Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I'm very grateful for 2008. It was a fantastic year and I'm looking forward to an even better 2009. Over the next few days I'll be writing goals for the coming year. I encourage anyone who is not clear on what they want to also write their goals down.

Write down 5 goals on a card and keep it with you. Keep it somewhere where you'll see it often during the day - put it in your wallet, pocket, etc. When you see the card, briefly think about the goals - see yourself accomplishing them in your imagination. We need to be reminded of what we want to do, be or have - because it's very easy for the mind to be distracted from the outside world.

Make all the goals extremely clear - learning a fully detailed program, getting scales to a particular tempo, recording a 20 minute demo, learning 5 pieces in higher positions, writing a piece for the guitar, etc. etc. The clearer we have the idea and the more we think and act upon the idea, the quicker it will come. Clear goals = clear results. Vague goals = vague results.

Your goals may not feel comfortable at first - that's good. It means you probably haven't accomplished something like it before. We don't want comfort, we want growth. We can only grow by putting outselves outside of our comfort zone. It may be fearful at first, but go forward anyway. Know that by facing your fear and acting on the goal, you are automatically growing.

Happy 2009

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Silen Night 2008

This is my last Christmas arrangement for this year. The arrangement is also available for free at Wishing you much happiness in the new year.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do without Doing

"All things godlike run on light feet" - Frederick Nietzsche

Anyone who is supremely fluid technically, lets go of the need to control technique. They simply do without trying. This is the great study of technique - to do all by doing nothing. The paradox is - the more we try to control, the less control we have.

Wanting control over any situation is triggered by the fear of losing control over the situation. Tension is a physical manifestation of fear. Tension makes movement difficult, which then incites more fear in the player. More fear = more tension. It's a never ending cycle. When we relax our mindset, and stop fearing our loss over control, the body relaxes and control begins to happen naturally. This is a simple, but profoundly deep study. This is "playing" the guitar.

Watch any guitarist with fluid technique and notice how light and playful the approach is. Realize this comes from a mindset - it's not just a physical act - it's his or her mind being represented by the body. When we fully grasp this concept, all technique becomes a study of letting go of fear and control. Only then can the body be free to do what it does naturally and beautifully.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

an interesting video related to creativity and play

how does this relate to your practicing and performing?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Variations on Deck the Halls

I was asked for this arrangement from a few people last year, so I've finally gotten around to notating it. It's from my "Classical Guitar at Christmas" album which I recorded in the great year of 1993. It can be found as a pdf on this page along with last year's "The First Noel" arrangement.

This solo arrangement was originally conceived as a duet, so some of the parts are difficult to master. Feel free to adjust it, add to it, subtract from it, and make it your own.

I'll put a lesson up soon on this piece on my other youtube channel - Look for that in the next few days.



Friday, November 21, 2008

New Lesson on Youtube

I've put a new lesson on Youtube about Barre technique. Barres are problematic for many of my students, so I thought I would make a video explaining the technique. I hope it helps some of you who may be strugging with it. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The score as image

"You cannot give what you have not got" - Horace

Our interpretation of a piece depends upon our level of understanding about the piece. Understanding comes from study.

When I was in school, most of my theory courses focused on the harmonic structure of music. This kind of analysis is important, but even more important is to look at a score simply as a graphic image.

If we think of a map, we understand that it's not the territory itself, but it represents what the territory is made of - what roads intersect, what changes there are in the land, what landmarks there are, etc. We get a deeper understanding of a territory by looking at its map.

In music study, I encourage students to look at their pieces like maps to collect facts about the music. The more we can notice on the map (or music score), the more we understand the territory (or music).

Here are some ideas to think about when looking at your music. Do this without the guitar in a relaxed, interested state of mind. Write any ideas that pop into your mind onto the score.

1. Images - What does this piece represent to your imagination. If it were a film score, what would it be? A king entering the court? A horror film? A mother singing to her child? How would that image "feel" musically? Do the scenes change? What about the camera angles? Let your imagination be free and write your ideas in the score.

2. Texture - is the music very thick (like 4 part harmony, or full chords) or is it thin (maybe a single line or two lines)? Notice that the textures change throughout the piece. How will you express those changes?

3. Accidentals - especially in Tonal Music. Accidentals are signs that something has changed in the tonality. We want to feel those changes and express them.

4. Lines - where does a melody begin and end? What about the Bass? What about the middle? Do any lines have something of interest? Do the lines jump around or are they linear? How would your playing express those differences? Many times you will notice that when one voice ends a melody, another voice then adds something of interest so that there is no "dead space" in the music. Pay attention to those "bridges" as well.

