When I showed up at Stu’s house for my first classical guitar lesson, I told him that I wanted to learn how to play Asturias.
Asturias is an absolutely stunning Spanish guitar song, and I’d been mesmerized by it for years. It’s a fierce, hard charging and complex piece, and at times it is also sweet and gentle.
I had a CD of John Williams playing Asturias that I had listened to probably five hundred times. It absolutely blew my mind that only one person was playing on the recording because it sounded like there were at least two or three players or even more.
“You mean this song?” Stu asked. And then he just started playing Asturias right then and there. Hearing the song played live in front of me was magical.
I was thirty years old at the time, and I was a self taught guitarist who’d never taken lessons. Even though I had been playing guitar for about fifteen years, up until that moment I didn’t really believe that I’d ever be able to play that song.
At the end of the lesson Stu said, “You know, Chris, learning to play classical guitar is like climbing a mountain. It’s a long and intense journey. All you can really do to get to the top of the mountain is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will need to take lots and lots of small steps, but if you keep going you’ll eventually get there.”
Standing at the bottom of the mountain, the peak is way off in the distance and high in the sky. A long and winding path stretches before me.
The first step I take moves me one step closer to the top, but my progress is imperceptible at that point. It’s just one step, and I’ll need to take thousands more.
But then I get going, and I develop a stride.
Pretty soon, I’m quite a ways from the trailhead. I’m nowhere near the top, but I’ve also traveled far from where I started.
As I keep going up, my feet grow more adept as I step from rock to rock and over boulders. My mind grows more in tune with the mountain path.
At my next classical guitar lesson, Stu and I didn't even try playing Asturias. Instead, we started working on the very basics of classical guitar.
First, I learned how to read music.
Then Stu started teaching me how to play with proper technique. I learned how to hold the guitar, how to position my hands and my body, and how to move my fingers efficiently up and down the fretboard and over the strings.
Over the next few months I played simple musical exercises over and over and over again. And I slowly got better and better.
As I climb higher up the mountain, every so often I arrive at a beautiful vista where I can look out upon the world below.
I stop to take a break and rest my muscles. I sit and take a sip of water and eat a little food.
The view is extraordinary.
I see the bigger picture and gain perspective. I take stock of how far I’ve come.
I look up at the peak above. It’s much closer now, but still far away.
I became consumed by classical guitar.
Every day I’d sit by the wall of windows in Julie’s studio and practice for hours, working to make my playing smoother and more rhythmic.
But I didn't make steady, gradual progress. Rather, every once in a while I’d suddenly arrive at a new level of ability and understanding, and I would be able to play better than I ever had before.
Some of this progress was physical. My hands and fingers developed more coordination and strength. My left hand moved between chords more fluidly, and my right hand became more expressive.
But the real shift was mental. My confidence grew. Things that required my complete attention before now occupied less of my brain. This opened up more mental space for me to focus on playing with feeling instead of just hitting the notes.
And then I would play at this new level for days or weeks until the next leap forward.
Reaching the top of the mountain is such a beautiful feeling.
I’m tired from the journey, but at the same time I’m so invigorated.
There is no higher to go anymore.
I can see for miles on all sides and I feel alive.
A couple of years into classical guitar lessons, Stu and I decided to tackle Asturias.
The process of learning the song was the exact same as everything else I had learned before on classical guitar. One step at a time.
Asturias was difficult and demanding, but I now knew that I could learn to play it if I patiently worked at it.
So I started working on the song every day. Some parts came easy and some were much more challenging. Step by step I got pretty good at playing Asturias.
Eventually I even started playing classical guitar gigs. I played at some weddings, and for a while I had a regular gig on Sunday afternoons at a cool restaurant in Buffalo. I loved to play Asturias live.
Over time my musical interests shifted, and I got into other styles of music like jazz and bossa nova as I played less and less classical guitar.
I started climbing new mountains.
*I feel blessed to have studied music with Stu for several years. He is a gifted teacher and a phenomenal musician. His thoughtful, patient and holistic approach truly inspired me, and so much of what I learned from him I regularly apply to many different areas of my life. You can find Stu online here.