweak of satisfaction when I see I’m better than someone else, or a whole bunch of someone elses. I get satisfaction from the recognition and respect that comes with it. It’s kind like the satisfaction I get from overtaking someone on my bicycle while pedaling up a hill…..hah, get in shape, dude!
But these are absolutely secondary. Competitive satisfaction is fleeting, and very relative. And the overall sense of accomplishment builds as you accomplish more, but it’s also fleeting, because new challenges arise constantly.
But there’s no way around the sense of sheer enjoyment I get out of playing classical guitar and learning classical guitar repertoire, every time I sit down to play! If playing classical guitar was primarily about carving out my place in the pecking order, or about racking up an impressive repertoire list, or pushing my scale speed into hyperdrive, or some other secondary motivation….then playing would be ultimately empty. Actually, it would be drudgery. It would be torture.
So let’s get our priorities straight. Practicing is not supposed to be torture. Learning classical guitar music is a pleasure. Simple as that. There’s a piece of music that you love sitting on your music stand, and your fingers are itching to play it.
Why am I making this point?
When you are practicing music, you’re also practicing something else.
You are practicing flow.
Flow is a very real thing. It’s a state of mind, a heightened one, that has been extensively researched.
And it’s important to have something in your life that inspires you so much that you enter a state of flow in order to engage in it. Entering a state of flow as often as possible benefits you and it benefits those around you. It improves your life.
Playing music that you love is an ideal way to get into a state of flow. It’s a particular brand of flow that, research shows, is especially beneficial. It involves developing mastery over a rich variety of challenges all at once, and it is very broad and far reaching in the positive effects it has on your development as a human being. The more you do it, the more benefits.
Scientific studies are backing this up: A new study, described here in the Freakonomics blog and summarized in Science Daily, illustrates the benefits of achieving this sort of musical flow:
“New research shows that musicians’ brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful. The same traits have previously been found among world-class athletes, top-level managers, and individuals who practice transcendental meditation.”
And although, as we all know, practicing can be frustrating at times and doesn’t always quite get there, achieving a state of flow as often as possible is also really the best (and fastest) way to practice and learn classical guitar.
Here are some elements of flow:
- Effortless concentration and enjoyment
- Complete immersion.
- No contradictions or conflicts in your awareness
- In comparison to the rest of your life, it can feel like a flash of intense awareness against a duller background
- Effortless action that stands out as a model of the best that you can do and be
- Athletes call it “being in the zone.” Artists and musicians call it “aesthetic rapture.”
Basically, flow is an altered state in which more things are possible, and indeed great things are possible.
That’s why an experienced teacher can help so much. An experienced classical guitar teacher can greatly increase the flow and get you into the habit of achieving peak performance at your level of accomplishment. If this starts happening when you practice, it will greatly increase enjoyment and your rate of improvement.
How can a good classical guitar teacher help you to achieve flow in your practice and playing?
- Flow happens when your skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. A good classical guitar teacher can help you to know what’s really manageable and what’s wishful thinking.
- Flow happens when you are stretching to acquire a new skill, while using all of your previously learned skills, supported in an appropriate way for facing the challenge. An experienced classical guitar teacher can provide this refined support.
- Flow happens when you focus on goals that are clear and compatible. This means knowing what is the most important thing to work on right now and knowing whether this is accomplishable or too hard for you (hence too frustrating, and putting you out of flow) An expert classical guitar teacher can be essential in setting appropriate goals for you.
- Flow happens when you are doing something that provides immediate feedback. Once again, you are in a state of listening and feeling and attention, so that you can get a productive and satisfying loop of feedback and response leading to improvement. An accomplished classical guitar teacher can model and teach the best ways to respond to what your guitar and your fingers are telling you.
- Flow happens when clarity of the goal creates a “self-contained universe.” It’s the job of an expert classical guitar teacher to provide clarity in the goals that you tackle.
- Paradoxically, when flow happens, there’s a black and white quality to things…in other words, the parameters are simple: good tone or bad tone. Clean shift or not clean shift. Sloppy or clean playing. Expressive or boring. There are a lot of these and who knows what is the most important to focus on at any given moment. A good classical guitar teacher knows, and can show you how to choose for yourself as well.
The best classical guitar teachers can see the larger picture. They can see where you’re going, where you’re improving, where you’re stuck, what to do about that, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what your strongest gifts are and how to cultivate them.
He or she can then set a course for how to get where you want to go without wasting years of your time in frustration and confusion, trying to figure it out. They can also keep you from giving up.
Put more simply, it’s the job of a good classical guitar teacher to worry about the big picture so you can focus on what needs to get done right now and get into a state of flow with your practicing right away, and experience all the benefits of as well!