5. Counterpoint - one of my favorites. Look to see how the voices interact. Even in the simplest piece by Sor, the counterpoint is wonderful to witness and enjoy.

6. Rhythm - what is the underlying feel of the piece? Even in a very complicated piece there are basic points in each measure which give a "grounding" to the rhythm. Rarely do all the notes get the same emphasis. Find the groove by singing, tapping, and feeling it in your body.

7. Rests - do you notice the rests? Many times a rest is as important as the notes - or even more so. Notice all the rests in the score and choose if you are going to express them or not. Also notice if you need to stop notes from ringing over each other - for example, in bass lines with many open strings.

8. Articulation - Sing the piece with feeling - do you notice your articulation is different than when you play? How about vibrato? Notice the differences and experiment with them in your playing.

9. Harmonic Analysis - what is happening in the harmony? Are there surprises in the harmony? like I- IV - V - iv. If there are twists (and many times there are) we want to express them.

Other questions to ask may be -

What is the Highest / Lowest Note in the piece? Where are they?

What Dynamics are indicated? Why?

What fingering is used by the editor? Why?

What attracts you to this music? Does it remind you of something or someone?

How would this sound as an orchestra piece? What instruments would play which part?

How would this sound if (insert your favorite guitarist here) played it?

Now, you don't have to go through all the questions in one session. One day, just look at the counterpoint. Another day, the texture, etc. We want to build a relaxed awareness of the piece. I would recommend doing this work before you pick up the guitar, as the technical aspect of playing can be distracting for score study. Once you feel like you've become more aware of something, play the guitar and experience it.

There are many beautiful secrets to be found for those who take the time. The more awareness you have of the music, the more you can express it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Youtube Video Lesson

I've put up a video lesson on youtube using John Dowland's little gem "Mrs. Winter's Jump".

The pdf for the music is also available for those who might like to learn it.

I've been meaning to do more videos, but to be honest, I'm not quite comfortable talking to a camera without the interaction of a student, so I tend to find reasons not to do them. I keep telling everyone in my lessons to "keep stepping into the fire" in order to become comfortable with whatever is uncomfortable - knowing that with time the difficulty will get easier. Of course, it's harder for me to notice when I'm avoiding the fire - especially when the mind gives all kinds of "good" reasons not to step into it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Free classical guitar music gifts

God bless the guitarists on the internet - no other instrument has so many resources available to it because of their dedicated work. Students and others have been notifying me of wonderful, high quality free music sites in the last few months. As I become aware of more, I will post them here and at my website.

Here is the first - many thanks to Boris for letting me know about it. Enjoy....

Thursday, October 16, 2008


"You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety." Abraham Maslow

For many people the word "Risk" implies something negative. "I risk losing this - i risk losing that". We rarely see the word risk as a positive thing, but in reality we must all risk failure to grow. With all risk is potential reward.

We are genetically programmed to grow and experience new things - and this means risking pain. Is it not risky to learn how to walk, to ride a bike, to drive, to travel, to try new foods, to speak up, to meet new people, or to study music seriously? The risks in life are never ending. Why do we risk? For the expansion and growth of the experience.

In playing we want to risk often, because with risk comes confidence and freedom. In trying to play safe, we lose life in our playing. We may feel safety now, but we avoid our fear - so the fear keeps us playing safe. It becomes a never ending cycle.

It's important to notice your fear based boundaries, question them, and decide to push past them. That means playing faster than you may be comfortable with, learning something that is more challenging than usual, learning music theory, performing for others, working with other instrumentalists, deciding to record yourself, etc. Study one aspect of your playing that you shy away from and go towards it in some way - step by step. You'll see that as you go towards that which you fear, it will get easier.

You don't have to book a concert at a concert hall tomorrow, or decide to suddenly perform only challenging pieces. Take some small steps towards that which you want. With time, the small steps will accumulate. Will it always work out the way you want it to? Maybe yes, maybe no - but that isn't the point. The point is to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. This is where true growth lies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wanting vs Having

Over the last 2 years I've emphasised how important it is to visualize. The inner vision must be clear if we want to alter any present unsatisfactory results. In the mental sciences, it's often said that one must "have something before one can get something" - in other words, you must have it in the mental/spiritual world before it will manifest for you in the physical world.

Most of us fall into the trap of mentally "wanting" something as opposed to "having" it. If you think of your playing (or life) in terms of "wanting" to get better but don't ever see yourself playing or living in that way, then you are communicating to your subconscious mind that you don't "have" it - and that means, you probably won't get it on the physical plane.

