William James on Attitude and Successful Outcomes

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

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.”

William James

Classical guitar is hard. Learning, memorizing, playing classical guitar pieces – these are all challenging.

Sometimes, as we work on scales or changing between chords, our fingers don’t do what we tell them. They move too slowly. Or they lack accuracy and precision.

We encounter big stretches and awkward shifts. And the speed marked on the page may be faster than we can play.

At these times, it’s tempting to point the finger, blaming something. We blame our fingers, our age, our schedule, other people, the world.

By blaming, we take on the role of victim. We think of ourselves as victim to our fingers, age, or something else.

In this state, we think this is happening “to me”. We are at the effect of outside forces.

But as an alternative, we can think of these difficulties as happening “for me”.

The tricky spot in our music that eludes polish? We can be grateful for such an engaging project.

The metronome marking that is beyond our current abilities? A clear and relevant goal.

Our fingers lifting too high off the fretboard? A wonderful marker on which to gauge progress.

The simple switch from “to me” to “for me” completely changes our attitude. It changes the nature of the problem.

We go from frustration to curiosity and awareness. We lean in, instead of pulling away.

And this small change of attitude makes guitar more rewarding. Our practice, where it once subtly tore us down, now builds us up.

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 advise here. I find I am taking more time with the pieces than I would have in the past as I am focusing on the technique you have taught me. It is slower going at first but has fewer frustrations, is easier and sounds better in the end.


~ Karen Richardson

-Karen Richardson

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.

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