John Muir guitar practice

Naturalist John Muir on the Ecology of Guitar Practice

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

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir

Each of us knows (to some extent) what we want.

As we pick up our guitars and play, we become aware of areas we could improve.

“If only I could play faster…” “If only I was more flexible….” “If only I was stronger and had more stamina…”

Whatever we notice, we assume that’s where we should put our energy. If we want more speed, we should practice speed drills. If we want flexibility, we should do stretching exercises.

For any desire, there’s an obvious answer.

But the obvious answer is rarely going to get us where we want to go. And the reason for this lies in today’s quote from the great naturalist John Muir:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

This means that speed cannot be separated from strength and flexibility.

To maintain accuracy at high speed, we need precise and reliable finger movements. We need our hands to synchronize like a Swiss watch. We need to master the on/off switch of muscle tension.

And for any of the above, we need keen observation skills. We need focus and awareness. We need curiosity and the ability to respond to new information.

And to develop these, we need to slow down and look past the obvious answers.

And all of this takes time.

Of course, we want what we want, and we want it now. We’re only human, after all.

So perhaps the master-skill in all our classical guitar training is the ability to keep the long game in mind – to see whatever we’re working on now as part of a larger progression towards mastery.

In each practice, we can hold ourselves to our highest standards as we know them, and resist the urge to take short-cuts. We can gauge success by our levels of focus and awareness in the moment. And we can break the habit of judging ourselves against some future ideal.

We can make it a game of steady, incremental improvement.

Before we know it, we get what we want. And as a bonus, we enjoy the journey even more.

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


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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