Think Smaller

Music should be easy. But we get really caught up in practicing, and we get tense. We try harder, and the harder we try the less things work. I have a theory. I think its because we try to solve too many problems at once.

We need to think smaller.

Can’t play that passage with a big left hand shift in it? Can you play the shift alone? In the interview with Kevin Callahan, he reminded us that, “virtuosity is in nuance.”

If if you’re having trouble getting a particular passage down, try asking yourself what specifically is giving you a problem. Become more aware of what’s going on. Where do your fingers falter? Then that the piece of knowledge and put it to use. Practice the specific event giving you trouble. Then being to work up to a larger context by adding notes around that event.

This doesn’t just apply to technical things. How can you play a phrase musically as part of a larger whole if you can’t play the phrase musically alone? How can you shape a melody if you’ve never played the melody by itself? How can you know know how each voice sounds if you’ve never played them separately?

Play a melody by itself. Shape and phrase it as well as possible. Then add it back to the accompaniment, try to make it sound the same. Play the bass notes only in your Bach piece, pay attention to the length and volume of each. Then play the entire piece again and listen specifically to the bass. Doing things like this can help push your interpretation to the next level. Playing lines or phrases or appogiatura or cadences or anything! alone changes the way you hear because it makes you more aware.

The possibilities for this kind of thinking are immense. And thinking smaller can make you a much more effective learner. Imagine if you solved the technical issue in 10 minutes rather than playing it 30 times a day for a week! In the same way, this isn’t just for classical guitar. Having trouble with a change in jazz chart, observe, see what’s happening practice that specifically. Can’t nail a lick for a guitar solo? Think smaller, see what’s really giving you trouble, chances are it’s probably not the entire thing.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Mike Saville

    Hi Chris,

    Great post – and I agree with you. Sites like mine and yours provide a large resource for people looking to improve their practice. However these options can be overwhelming and simplicity is often a better path to follow. Just because there are lots of practice techniques does not mean you should use them all. Look at the options and decide which is best for you, that may well be a simpleness and clarity of thought.