Pianist Josef Lhévinne Shuns Boring Practice

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

“Variety in practice is most important. Repeating monotonously over and over again in a treadmill fashion is the very worst kind of practice. It is both stupid and unnecessary…[Practice] using your brains and your ingenuity, and your practice will not be a bore to you.”

Josef Lhévinne (pianist)

Repetition is part of mastery. Indeed, mastery doesn’t come without it.

Grand Masters play game after game. Poker champions play tens of thousands of hands. Runners run and swimmers swim and martial artists do their forms.

But blind repetition, or “auto-pilot”, doesn’t work. It’s low-quality and largely ineffective.

So how do we stay interested on the millionth major scale? How do we stay engaged day after day of the same exercises or patterns?

Variety is the way forward. Changes make things new.

When we set new challenges, we perk up. When we force ourselves to sweat a bit, to give our best or fall flat, we pay attention.

Risk breeds engagement, and engagement is the currency of progress. Time alone won’t do it – we need both time AND attention.

And nothing demands attention like novelty. When something is new, we become curious and interested. This is where the brain lights up and learning happens.

To create variety in practice, we can change certain elements of our music (or scale, exercise, etc.).

We can alter the speed, rhythm, tone quality or volume. We can change the mood or feel. We can even change the notes, if we know what we’re doing.

If we become bored, it’s our fault. It’s not the exercise, the tune, or the drill. These only become boring if we don’t make them interesting. And this takes creativity and courage.

Only with an ongoing positive agenda in each practice can we move ahead and reach new heights in our music. Only by “playing” can we truly “practice”.

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.

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

I came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.


~ Gloria Mader

-Gloria Mader

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