Boyd Varty on Living With the Unknown and Uncertain in Guitar Practice

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“I don’t know where we are going, but I know exactly how to get there.” 

Boyd Varty (as Renias Mhlongo)

The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life, by Boyd Varty, is a short book on tracking lions in the South African bush. In it, Renias Mhlongo says, “I don’t know where we are going, but I know exactly how to get there.”

Learning classical guitar, each piece of music is a new discovery. When we first set upon it, we don’t know what we’ll encounter. Even after a read-through, we’ve only brushed the surface.

As we absorb the notes and plan our choreography, we face numerous challenges.

We make decisions we’ll later change. We form a mental picture of the music, with its various emotions and statements. We plot the rises and falls, the smooth and rough patches.

The piece we end up with is often completely different than the one we begin. We form deep and intimate relationships with each piece. We have hours of experience together. We overcome hardship and crest new outlooks.

And as we continue to play a piece of music for years or decades, this relationship deepens. It continues to unfold. Even after time, it can still surprise us.

But when we first begin, we know very little. We may know the notes. We have the clues the composer left us.

Each moment of music is a puzzle to decipher. Each phrase both stands alone and exists within a larger framework. And like a lifting fog, we blink these into being, bit by bit.

In today’s practice, we don’t need to know what the piece will be in the future. We need only know how to work on it in the time we have in front of us.

Herbert Hoover once said, “Wisdom consists not so much in knowing what to do in the ultimate as in knowing what to do next.”

For each challenge, we can try various solutions. For each stage of the learning process, we have formulas and methods we can employ.

We don’t need to understand everything. Instead, we can live with the uncertainty and the unknown. We can work on what we do know. We can follow the track in front of us, trusting that we are moving forward.

And this creates the most rewarding practice. We put aside dreams of an ultimate masterpiece and instead dig our hands into the soil before us. Nurturing, coaxing, excavating, polishing.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

I have to say after over 12 months of one-on-one training with a teacher before joining The Woodshed, this is the first time that I feel I’m making technical progress.


~ Nusret Aydemir

-Nusret Aydemir

Hi Allen, I am thoroughly enjoying your website and I find it is just what I need in my renewed passion for classical guitar. I have rediscovered a great love for this instrument and the music I can learn and play and it has changed my life for the better dramatically! Thank you for facilitating this process.~


~ George Rogers

-George Rogers

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