John Steinbeck Perfection Guitar

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.

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!


~ Ulysses Alexandre Alves

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

I practiced your system for three days, and it solved the I-M alternation problem I had been struggling with since I undertook classical guitar three years ago.  Many thanks!


~ Johnny Geudel

-Johnny Geudel

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