If however, you visualize yourself playing the way you want to play regardless of the present circumstances, see it in the present tense, feel the sensations of playing well now, then you begin to "have" the idea. The subconscious mind will start to act on that image and help you create it on the physical plane.

Remember that our relationship with the guitar has been entrenched into the subconscious mind over many years. Changing the programming of the subconscious takes time and discipline - it's a muscle which must be exercised as any other.

For the next 90 days, when you wake up (before you read the news or talk to anyone), take 15 minutes to visualize how you really want to play. Make the image as detailed as possible - feel the strings with both hands, notice the lighting in the imagined room, listen to the sound, see the audience enjoying your playing, feel the fluidity of the hands and body, notice how good everything feels and how free it is.

Keep thinking about how well you are playing in this imagined scene. You can use affirmations as well such as - "My technique is fluid and effortless", "I'm playing with ease and beauty", etc. It might feel like a lie at first, but keep doing it regardless. You just need to get comfortable with this new idea.

Make sure you feel as if it is happening NOW - not in the future, but right NOW. I can't emphasise this enough. You have to feel and see the image NOW for the subconscious to "have" it. Do this same visualizing at night before bed. Remember to make the image as detailed as possible and feel how easy and beautiful your playing is in the NOW.

Also, use the amazing resource of youtube to watch great performers everyday. You don't have to watch many - even one or two favorite performances will do. Notice how the performer plays and imagine what that would feel like - again, in the NOW. Don't let your mind tell you "I can't do that" - just observe and imagine what it would feel like to play that way with your hands. During the day, let these thoughts simmer inside you. You don't have to force the thoughts - just let them come when they come and enjoy them while they last.

Lastly, have faith and expect what you imagine to begin to come. Look for results, but with patience. Ideas are mental seeds, and all seeds have a gestation period. The seed grows roots (the unseen part) before it grows into the tree (the seen part).

Do this mental work for 90 days - let's say until Jan 1, 2009. I guarantee you will start to see results if you are faithful. You will gain new insights, and notice techniques you've struggled with will suddenly start to come. This is the power of the subconscious mind. We really do create our world.

Monday, October 6, 2008

the great Shawn Lane

Rarely do I write about electric guitar on this blog, but Shawn was such a channel of beauty and encompassed many of the things I think about - clarity of vision, creativity, and efforless motion.

Most guitarists are impressed with his speed (obviously) but I find inspiration in watching his natural movement. Notice in this video how the energy flows to and from his fingers. He's simply moving them effortlessly - there's no ego involved, no trying, and no doubt.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New Youtube Channel

I've decided to create a Youtube channel specifically for demonstrating techniques and ideas for classical guitar -

It will be sort of like a video masterclass series available for free. I'm going to document as many of my ideas as I can over the next few years.

I'm not sure when I will upload videos, but I'm shooting for once a week - once my life calms down a bit. The first video is a demonstration of counterpoint on the guitar.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


"The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them." - Albert Einstien

Far too often we are told as children not to be boastful, not to get our hopes up. Unfortunately, this often leads us to have low expectations of ourselves. I've seen it far too often in my myself and in even my best students. We don't believe we can do certain things. We can even feel good talking about our problems.

One may practice every published study, every exercise, practice 10 hours a day, go to hundreds of teachers, and yet not improve very much because of a negative mental ruling state. If you don't expect to get better, you won't. You have to expect it. You have to see yourself playing well in your mind, believe it to be possible, and expect that it will come.

This is not wishful thinking. This gets the subconscious mind into a position where it starts to look for answers. Expect to find the answers you seek and they will begin to come. Too often we don't expect the good we desire. We focus on the present reality as a fixed Truth. Our present is only the effect of our past thoughts and feelings.

Begin to watch any thought or statement which describes yourself or your relationship to the guitar. When you think or say "I can't do ________" or "I'm not talented" or "I can't memorize" or "The guitar is difficult" etc. - realize that you are programming your mind. It doesn't matter how many years you've had these issues - start changing the way you think and things will start to change. There's no reason we can't do what we want other than the belief that we can't. Whether you believe something is true or not - you are right.

Realize that what you expect and see clearly in your mind will come to you with time. Your visions, when backed by unwavering faith are just like physical seeds. They will grow if they are taken care of and protected. Don't let another person (or yourself) tell you you're wrong because you've never been able to do it before. Don't let the past decide your future. Use the will to stay focused on your vision. Napoleon once said "I see only the objective, the obstacle must give way".

