Chet Atkins on Balancing Music and Life

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

“When I was a little boy, I told my dad, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a musician.’ My dad said: ‘You can’t do both, Son’.”

Chet Atkins

We live in a physical, material world. We love our things. As a people, we often value the tangible over the intangible. And we often define ourselves by what we own.

But there’s more to life than accumulating shiny gizmos and yard ornaments.

As Einstein said, not everything that matters can be measured.

Music is ephemeral. It’s an experience – both to play and to listen. It happens in real time.

So, understandably, music is often back-burnered in favor of other, more touchable goals.

It’s trite because it’s so common: the story of the one who puts material gain ahead of health, relationships and sanity, and loses them all.

But still, culture is strong. We quietly feel it naive to think we can do the needful and still have time and energy for the nourishing.

“We have to be ‘grown ups’. We have responsibilities. We must prioritize.”

And that may be true, though incomplete. Life is short. We’re not guaranteed a long run. And if we get one, we still decide how to spend it.

At any age, it’s the child-like qualities that help us feel most fulfilled and alive. Curiosity, wonder, surprise – these make us feel human. They slice through the shell and urge us to engage with life.

Studying guitar invites us to meld our adult and child qualities. We can bring critical thinking, time-management, and discipline. And we can use these to create a safe container in which to play and explore.

It’s not always easy to block out the “real world” and put all our attention on our “play”. Distractions abound.

But the pursuit is worth the work. The gains can’t be counted, but they count.

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, two practices later [after a video review] with the new position - the difference it's made in my playing is... unbelievable, really. It's like many months of improvement overnight.

Everything is so much more secure, left-hand stretches are easier, I feel like I'm getting way more volume for the same effort, the tone is noticeably better all along the neck, and the list goes on.

Thank you!

~ Alexander Mosolov


I just upgraded. I have been thinking about it since day one, but wanted to see how it works out for me. I have to say, even though I did not put as much effort in as I expected to, I already hear and feel Improvements when playing compositions I learned some time ago, before joining The Woodshed.



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-Alexey Neyman

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