G.K.Chesterton on Staying Fresh in our Music

[Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Enjoy!]

“The things we see every day are the things we never see at all.”

G.K. Chesterton

“Scales are boring…” “I already know that…” “I think I’m playing it pretty well…”

Classical guitar music is finicky. We’re asked to move our fingers with ridiculous levels of precision and consistency. And a core set of movements makes up almost everything we do. Repetition is part of the game.

But with repetition can also come blindness. Like the scenes we pass every day on the way home, we often come to ignore some of the most crucial elements of our music.

Part of quality practice is looking and listening as if for the first time (even if it’s the hundredth).

When we suspend our notion of “got it”, we find constant room for improvement. When we assume nothing, slow down and pay close attention, the way forward presents itself.

Playing music, we build myriad skills. Some are finger-skills. Some are problem-solving skills. We learn time- and project-management skills. And we also need focus and attention skills.

It takes practice and intention to notice the commonplace day after day. It’s work to stay attuned to the fine details in something we do over and over.

The key to “seeing” is to look for something specific. When we explore the up-close details, the common becomes novel. Our curiosity engages. We become aware of the “flowers at our feet”.

For scales, it’s rhythm, legato, volume and tone control. With a piece of music it’s the same. For every note and phrase, we can set an intention for each of these. Then we compare what we see and hear to that intention.

Forward progress means matching what comes out of the instrument to what we hear in our heads. The “big picture” is made up of many smaller pictures. And the small pictures are where we hold the power.

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.

Those videos on practicing the piece were just awesome, Allen! I've always thought that learning songs might be something completely different than practicing exercises, but the way you teach it makes it much easier than I thought. I'm positive that joining the Woodshed has been the best investment I've ever done for learning the classical guitar. Thank you so much for these lessons.


~ Ulysses Alexandre Alves

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

Hi Allen, just wanted to provide some feedback. Since I've started doing the exercises [in The Woodshed program] my guitar is sounding a lot better, with fuller sound, less effort. Its as if I bought a new guitar or got a new pair of hands (or both). Amazing my friend. Thank you!


~ Nusret Aydemir

-Nusret Aydemir

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