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Law of Polarity

The Law of Polarity states that everything in the physical universe has an opposite - such as Negative-Positive, Up-Down, Hot-Cold, etc.

One of my favorite discovery (practice) techniques is to use this Law to rethink how I play and listen.

here are some examples -

1. listen to the notes / listen to the silences

2. listen to the attack of each note / listen to the sustain of each note

3. feel the fingers press onto the fretboard / feel the fingers lift off of the fretboard

4. feel the fingers pluck the strings / feel the fingers release

Most of the time, we tend to think and listen in habitual ways. By using the Law of Polarity, we can develop more awareness - which leads to better playing.

For example, we can be so concentrated on plucking the strings that we don't think about the release before and after the pluck. This is one of the reasons why we have unwanted tension. Focus on releasing.

With the left hand, we may think only about the act of pressing onto the fretboard. The fingers do not lift fully, because we are more concerned with the next press. Again, this creates unwanted tension and fatigue. Focus on lifting.

In listening, the attack is the most obvious part of the note, but even more important is the "body" of the note. Hear and feel the rest of the note - listen carefully to the decay.

We sometimes think of silence as a gap between the (more important) notes. Silence is where all sound is born and dies. The more meaning you give to silence, the more meaning your notes will have. We want to cultivate a deep reverence for it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Body as Teacher

It is very important for us to look to nature for the laws of effortless movement. Nature doesn't try, it just does. Your body is part of that nature.

In a recent development in my teaching I have been encouraging my students to compare their motions when playing and when not playing the guitar. It's a simple awareness exercise to feel if our motion is natural or constricted.

For example, take your right hand and hold it in front of you in a relaxed manner. Now move your fingers rapidly back and forth in the form of an arpeggio pattern - perhaps PAMI. Don't try to move them with large motions, just move them playfully and effortlessly. Is it difficult to do this? Most likely it is not. You'll probably find that it is very easy to move the fingers quickly and fluidly. This is natural motion.

Now take the same arpeggio pattern and perform it on the guitar at the same speed. Do you notice the introduction of tension into the fingers? Do you notice an inner tightening? Do you notice a feeling of "trying" entering into the technique? If so, then this motion is constricted. Don't worry about trying to relax the motion - just feel the constriction fully in the hand and body. Keep going back and forth between the two types of motions - on the guitar, and away from the guitar. Feel the difference between both with great interest.

With time and patience, you'll notice that the body will start to apply the natural motion when playing the guitar. Why? Because the natural motion becomes a clear and penetrating idea. Any clear idea can be learned.

This comparison exercise has become so effective for me, that I now practice about half of my technique on the guitar, and the other half away from the guitar. Every time I feel a restriction in my technique, I check the motion away from the guitar to see and feel the difference. It's amazing to notice the amount of stress we can put into the simplest movements. We create unecessary difficulties this way. Awareness is the key to change.

The body already knows how to move beautifully. We want to study what it does in its natural, effortless state. It's your greatest teacher.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Using the Will

Using the will in our work is extremely important and is often overlooked. We want to use the will to keep focusing on what we want - not on what we don't want.

In the case of practicing the guitar, we want to decide on what we want (better tone, more accuracy, more colors, running through the piece without stopping, etc.) and then use the will to stay focused on that - regardless of the current circumstances. Realize that staying focused on what you want will bring it to you, but it might not happen immediately - although sometimes it does. Often I have to simply tell a student to focus on getting a better tone, and it comes. Or I ask them to focus on being more accurate, and it comes. I don't have to explain anything or introduce new techniques. The student simply has to make a decision of what to focus on and then use the will to stay there. Then the mind / body will start to find solutions.

If there are no decisions made in our work, we can become easily distracted and overwhelmed. Our job is to focus on what we want to improve and use the will to stay focused on that during the session. 15 minutes of this kind of work is worth months of unfocused practice. Remind yourself by saying "I want to play my piece at this tempo" or "I want to memorize this passage" or "I want to get a better tone". Write down the idea and post it all over your practice room. Keep reminding yourself of what you want to improve. It takes time to build the momentum for new ways of playing - just stay on it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Defending Your Life

I saw the movie Defending Your Liferecently after a student recommended it to me. It's fantastic - funny and extremely moving. It illustrates quite well how we keep ourselves from what we want without even realizing it. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The comfort zone

When practicing, make sure your mind is clear on what you want. Often we practice with an unclear mind, and this becomes the norm. I've noticed myself and my students perform a phrase numerous times. When it finally reaches a point of clarity and brilliance, we move away from it immediately. This is actually the point in which the repeats should begin - not stop.

