Edward Gibbon on Sailing Through Guitar Practice

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

“The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.” 

Edward Gibbon

Question: How do high-level guitarists make everything look easy?

Answer: They do what is necessary, and don’t do what is not.

Over time, we learn to navigate the twists and turns that arise in our music. We collect practice methods and ways to solve problems.

We gain experience with the most common challenges. This way, when we come to a tricky spot in a piece of music, it’s not new. We’ve seen it before.

We discover how much tension is useful, and how much is not. We learn to stretch without injury and leap without fear.

This does not mean that music is not hard to play. A piece of music can still push a player to the edge of her abilities. But there’s a framework in place to manage the obstacles.

And before we reach this high level, where our quiver is jam-packed with tools and tricks? We collect them. We use each piece not as an end unto itself, but as a step in a longer journey.

To rise to higher levels, we deepen into the basics. We become intimately aware of the variations on the basics. We practice using our formulas and methods. And we experiment using these in new situations.

The hardest piece in the world is still played one note at a time. And the challenges lay in moving from one note to the next.

Leadership coach Dusan Djukich says, “If there is no solution, there is no problem.”

In our practice, our task is to find solutions and execute them with consistent reliability. It is to notice where we are going wrong and to set it right.

Both music and practice happen in a single moment – the present one. The better attention and intention we bring to the moments of our practice, the better our music.

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.

This is the ideal starting position for me. As a relative beginner with no teacher this is helping me enormously in developing good technique and not falling into bad habits. I no longer feel (A) That it's a struggle to learn a new piece and (B) That I am alone in my endeavors. My advice is to try The Woodshed program. It is fantastic and will not only bring up your playing but his explanations of musical concepts as you go along put things into perspective.


~ John Andersson

-John Andersson

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!


~ Arnoud Reinders

-Arnoud Reinders

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