Holistic or Reductionist Approach?

There is a time and place for both holism and for reductionism in the development of music performance abilities.

The holistic approach is essential to play "music" (rather than just a bunch of notes) and to perform... and the Reductionist approach should be applied only when there are problems in realising the musical concepts.

Consider the holistic approach as the "master plan", the overview and the reductionist as a valuable analytic tool for probing defects in the structure of performance.

One thing I have noticed in a couple of decades of guitaring is that most guitar teaching material adopts the reductionist approach as the beggining and end, believing for example that if you practice "finger exercises" and develop "dexterity" then that facility will somehow flower into an expression of music. In my experience this is rarely so.

Reductionism, isolating each technique, lacks the vocabulary to explain how those separate techniques are joined in a continuous flow of musical performance.


Reductionism is the beaking down of an activity into it's component parts. A purely reductionistic approach to playing guitar would assert that by practising the identified component parts separately, they can then be brought together in a musical performance.


Holism (sometimes spelt Wholism) tries to address the totality of a musical performance.