The mind has a tendency to want to stay comfortable, and comfortable can be a state of clarity or confusion. Whatever it is used to, it will want to return to. If a guitarist with an unfocused approach suddenly gains clarity, the mind will want to move away from that state - it will want to get back to its "comfort zone of confusion". This is very common. We want to watch the mind, notice when it is urging us to move forward hastily, and calmly bring it back. We want to repeat the clarity we've attained so that it becomes the norm.

The mind is like a record with grooves. The grooves we want to firmly entrench involve clear ideas - what notes are we playing, what fingering, what tone, etc. etc. Get your idea clear before you start to drill a passage, otherwise you drill vagueness. Either way, we reap what we sow.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Study freedom. Freedom of movement, freedom of imagination, freedom from fear. This is what is in great playing of all kinds. The irony of course is that freedom is already within us, but we block ourselves from it more often than not.

When most people being to play music, it's a joyous challenge. We feel free to explore it, to make mistakes, to try new things. Over time, we learn rules, and they begin to constrict our freedom. We learn what is so-called "bad" and "good" and focus on judgement rather than playing. Let yourself play and don't worry about what happens - just play. Practice that mental state. When I see the children play in the park near me, they play freely. If they fall, they fall - and then get up and keep playing just as hard as before. That is freedom.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Photos of my Studio

I took some photos of my teaching studio and put them on flickr. I coudn't help take a few extra photos of the beautiful painting by Paula Nizamas, a Chicago artist that I greatly admire. The painting is called "Oasis of Visions" - a wonderful title for my little studio.

Classical Guitar Teaching Studio in New York

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Playing Meditation

Great playing and deep meditation is the same. The mind goes quiet, and observation of the self deepens. Notice this artist - not his hands, but his mind. Is his mind busy making judgements about his playing? Is he worried about what other people will think of his playing? Or is he simply observing his hands peacefully?

Now the real question is - Does his mind become quiet and focused because of his awesome physical technique? Or - Does his awesome physical technique come from a quiet and focused mind?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From the Mountains

I finally took a vacation and the only place I wanted to be was in the woods. The nature here is stunning. I can't help but to spend hours doing little more than look at the beauty here.

The natural world really is the best teacher. The trees are alive but silent. They do not worry about having more leaves than the next, or being closer to the lake than another tree. They are not concerned if the birds have or have not built nests in their branches.

In looking at them, I also can't help to notice how they don't organize themselves. There is a supreme beauty in the natural chaos. Nothing is totally worked out like in the manicured parks of New York.

It reminds me how in playing music we can fall into the trap of having all our ideas planned - every musical idea, every color, every rhythmic nuance. Our minds want security by knowing exactly what will happen next. This can be helpful as we learn the craft of playing, but eventually we see the Joy in NOT having everything worked out. You let the details come through present inspiration, not through formulaic planning.

At first it may seem hard to let go of the musical control you've fought so hard to attain, but if you consciously let go a little each time, you'll see that it isn't so scary. In fact, it's quite liberating when you are comfortable with not knowing all the details of your interpretation. In this way, a classical guitar performance becomes free and improvisatory in nature.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Practice

We must understand that the practice is a simple game of attention - what you pay attention to will grow in your reality. If you react negatively to your mistakes, you are giving the mistakes more power because you are giving them more attention. Notice them, but don't react to them. Any negative reaction feeds them and gives them more power.

When you are playing well, your attention is on playing and listening. When you don't play as well, your attention is divided - you're paying attention to HOW you are playing the guitar, or how other people think you are playing the guitar, or what just happened in that passage, or what will happen in the upcoming passage, or any number of things. This mind activity takes power away from where the attention needs to be - playing and listening in the now. The zen story of the archer demonstrates this point very well.

When you notice your mind chattering - acknowledge it, and then bring it back to playing and listening. Every time you make a mistake, bring the mind back to playing and listening. Be courageous. Don't let any mistake distract you. The mistakes can only win by allowing them to bother you.

Keep focusing your attention on what you want to grow - not on what you don't want to grow. This is the practice. All else will fall into place with time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Archer

The champion arrived at the competition to prove once and for all that he was the greatest archer in the land. All the other competitors were intimidated by his presence and the audience assumed he would be the clear winner.

Surprisingly, each time the champion took the field, his arrows were inaccurate and his technique clumsy. His performance was no better than a beginning archer.

