David Allen Healthy Skepticism Guitar

David Allen on Healthy Skepticism and Challenging Musical Ideas

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

Healthy skepticism is often the best way to glean the value of what’s being presented—challenge it; prove it wrong, if you can. That creates engagement, which is the key to understanding.

David Allen

Is there a best way to learn classical guitar? Is there an ideal practice routine? A perfect ratio of technique work to polishing pieces of music?

Is there a best way to move our fingers, or hold the guitar?

And if we ask a hundred guitar teachers these questions? Then we may receive back as many different answers.

So how do we decide who to trust? Which techniques or philosophies do we keep and which do we discard?

One way, as “Getting Things Done” author David Allen says, is to test them. Skepticism can be a powerful tool in our learning kit.

But for it to be useful, we also need to act on it.

Skepticism without active experimentation is not productive. Quite the opposite. We don’t improve unless we seek to prove our skepticism founded. Otherwise, it encourages calcified thought and a closed mind.

But how do we challenge what’s being presented? How do we test?

To test effectively, we must first be open to the possibility that the idea may be correct.

It may not, of course. But to make an honest test, we need to suspend disbelief and seek to make an objective evaluation.

This is the scientific method. The goal is not to prove ourself correct. It is to find truth and insight.

Many elements of guitar study are not black and white. We may find both benefits and drawbacks to any given suggestion.

We could provide examples of high-level players using almost any form, position, or technique. But this does not mean that this technique is practical or safe for us. Many players succeed despite certain habits, not because of them. And we may not be aware of the challenges they face as a result of these habits.

So expert adoption is not always a good indicator of usefulness. We need personal experience and understanding.

The act of challenging ideas draws us into our study. This heightened engagement leads to improvement. Even if our skepticism is founded and the idea doesn’t work, we still get better for exploring it.

The more we probe and stress-test, the more able we become to control our hands and bodies. We understand more of the art of playing guitar. We come to better understand our bodies, minds, and movements.

And to say with authority that something does or does not work, we must first be able to demonstrate it.

This does not mean we need to engage in hours of playing in potentially harmful positions. But our understanding will be stronger when we can describe and demonstrate it to the satisfaction of the one suggesting it. This exercise is called Dissoi logoi, or dialexeis.

A natural companion to healthy skepticism is curiosity. As we explore, we ask new and interesting questions. And our pursuit of answers leads to more questions.

In this way, we form a richer and more highly textured grasp of our craft.

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.

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!


~ Ulysses Alexandre Alves

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

Hi Allen,
Greetings from the UK. I would like to thank you for providing such an excellent resource. The effort and skill which has gone into creating this program is very evident. I started classical guitar a year or so ago with a teacher but was unable to commit to same time regular slots each week.

The Woodshed Program was exactly what I was looking for. I have found the site very intuitive and well structured and have taken your advice and started from the very beginning of the program whilst still practising some of the pieces I was already working on. It is clear that I will benefit greatly from these early technical studies. There were clearly weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge even though I am still at an early stage. Once again many thanks for the program and very best wishes.


~ Rodger Paylor

-Rodger Paylor

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