Bernstein on how to achieve practice

Leonard Bernstein’s Formula for Musical Greatness

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

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”

Leonard Bernstein

How encouraging! “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”

The “not quite enough time” bit of this equation is easy enough to manufacture.

On a large scale, this could be a deadline. It could be the goal of playing a song for a birthday, holiday, or special occasion. Or it could be the end of the season or year. Any self-imposed goal will do, public or private.

Not everyone sets such deadlines for their music. They can be motivating, but are not absolutely necessary.

On the day to day basis, “not quite enough time” means we have only a limited time in which to practice. This is more common for most of us. And those with all day available can use a timer to create a sense of useful time-pressure. Time-pressure compels us to pay attention and focus.

Either of these two time restraints lead us to the other part of the formula: a plan.

What is our plan for our guitar practice? This, too, has more than one level.

On a long time-horizon, we can plan over years or a lifetime. We can aspire to develop good technique. We can aim for speed and agility. We can strive to master our bodies, nerves, and mental environments.

On another level, we can choose the general direction of our focus. We set a direction and move toward it. (Ideally this puts us on the path towards the first level as well.) In practical terms, this means we choose a method or general course of study.

Then, nearing the level of daily practice, we choose what to do with our practice time. This is the step that many people miss.

For anything we choose to do in practice, we must say “no” to others. Say we aim to build a well-rounded foundation of guitar technique. Since we have limited time (not to mention energy and attention) we must limit how deep we go into any one area.

If we have several areas we wish to develop and train, we need to split our time between them. And this limits each in the short term. Training our hands, learning new pieces, polishing and maintaining older pieces–we have to balance it all.

There is a moment when pick up our guitar and sit down to practice. This is a crucial moment. The fewer decisions we have to make in this moment, the more mental energy we can give to the work itself.

This is where a plan is most useful. It helps us overcome the first few moments of practice. It sets our minds at ease and lets us get started. From here, we can bring our best selves to the job at hand, enjoying the toil of meaningful work.

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.


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.)

Become a Member and Play More, Beautifully!

“The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin

Join the program that takes you from the beginning fundamentals to advanced mastery, so you…1

  • Move your hands safely and fluidly
  • Enjoy fulfilling practices and meaningful work
  • Play beautifully with expression and flow

Click the button to take a step towards an
organized, effective guitar practice. >>>