Perplexed by his performance, an audience member asked the Zen Master what he thought was wrong with the champion.

"His need to win drains him of power" said the Zen Master.

The Tea Cup

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. The professor had studied the concepts of Zen for a long time and was eager to learn more.

While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about his vast knowledge of Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.

The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.

"It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted.

"You are like this cup," the master replied, "You are already full of what you know. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Friday, June 6, 2008


Try to remove yourself from mind-based listening for a few minutes each day. Start to notice when when you are analyzing sounds, but not listening to them. Listening is not analyzing, it is being with a sound fully without the distraction of the mind.

One of the problems we have when hearing a guitarist is that we analyze the performance mentally - the tone, speed, phrasing, technique, etc. There is a lot for the mind to chew on. This has it's place and is important, but even more important is the art of listening without the mind being active.

Walk in the place you live and listen without any judgements. Hear every sound clearly, but without analysis. Be full of the sounds you hear - as if they are coming from inside of you. The world is rich in sound color. Now listen to the spaces between each sound. Listen to how empty the spaces are. Notice how the space feels. Now listen to both sound and silence. If the mind interferes, listen to that as well, and then go back.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bringing the "Yes" into the "No"

This concept is so close to my heart that it may be difficult to write about it. It's completely revolutionary for those who get it. If you don't get it, don't worry - you will with time. For those interested in reading more, I would suggest Eckhart Tolle's classic "The Power of Now" - particularly the last chapter called "Surrender".

I'm learning as I get older to welcome my difficulties, my fears, my struggles - whether it be with the guitar or with life. It's completely natural to want to avoid fear, but eventually it keeps coming back until we learn how to deal with it. Fear and limitations are great teachers.

In the practice of an instrument, we can fear fast tempos, difficult repertoire, high positions, certain fingering combinations, understanding harmony, what people think of our playing, etc. etc. Try to notice whatever it is you avoid or hide from. What do you fear? Awareness is key - most people don't know what they fear. Be curious about what you avoid in your playing and for that matter, your life. It's a fascinating study.

When you avoid something, you bring a psychological "NO" to it. It is basically the avoidance of pain. For example, if someone fears playing at fast tempos, they will avoid fast pieces and passages, they will slow down unconsciously when a fast passage appears, they might even look through a collection of music and avoid pieces with too much "black" in them. Ultimately, they are reacting to the fear of playing fast by avoiding the situation in some way. By not dealing with the fear, it is allowed to grow until "I can't play fast" is believed. Once you believe the fear, it becomes part of you.

So how do we deal with the fears and weaknesses we have? As I've learned, we must accept the fear - make friends with it. Say "YES" to what you fear - embrace it completely.

Fear can only stay strong if we keep reacting or fighting against it. If we embrace our fear, it will dissipate. This is bringing the YES into the NO.

For example, if a person fears playing fast, he or she can say "OK, I fear playing fast - that's fine. Let me play fast and I will welcome the fear. I won't complain about missing notes, tensing up, not feeling comfortable, etc. Instead, I'm going to welcome all of that and keep my mind calm. I will allow the fear to come and I will play fast anyway".

So then the person plays fast and gets tense, misses tons of notes, has a bad tone etc. However - unlike before, there is no reaction to any of this. The person keeps the mind calm and allows it all to be as it is. He or she welcomes the fear. As the fear is welcomed, it lessens because it is not strengthened through a negative reaction (the NO). This is the state of mind we want to cultivate for our difficulties. That doesn't mean you don't go back and work on the difficult passages. It doesn't mean that you ignore them. You just work on them without a negative reaction to them. You want to always say YES to your difficulties, to your fears.

With time, the fear lessens and you'll find that you can do what you used to fear. Why? Because only what you resist persists. Keep putting yourself into the situation you fear and say YES to the discomfort. As we do this again and again, the fear and discomfort will go away.

The great Eckhart Tolle talking about this concept.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Sense of Direction

In the book "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Tim Galloway, he mentions the fact that most tennis students are so concerned with hitting the ball properly (with the right swing, footing, etc.), that they actually forget to think about where they want to the ball to go. They are overburdened with directions on how to hit the ball, so they forget about the result - getting the ball over the net. Once they concentrate on where they want the ball to go, many technical problems go away because the body engages the muscles naturally to achieve a visualized result.

