oliver sacks guitar practice

Oliver Sacks on the notes behind the notes

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

“Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”

Oliver Sacks

In the black and white world of notes on a page, it’s easy to think our music as separate from ourselves. It seems like music doesn’t come from us, but is something our fingers do.

And indeed, it does start out that way.

In a similar fashion, a new vocabulary word is at first foreign and hazy. Then in time it clears, and eventually emerges effortlessly from our mouths as part of a new thought. It gains meaning and relevance. It joins all our other words, cross-pollinates, and becomes a tool of creation in our tapestry of language.

Notes on the page, like vocabulary words, are only the beginning. They are a tool, a set of ingredients, a script.

To make music, we must certainly master the notes. But if we stop there, we miss out on the best parts.

When we read a good story, we don’t see words on a page – we see worlds inside our heads. We feel emotions. We live other lives. We become other people in other times. Reading is an act of imagination, using the words on the page as a catalyst.

Our music can be the same way. With practice and curiosity, the notes disappear and playing guitar becomes an act of creation.

Actors and orators hone their story-telling skills and diction. As musicians we hone our technique and phrasing. We work on the surface in service to the depths below.

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.

Life is good, still enjoying [The Woodshed Program], the progress is life altering, I love it. The physical challenges of my situation have rained havoc for over half my life. In spite of those little pests this 40$ Yamaha classical who needed a new home and your course has given me the "part the clouds for the sun to shine through" outlook. You see, even when I am unable to play I know she patiently waits for my return as I do. A giant void in my journey was filled with light.


~ Ken Montz

-Ken Montz

Allen I have looked for the right online teacher for classical guitar for 8 months. Spent some money in the process. Never got anywhere. Then I found your site. Excellent! I now believe I will reach my goals in playing some beautiful music in the future.

Thank you,



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