Playing Classical Guitar is as much a mental effort as it is a physical effort, perhaps even more so. Let's take a couple of steps to prepare our minds for this challenge.
Making room for new ideas
An old story relates an incident where a young man claiming to want to learn something new about the art of Zen visited a famous Zen master. It was obvious to the master at the outset that this young man had already thought he had reached an understanding well beyond his years, but that he was coming to the master simply to be able to say to others that he had indeed studied with the great teacher. The master invited the young man to share a cup of tea with him and he proceeded to fill the young man's cup. When the tea reached the top of the cup, the master continued to pour more tea from the pot. After a short while, the tea began to run over the cup and onto the floor, and, finally, the young man could not contain his anxiety and shouted "stop, the cup will hold no more." "So it is with any idea," said the master, "you must first empty your cup before it can again be filled."
This same concept is very true for the classical guitar. If you insist on holding on to your old ideas about playing the guitar, save yourself some time and trouble and stop here. You won't be able to learn classical guitar until you are willing to let go of what you think you already know.
Forgetting old habits and pre-conceptions
The degree of success you will have in playing classical guitar is directly proportional to your ability to do what is required, but ONLY what is required in order to accomplish your musical goal. My experience has shown that the most difficult students of classical guitar are those who have already reached a significant level of competence in some other musical style on the guitar. I played the electric guitar for ten years before I started studying classical guitar. I had developed such bad habits that it took two years just to undo past mistakes. You will learn not only how to play properly, but you'll learn why this way is the proper way. The fundamental approaches and methods in these lessons have been proven by all of the most successful classical guitarists of our time. They were taught to me by teachers from some of the world's most respected institutions, including the Andres Segovia school of music in Spain, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas in Austin, SMU in Dallas, and the University of North Carolina. When you learn to play classical guitar using this method, you'll have the best information available anywhere. What you do with that knowledge will then be up to you.
Opening the door to any possibilities
Classical music places a huge demand on a performer's ability to focus her mind on the task at hand. Solo classical music challenges our ability to maintain conscious control over several simultaneous musical events. You can get some sense of the magnitude of the task by trying to simply listen and to understand two separate conversations at the same time. The key word in the last sentence is "understand." Many people learn to play very difficult pieces, but they accomplish that feat by simply learning to move their fingers with great agility in complex patterns. These players are not great musicians. They may be great guitar players but it's not the purpose of these lessons to just create great players. Truly great musicians have developed the ability to view an entire piece of music as a whole, yet be able to focus clearly on the details of each musical line as it contributes to the overall musical idea.
One of the goals of this approach to studying classical guitar is to allow the student to experience the full musical impact of each piece of music studied. As you progress from simple to more complex music, you'll find that your understanding and appreciation of classical music also progresses. Pieces suitable for classical guitar students at each increasingly demanding level are chosen to expand their mental as well as their physical capacity. You'll find that your musical and emotional pallettes are inextricably linked. The goal of these lessons is always to teach you to make music, and that goal can be achieved at any level of ability. Some people call this concept "musical sincerity." If the mind's not there, the message will also be missing.
One of the most important abilities we need to master in order to play the classic guitar is the ability to keep our entire bodies relaxed while playing. A student at a master class at SMU in Dallas once asked the instructor "How do you know if you're relaxed enough?" the instructor responded "If you fall off the chair you know you were too relaxed". That got the appropriate chuckle from the audience, but the response was dead on. Playing the classical guitar is not "hard." As a matter of fact, the easier YOU MAKE IT, the quicker you will progress. It is all too often the case that most of the time spent in beginning lessons is just having the student get rid of tension. Tension is the enemy! Not only will it keep you from progressing, but its presence is brutal to any audience. If you listen to a classical guitarist and you find yourself squirming in your chair, you can bet you're feeling the tension he's creating. We'll talk later about how to recognize tension and how to control it with relaxation - suffice to say that you'd be really surprised at how this ugly demon finds it's way into our playing. Once you've learned to identify tension, you will also be surprised at how easy it is to eliminate.
Minimum effort, minimum motion
We've all been raised in an era of electronic music where the electric guitar is king and body contortions, twisted facial expressions, and all sorts of extraneous physical motions are almost required if one is to be considered a great player. Forget it! Classical guitar is a aural art form. There is no motion of any part of the body except those parts which are directly involved in creating the music. There will be many references to this important principal in future lessons, but, for the time being think about your own personal experiences with this concept. The physical effort applied to anything should always be consistant with the task at hand.
You are the extension of your instrument
What does it mean to "make the instrument an extension of your body?" The answer to this question involves understanding 1) the motion of your body, 2) the response of your instrument to that motion, and 3) the timing required to synchronize your motions and the instrument's response. The required choreography of the fingers and hands rivals the most intricate ballet production. These three elements will become an important part of your "technique". Don't underestimate the importance of these concepts - they are the essence of the physical requirements of playing classical guitar.
Review of Lesson 1
You should now understand
the importance of mastering both the mental and physical aspects of playing
Classical guitar. These basic ideas will apply to every lesson that follows
and they will be expanded upon and brought up many times as you progress
in your efforts to learn to make music. Don't expect that you fully understand
or appreciate the importance of these concepts. They are ideas and revelations
that take on more and more meaning as your own personal experience grows
on the instrument. Lesson 2 breaks from the theoretical to the practical
and talks about the instrument and the other items you will need before
we actually get into playing. Good luck, I hope we can continue to work
together until you reach your musical goals!
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