ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What Playing Classical Guitar and Tai Chi Have In Common

Updated on November 10, 2009

The Basic Concept

I still remember the day I auditioned to study Classical Guitar with Alexander Bellow. I had heard about Mr Bellow when I was competing in the semi finals of the Air Force Talent show in Madrid Spain, from a young Classical Guitarist who was recommending that I study with a Grand Master if I wanted to learn Classical Guitar properly.  Just the title Grand Master was intimidating, and I was very nervous to be auditioning, since the only "classical" piece I knew was Green Sleeves, which I had learned from a Book.  Mr Bellow was a jolly fellow, a bit elf like, and not intimidating at all, but for some reason I was still very nervous. I played the piece with butterflies in my stomach and when I finished his exact words in his thick Russian accent were, "I like the way you play. You have great feeling, but- I am going to have to teach you how to play the guitar all over again!"

He wasn't kidding. I spent the next several months studying with one of his students learning the basics of classical guitar. The style of guitar taught by the old Grand Masters was one of total relaxation and very slow practice so that the the muscles "learned" the song and and the player could then focus on the communication. For weeks I felt like I was learning to walk, only able to do basic exercises. It was a lot of work just to learn to do things without effort. In the end I mastered the basic techniques and was ready to learn my first classical piece. By this time I had started to study with Mr Bellow himself and I felt a sense of accomplishment.

 Many newer schools of thought felt that the learning curve for this style was too long and used a more ridged style that was easier to learn, but Mr Bellow felt that they would not have the endurance for long concerts. I have no fixed opinion whether this was true, as I had witnessed many a guitarist survive a whole concert with out perfect form, but with Mr Bellow it was also tradition.  He was trained in the Russian conservatories at the turn of the 19th century and had studied with some very famous Russian composers. He was a fully educated Musician with a bit of that musical Aristocracy still clinging to his manner. I recall one day Julian Bream had contacted him and asked Mr Bellow to send some of his compositions to him so that he could record them. Mr Bellow refused because the younger musician should come to the older in person and request such things. I could see that this cheery gentleman had a bit of old world snobbery still in him, but he wore it well and it gave him character.  After all he had escaped Russia during the Russian Revolution and went to Germany, where he was the head of the string department in a German conservatory, only to end up in a concentration camp during WWII. After escaping the concentration camp he ended up in New York and speaking only limited English, he started teaching guitar to survive. I figured after all that he could display a bit of old world snobbery if he wanted.

Getting back to the point, this whole idea is a bit like soft styles and hard styles in Martial Arts. It is easier to learn a hard style like Tai qwan do than a soft style like Tai Chi.  You can learn to punch people and kick people and get right into sparring as a beginner and feel you are getting some where.  On the other hand did you ever see a group of retirees doing Thai Chi? You probably thought they were doing a dance or something. Well it might surprise you that a Thai Chi Master could wipe the ground with some Hard style fighters.  But it takes too long before you get to hit someone- too long a learning curve to keep the attention of the fast pace minds of the present generation. I know because I chose to study Tai quan do in spite of the fact I was a terrible kicker.

This idea makes its way into other arts and sports. I recall watching the Olympic gymnastic competitions in the late 1980's and noticing that the Russians were killing us and there was a grace that the Russians seemed to have that only a few of our gymnasts had and it was a grace and control that looked effortless. If you saw it and recognized it it made our guys look awkward even though they were successfully completing the moves. Below is an excerpt from White Nights where Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov do a dance scene.  If you look close you can see what I mean. Both are doing the same moves but note the smooth effortless control of Baryshnikov. It showed up better on the big screen but this is the quality of which I speak. It comes with special training and a bit of a long learning curve, and hard work.

Dance Scene From "White Nights"

Now I had no desire to be a professional concert guitarist though Mr Bellow was trying to push me in that direction. Practicing 3 to 8 hours a day did not appeal to me, though I would have happily played that long. But practice is not the same as playing, you reward yourself with playing after a bout of drills, exercises, and very slow renditions of music you are learning. I was never meant to be a great guitarist but I did enjoy playing and entertaining others.  But look at me do I look like I could be a starving musician?  It never suited me.  Still, I admire an artist who is willing to master the long learning curve and become a master of their craft. Artists like Baryshnikov, Pavarotti, and those old style classical guitarists whose fingers seem to effortlessly flow along the strings brighten the lives of many. 


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • GreenMathDr profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      I have no idea, I only know the stories he told. I guess he could have escaped with his parents, but it is even possible that it was not an accurate story. But I verified your data and you are correct about his birth date.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Dear Mr. Green, thank you for this story. I am very interested in the biography of Alexander Bellow. But how it's possible that he "escaped Russia during the Russian Revolution and went to Germany, where he was the head of the string department in a German conservatory, only to end up in a concentration camp during WWII", if he was born in 1912 and the Russian Revolution was in 1917 when he was just 5 years old? How is this possible?

    • GreenMathDr profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Yes, I have some good memories of Mr. Bellow. It was a less stressful time, being a self supported College Student. I'm glad you liked it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This article of yours is a fascinating read. You have made some very interesting points. One can learn a lot by finding commonalities between many different disciplines. I know, studying classical guitar has taught me a lot about other areas of interest, like martial arts.

      I was also interested because I also share the legacy of Alexander Bellow's teaching. I spent several years studying with a student of his and played some of his compositions and arrangements during that time. I have heard only brief stories and quotes, so it was helpful to read your depiction of him.

    • GreenMathDr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Playing is very relaxing. I haven't had the time to play as much as I'd like lately and I miss it.

    • NewHorizons profile image

      Joseph Attard 

      8 years ago from Gozo, Malta, EU.

      I learned music, the basics by myself. I can now read quite fluently. Then I bought a book plus a CD and I can now play about 10 pieces from it (but not by heart). I have to read the music all the time. First I hear the CD and then I study the piece. The good thing is that I like the sound of my playing. If your GrandMaster hears my playing, I think he wd tell me that I'd have to start all over again, ha ha. But I like it and I play about 1 to two hours every evening. It is one of my major hobbies.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)