“…it is possible to wind a way backwards to the start of things, and in doing so find a form of sacred reason,” Linda Hogan

February 1, 2016

For 20 years I have been trying to use less force as I play guitar and it is finally paying off. At times I can show my students how to look, how to play a passage without exerting needless force. I can shorten some notes without worry, hearing them but still feeling the meaning behind. In fact I have invested more time at working less than anything else in my musical life.

How did it get this way, was it because starting as a teenager, I desperately wanted to communicate? Was it all those hours spent playing slowly which requires too much force? All that time micromanaging because some fool had told me that the secret to not making mistakes is to simply not make them?

There is a Chinese story about the master cook who knew how to use his knife so well that it never needed sharpening. Seeing the above sentence I now feel that there is a whole other section missing from the proverb, the training that preceded mastery. As many professionals know – we are professionals because we have made all the mistakes. Go forth and mess up, and mess up until you stop messing up would be a much better motto.

Playing slowly is such a dangerous approach: we convince ourselves of our capability in an unrealistic situation. A situation that allows our mind to wander so that rather than increasing we diminish our concentration. In order to play a passage you have to figure out how to do it at speed. You might slow down later but competency will increase only if you continue to move as you do when playing quickly. So many wasted hours pressing too hard only to fail in the end.

Rather than trying to communicate my feelings I am now content to move others. In order to do that it has become imperative that my energy is not dissipated on the physical aspects of playing. My imagination needs to be set free, to find the sacred reason behind the music. And thus to wind my way back to the start of things, to the ecstasy of playing a Bach fugue in junior band at thirteen.

Nasrudin is drinking coffee with his friends when one of them asks, "When you are in your casket with your friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say?"

The doctor says, "I would like them to say that I was a great doctor, and a great family man."

The teacher says, " I would like them to say that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher which made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow."
They all turn toward Nasrudin who says, " I would like to hear them say... Look, he’s moving!"