In spite of having played some form of musical instrument for around 25 years – and the classical guitar itself for around 20 of those – there are still lessons that are sinking into this ol’ noggin of mine. It’s a funny thing.
In a philosophical kind of way it has taken this intense journey, over the last 7 or so years in particular, for me to begin to realise these lessons. It seems as if in any one moment over that time I’ve felt quite “switched on” in a “yep, I’ve got this practicing/ playing/ performing/technical development thing down pat“. Then I look back on where I was six months ago, or a year ago or two years ago and realised how little I seemingly know then, how far I have actually come, how much I have developed, changed and learnt, not just in my playing but also in my thinking and my approach to learning and playing.
That’s not to belittle or diminish my efforts or my thoughts of 2, 3, 5, whatever years ago – I believe we’re always doing the very best with whatever we have available to us in a given moment, be it knowledge, experience or physical resources. It’s just a reflection on how much the journey shapes us and changes us. We have to let it though. And this can be a difficult thing to do as it can mean at once recognising our plus points in what we’re doing at the same time as recognising areas that require improvement. It requires us to be aware of our own self-deception too, which can also be a very hard and confronting thing to do.
But do it we must if we are to grow and develop, not only as guitarists, but also as individuals. I have personally found some considerable benefits crossing over into other areas of my life by taking the valuable lessons learnt from classical guitar practice and playing.
Here are my most valuable lessons learnt (so far!) from playing classical guitar:
If you’re going to do something do it with your full attention and energy
Always approach your practice, your playing, a piece or sections of a piece with your utmost attention, focus and energy. Be single-minded about it for that moment. It’s part of that old adage really – if something is worth doing, do it well. If you’re going to spend your time playing guitar, make it count. Don’t play in a half-hearted way. Don’t practice in a half-hearted way. Commit and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards technically and musically.
Be honest with yourself
If you don’t want to play, don’t. Be honest. But understand the repercussions of not practicing this time when you could be. If you do want to play, then do, and give it your undivided attention (see item above!).
Forget time and focus
A bit like the clock-watchers in the office – folks that are probably not the most productive as they’re focussed on time rather what is being done and how it’s being done – watching the clock, or being overly mindful of time is quite an unproductive way to practice. How much fun is it watching a clock? About as fun as sticking needles in your eyeballs. Or worrying about how much time you have/ haven’t/ should be devoting to your practice? Same. A pointlessly painful exercise. Forget time in your practice and think about what you’re producing and how you’re producing it.
I’m not kidding you when I say I’ve increased my productivity (just to carry on the work-type analogy) on the guitar in the last 6 – 12 months by taking my focus right off of time and putting it squarely onto what I’m achieving when I sit down with the guitar. And incidentally, I’m actually spending less time practicing than I have done in the past 5 or so years, but achieving more. Yes sure there’s a compounding factor of all the practice that has gone before, but I’ve stopped messing around. I’ve stopped the useless fluffing around and focussed my attention on what really requires my attention.
Forget time spent, lose that worry and put your energy into focus and what you want to achieve. An incredibly hard thing to do (well, it has been for me!), and I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do at all. But like anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Listen to your tone, but listen to your body too
Listening doesn’t just reside with our ears. We’re listening to our sound, our tone quality, how we’re playing, but it’s also vitally important to listen to your body. Treat it well. Rest when you need to rest and don’t push through your practice session. If I’m overly tired and try to practice three things happen for me (a) I get really frustrated and cross with myself for really no apparent reason very quickly, (b) I make silly mistakes and (c) I can push back my progress rather than push it forward. And don’t practice or play hungry either!
Listen to your body in terms of any aches and pains too. Playing guitar should not be a painful pursuit. It should be relaxing. If it hurts – stop! And if it continues to hurt seek some professional help – medical and musical.