J. Barry Griswell on Finding the Most Meaningful Measures of Success

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

“The resiliency of the human spirit is no less present in one walk of life than another. We must all find the most meaningful measure of success for ourselves, and then set out to exceed our own expectations.” 

J. Barry Griswell

Why do we play guitar? What is the allure of such a finicky instrument?

Is it to hear the music? Other people can play it better. Is it to impress our friends and loved ones? Maybe sometimes, at first. But this won’t motivate us for the long haul.

Perhaps we play because when we pick up the guitar we face a clear and present challenge. We can work on finite physical problems and witness our incremental growth.

When engaged in the ritual of daily practice, we generally work on a few concrete hurdles. We learn the notes of pieces of music. We direct our fingers to do something just so, then direct them again when it’s not 100%.

In this, we meet myriad little frustrations. And the little frustrations are part of the fun. What we do is hard, but it feels good to do the work.

The “adversity paradox” is a term coined by J. Barry Griswell. It suggests that while we humans tend to avoid adversity, we do benefit by overcoming it.

And daily guitar practice is nothing if not a steady march against small adversities. Getting to the next chord on time, playing three notes in a row with the same volume and tone—we face constant difficulty.

And this is somehow comforting. The perpetual conquering of small obstacles gives us the feeling of progress. This progress tends to come slower than we would prefer, but it does come.

Playing classical guitar at our best takes every scrap of attention. There’s no bandwidth left for politics or drama. There’s no outside world—only the next string-crossing or chord change.

Over the weeks and months and years, we find a rhythm to our practice. Then we break it and have to find it again. We traverse peaks and valleys. We either keep with it or wish we had.

Daily practice adds an element to life that would otherwise be missing. The personal pursuit. A place to be alone and explore a meaningful study.

Each day we set our bar and strive to meet it. Some days we do, and other days we may fall short. And on others, we surprise ourselves.

In the big picture, simply showing up is all that matters. The magic happens beneath the surface, in the small moments. Not just as we play, but as we walk through life as one who plays.

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

Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.

~ Joe Bazan

-Joe Bazan

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