I've been noticing this in my students as well. They know the fingering, have good hand positioning, are able to visualize the notes, etc. but they don't actually see clearly where they have to put their fingers. They KNOW the fingering - have it memorized in fact - but often they don't really see clearly where they need to put their fingers. When i say "see clearly" I mean to see it as clearly as you would any object you were reaching out to pick up. This is so fundamental to playing that it can be overlooked easily.

Take a piece of music and play it VERY slowly. As you play each note, see clearly the string and fret of the next note you are about to play. Stay very focused - your mind will probably want to wander because it won't be used to this. See the next note (or notes) exactly where it will be on the fretboard. Try to feel what those next notes will feel like. In other words, you are executing and looking/feeling ahead at the same time for every single note. If you notice that you can do this at a slow tempo, then increase the tempo. Keep going faster until you've reached the tempo you like.

Notice how your body starts to prepare for the next notes naturally. You don't have to "try" to get the body to be more accurate - all you have to do is be clear where you want to put your fingers - and then let the body do what it needs to do to get there. That is exactly what we do when we pick up a pen or some other object. We don't "try" to pick it up - we just move the hand to the pen and pick it up. However, if we don't see the pen clearly, we may not pick it up accurately.

This is Effortless Doing - the mind directs and the body does. There is no "trying". Don't put any stress or strain into this. This is not hard work - it just takes focus and clarity. If you miss a note, just go back and refocus. Focus is the key - stay present in the now and clearly direct where you want to go - then see what happens.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


The emperor ordered the most beautiful women on earth be sought so that he could finally marry. Thousands of women were presented before him but each one was turned away. Many days passed and it seemed that the emperor would not pick a wife.

Finally, an envoy appeared with a woman from a distant land. Her beauty was so perfect, that the emperor decided to make her his wife.

One night, while gazing at the naked body of his new wife while she was sleeping, the emperor noticed a tiny mole on her hip. That image stayed with him from then on. Whenever he saw her, he could only see that imperfection. Seized by madness, he sought advice from his royal doctors. They prepared an ointment which would erase the blemish forever.
The treatment was successful. The following evening, the emperor was able to gaze at the perfect beauty of his beloved for the last time, as she lay lifeless beside him.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

internal = external

One of the main problems we have with learning the classical guitar is performing pieces by memory. Students tend to watch the notated music as they play, and their mind is busy looking at notes and fingerings. Most of the time very little listening is done.

Most young rock guitarists can memorize many songs per week with very little effort. What is their secret? Very simple - they play along with the album they want to learn until they can anticipate every chord change. Then, without the album playing, they can hear the song inside their mind and follow it.

Many classical guitar students perform pieces in the same way they watch TV - completely detached from the action. They watch the music on the stand, they watch their hands, they might even memorize the fingering in a few passages, but they never actually hear the piece they are playing. Everything becomes external - that is, everything is happening outside of them. There is no internal guide, and therefore, nothing to follow.

For a long time I would tell my students to know their harmony, analyze the piece, visualize the fingering, etc. and yes, all these techniques do help - but you can do all of that and still not know how the tune sounds. The easiest way to memorize music is simply - sing the tune as you play it.

Remember, we want to build a strong foundation inside as well as outside. When we sing and play, we are actively involved in memorizing the piece. We are connecting the inner tune to the outer manifestation (the physical performance). Don't worry in any way if you can't sing in perfect tune, or that you can't sing every single voice independently - none of that matters. Just sing what you can, however you can.

Within a short time, you may sing the tune away from the guitar, and you'll notice that the fingerings just seem to "pop" into your mind. Why? Because your mind has developed an association between the tune, and what it "looks" like. The mind now literally thinks of the tune as a physical act being done by your hands. At that point you've merged the internal and external worlds and memorizing becomes far easier. Give it a try and see.

Monday, February 25, 2008

our perceptions - our realities

When you are walking or speaking, there is an effortless in your psychology. You aren't trying to do those things - you just do them. We don't see those acts as difficult, so we do them without thought. They become automatic. We do thousands of acts like this - all of them requiring complex body movements - and yet, we percieve them as easy.

In terms of playing the classical guitar, many of us perceive playing as "difficult". We may even have teachers or collegues who like to encourage this idea. The interesting point is - because we perceive it as difficult, we tend to make it more difficult than it actually is. Our bodies tense up for passages that are no more complex than typing fast or speaking. However, our perceptions are programmed to see great difficulty in it.

If we think that moving our hands/fingers is "easy" (like walking, speaking, or driving), it lightens the psychological "weight" of the act and we can move much more freely. We might still miss the passage for now, but the psychological and physiological freedom that is attained far outweighs the mistake. In fact, we will begin to play better much more rapidly if we start to see playing as "easy".

