frank sinatra clown

Frank Sinatra Tells How to Always Improve on Guitar

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

“Dare to wear the foolish clown face.”

Frank Sinatra

Researcher Karen Shultz has a wonderful TED Talk. In this presentation, she asks the question, “What does it feel like to be wrong?”

The general response of the room was negative. Thumbs down. Tongues out. Expressions of distaste.

Few if any of us enjoy being wrong. We’re rewarded by school and careers when we get things right. And often our self-image becomes propped upon being smart and on point.

So we learn to avoid mistakes. Especially public ones. Without even realizing it, we try to protect ourselves from the pain of being wrong.

But the masters of history, the top-shelf figures of any field, do things differently.

The best of the best embrace the possibility of being wrong. Some call it “the beginner’s mind.” This is the willingness to risk temporary discomfort in exchange for the possibility of growth.

To those on the path to mastery, the lessons learned are more important than “saving face.” These perpetual students are ready to play the fool and ask the silly questions. They welcome the chance to unearth something new. They understand that this exercise may bring them forward towards their goals.

The answer to Shultz’s question came as a surprise to the room. What does it feel like to be wrong? It feels exactly the same as being right.

It’s discovering we are wrong that stings – not the state of being wrong itself. Until the moment our wrong is exposed, we’re convinced we’re right.

Masters in any field, including guitar, prod the bounds of their knowledge and ability. They flirt with challenges just outside their comfort zones. They perform little experiments. They tinker and play. They ask questions. They find details to get curious about.

Babe Ruth was famously the strike-out king. Evel Knievel crashed more than others. Getting things wrong is the other side of the proverbial coin.

We learn more and enjoy practice more when we have skin in the game.

Luckily, the stakes are very low in classical guitar practice. Most mistakes will be for our ears alone. This doesn’t mean it’s any easier, psychologically, to risk experimentation. But if we can muster the courage, we can reap the bounty.

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 just want to thank you for your lessons. You are helping us to understand how a piece is composed, the parts to analyze and how to do it. You are teaching a lot about how to read and play, and the most important part: PLAY with the music and ENJOY it.


~ R. Martinez

-R. Martinez

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.



~ Alexey Neyman

-Alexey Neyman

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