Rory Sutherland on Questioning Everything and Being Slightly Silly

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

“To avoid stupid mistakes, learn to be slightly silly.” 

Rory Sutherland

The jester was valued at the courts of old because he could say what others could not.

He could be silly and state the obvious that no one else allowed themselves to see. The jester, ostensibly there for entertainment, was in fact a trusted advisor. He offered a different perspective.

As we gain skill and experience on the guitar, we face grave danger. We face a trap into which many are lost.

This is the trap of arrogance. When we succumb, we wall ourselves off from many of the resources that helped us learn in the first place.

In the grip of our role as “an intermediate guitarist” or “a long-time musician,” we may become close-minded. We may get set in our ways, even if those ways do not work.

Instead of calcifying into a musician who makes little progress despite ongoing work, we can learn to explore anew.

Ad-man Rory Sutherland, in his insightful book, Alchemy, suggests, “to avoid stupid mistakes, learn to be slightly silly.”

On guitar, being slightly silly can mean going back to the basics. We can step down from our self-built pedestals and survey the ground levels once again.

To avoid dead ends and glass ceilings, we can question each element of our movements and approach. We can experiment with new ways of learning pieces.

We can look for new perspectives on the exercises, scales, and right-hand patterns we may have known for years.

Throughout life and throughout the ages, we have been betrayed by our assumptions. We may believe in earnest that which just isn’t so. And the consequences mount as we continue to work under these false assumptions.

Better to put aside our crowns and titles and allow a gentle skepticism of all we hold true. There may yet be a smoother path through the hills.

And change can be easier and quicker than we may imagine. Our previous work has not been in vain. Every moment of practice can add to our flexibility, making us more versatile. We can relish every blunder discovered, grateful for the course correction.

We can still work from experience, with “strong opinions, loosely held.” We can act in faith of our technique and approach while also seeking better. We can keep the jester in court.

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.

I just want to thank you for your lessons. You are helping us to understand how a piece is composed, the parts to analyze and how to do it. You are teaching a lot about how to read and play, and the most important part: PLAY with the music and ENJOY it.


~ R. Martinez

-R. Martinez

Hi, Allen! I am so excited to have gotten started on your program! I just upgraded to a yearly membership. Thank you very much! You do such great work!


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