John W. Gardner on the Root Impulses that Lead to Style and Craftsmanship

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

“A concern for how to do it is the root impulse in all great craftsmanship, and accounts for all of the style in human performance. Without it we would never know the peaks of human achievement.”

John W. Gardner

When we first begin learning to play guitar, our number one question is “what do I do?” This is normal and makes sense.

We need to learn the building blocks by which we play music. We figure out the notes and feel thrilled to create something resembling music. We feel motivated to practice more.

As we progress, we meet a fork in the road. There are two ways we can proceed.

On one side, we can keep the same question and forge ahead into more difficult music. We may still sound like beginners or students, but the music we play is more complex. We become “note-players.”

People who go through graded learning systems often follow this route. (Especially if not guided by a stellar teacher who recognizes this potential trap). They often bounce from one piece of music to the next and feel a sense of something missing. Dissatisfied and unsure why.

Down the other fork, we can change the question. Instead of asking “What do I do?” we can ask “How do I best do it?”

And “how to do it” is the path to mastery.

When we get curious in this direction, we come to sound better. We train our hands to move better. We explore what makes music sound good.

We become craftsmen and craftswomen, sculpting the fine details that create a piece of art.

Of course, we still have to ask the first question. There will always be new pieces to learn. New techniques.

But this is a topical question. It gets the surface-level issue of notes out of the way so we can do the real work of playing.

Then we can ask “how.” Sure, the work may feel more difficult. The answers are not always as easy to find as when asking merely “what.”

But when we embrace the quest for “how”, we gain a deeper and more meaningful practice. We find great satisfaction in seeking the answers.

Instead of focusing on an end result, we focus on the process. The quality of each step becomes a more rewarding pursuit than attaining a point of imagined completion.

And the results are of a different league. It’s like the difference between flat-pack furniture assembled with a pop-metal wrench, and the work of a dedicated craftsman. The love and care invested is immediately evident. The soul immerges.

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.

Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary.  Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice.  He is a very good,and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning.  I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.


~ Peter Buck (r.e.m.)

-Peter Buck (r.e.m.)

I have lost my entire metallic sound while I am playing now. Even my single note practice sounds more melodious, less tinny. [The Woodshed technique practice] has made a major difference in my tone. Thank you.


~ Harlan Friedman

-Harlan Friedman

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