However, if we add heavy psycological weight to the same action (with thoughts like - "this is difficult, i never get this part, i want to get this perfect", etc.) then the act becomes overly dramatic - full of tension and fear. The hands and body tense up. It becomes more difficult to play because your body is reacting to your thoughts. Your thoughts are basically telling the body "this is a difficult situation" - and the body simply agrees with you.

While walking, talking or doing any other act that is natural to you - notice your mental state. Notice how easy it is and how you feel. Feeling is everything. Notice how you flow. It feels good in the body AND the mind. The same goes for playing. If you feel good psychologically while you play, you must inevitably play better. Don't wait to get the passage right first to feel good - feel good NOW - regardless of how things sound. Believe the passage is easy in your mind no matter how difficult it may seem. You'll notice with time how it gets easier - your body begins to react to your mind.

The body (hands epecially) represents your mental state. You can work on relaxing the body or hands as much as you want, but if you don't relax your psychology while playing, the body will keep slipping back into tension and difficulty.

The body mirrors our psychology. Feel good now.

Monday, February 4, 2008

the dissolving of fear and judgment

Lately, I have been applying some of my philosophical studies to my practicing and teaching. Probably one of the most overlooked concepts in playing well is the removal (or at least the taming) of fear and judgment. When a great player performs, there is a confidence, a radiance, a certain type of grace which only shines through when fear and judgment is let go.

Ask a great player what it feels like to be on stage when everything is going smoothly and they say something like "it feels free, fun, I'm just one with the music". That is to say - there is no fear, no judgment. When things are REALLY going well - there's no thinking at all.

As students (especially guitarists who see themselves as inferior musicians many times) we learn to fear and judge most of what we do. If the tone isn't quite right or if we miss a note, we get upset and judge ourselves harshly. When a difficult passage creeps up, our natural tendency is to tense up - a reaction of fear. We rarely enjoy what we do - instead we expect one day we will get better, and THEN we can then enjoy it. But I'm afraid that this keeps us "chasing our tail", because as we DO get better, our bar for perfection also rises. Thus we are always one step away from where we want to be - and fear and judgment continues no matter how far we've progressed.

There are two ways to deal with this fear and judgment when playing.

The first way is the way that most are taught (myself included). Practice a technique or piece/passage so much that eventually the body relaxes, the mind calms down, you start to enjoy the playing, and eventually confidence begins to come. You "know" the piece - and fear and judgment begin to melt away. On some days they totally disappear and you play great. On other days, they show their ugly heads and you play worse. We've all experienced this.

There's nothing wrong with this approach, however, it's incomplete.

The second way to deal with fear and judgment is even better in my opinion, because it deals with our mental state. You practice the mental and physical attitude of mastery and allow yourself to make mistakes - completely and with enjoyment.

This means, when you practice, you completely allow the mistakes - make them on purpose, with joy, with confidence. The whole time you are doing this, feel confident and enjoy whatever arises out of the chaos. Don't in any way think about the inaccuracy of notes or tone. Pluck multiple strings at once, enjoy your "bad" tones, make shifts fast without caring about accuracy, and push the tempo to what you feel like it should be regardless of current physical limitations. Practice with complete abandon and freedom regardless of what comes out. Imagine that the piece is written this way and you are playing it perfectly.

For people who obsessively judge their mistakes and fear imperfection in playing (most of us), this will seem weird, and if their mind is not open to this idea, they will think it's stupid and a waste of time. However, remember that playing well is much more mental than physical - we want to practice the mental state of playing with freedom, without fear, and with unconditional love.

So you want to focus on the state of effortless, free motion regardless of what happens. Will you make mistakes? - yes, and please make many....haha. Enjoy it, relax, laugh at the mistakes - don't let them intimidate you at all.

When you go back to practicing accurately, remember the feeling of freedom you had when you dropped your fear and judgment. Try to feel like that when you are then focusing on accurate playing. If you make a mistake, enjoy it and "allow" it as you did before. With this mentality you'll end up making less mistakes and build your courage and confidence. With time, you'll notice more freedom, more accuracy, more relaxed technique, bigger tone, and more joy.

When we do not fear and judge, we are free to be creative and happy. This is a major key to great playing (notice the word - "playing"). It may sound crazy to some, however it is based on the wise principle of "what you resist, persists". If you resist making mistakes (aka - try not to) you actually will continue to make them over and over again.

The key word is "allow". Allow yourself to be free. Music is free - be like music.

NYC - Feb 4, 2008