Robert Holden on Strong Musical Relationships

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

“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.”

Robert Holden

To play guitar is to be in a relationship. Actually, many relationships.

First, we have a long-term relationship with music and guitar. And this has all the ups and downs we can expect from long-term relationships. Over time, we feel the warming and cooling and warming again. The exhilaration and the drudgery. We feel rewarded, disappointed, elated, grateful, frustrated. All of it.

And we also have an ongoing series of short-term relationships.

These are the studies, the pieces, the exercises. The seasons of focus.

But while the content of our practices may change, we remain. Our habits and personalities create the canvas on which we paint.

How do we balance the patience of wisdom with the immediate drive to attain our goals? And how do we feel and speak to ourselves when things get hard?

To progress on guitar, we have to sit with paradox. We have to actively move forward and engage in new learning. But we also need to drill the fundamentals.

It’s like we sail on a small ship of the known through an ocean of the unknown. And how we contend with our current lack of knowledge and ability – this affects everything we do.

Self-dialog, mood, feelings, attitude. These are part of being human.

The question is, “how aware are we of them?” Especially when the air is thin and the path obscure.

Can we stay motivated to improve, but accept that some things just take time? Can we build more patience and attention? More awareness – of body and thought?

To play guitar, we play ourselves. We play our hands, our bodies, our imaginations. We push boundaries and summon courage. We win and lose, succeed and fail, embrace and fight.

Then we do it again tomorrow – the quiet thrill of self-discovery and growth beckoning us forward.

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.

Hello Allen,
I feel my guitar proficiency is improving considerably. Every day I’m exceedingly comfortable with my right hand technique and overall fluency. And my sight-reading has improved as well. Thank you for creating the Woodshed. It’s thoughtful construction and scope and sequence of knowledge and skills has advanced my guitar skills significantly. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.


~ Michael Immel

-Michael Immel

Those videos on practicing the piece were just awesome, Allen! I've always thought that learning songs might be something completely different than practicing exercises, but the way you teach it makes it much easier than I thought. I'm positive that joining the Woodshed has been the best investment I've ever done for learning the classical guitar. Thank you so much for these lessons.


~ Ulysses Alexandre Alves

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

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