John Steinbeck on Perfection

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

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” 

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Many of us are violent to ourselves in guitar practice. It sounds severe said this way, but it is true. It may be subtle, but if it creates anxiety, defensiveness, shame, or fear, it is violent.

From the outside, we may appear calm, sitting and working on our music. But inside we may be yanking our hair and collapsing on the floor.

We may compare ourselves to others and come up short. Or we may visualize a poor performance. Regardless, if the feelings we create are not loving, we have room for improvement.

Perfectionism is a common challenge. Guitar is difficult. Because it is so popular, it seems it would be easier. But it’s hard. Especially classical guitar, which is more complex and detail-oriented.

But perfect is a moving goal-post. As we progress, our conception of perfect changes.  Expressive playing means more opportunities for things to go awry.

In truth, perfect never happens. Or it happens seldom enough to prove the rule. Even the performances we find perfect may not be for the performer.

So we must allow for imperfection. We must let it be okay to make mistakes. When we allow mistakes, we give ourselves room to experiment. We can take risks and try new ideas.  We can become curious and playful because there is no cost for failure. And this leads to better playing.

This doesn’t mean we accept sloppiness or carelessness in our practice. Quite the opposite. It simply means that we release the need to be right. We still want to play well. And we want to learn from the mistakes we make.

But we can accept the unknown. We can remember mistakes do not “mean” anything about us.

In closing, here is philosopher Alan Watts writing on mistakes from a Taoist perspective: “Regard yourself as a cloud, in the flesh, because you see, clouds never make mistakes. Did you ever see a cloud that was misshapen? Did you ever see a badly designed wave? No, they always do the right thing. But, if you will, treat yourself for a while as a cloud or a wave and realize that you can’t make a mistake whatever you do. Because even if you do something that appears totally disastrous, it will all come out in the wash somehow or another. Then through this capacity you will develop a kind of confidence. And through confidence you will be able to trust your own intuition.”

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.

Great Work!!!  I thank you sincerely for all the effort you have put in and the terrific work you do for the classical guitar community.


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


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