William James Musicians Guitar

William James on the Inner Trials of Musicians

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

“Since you make evil or good by your own thoughts, it is your ruling of your thoughts which proves to be your principal concern.” 

William James

The Bard famously wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And this is equally true in the journey of guitar.

Guitar is a long game. It’s something we do for years. And within such a pursuit, we are bound to face ups and downs.

Sometimes it feels like we should be progressing faster. Other times life gets busy and we don’t practice as much as we would prefer.

We face injury, distraction, and a pummeling of moods and emotions.

So it is vitally important that we craft a supportive inner narrative. How we frame our challenges and successes can make guitar a joy. Or not.

Writer Steven Kotler has suggested, “Learn to love slow progress. Learn to forgive yourself for the inevitable backsliding. And of course, expect to be uncomfortable along the way.”

All paths to mastery, in any field or endeavor, share similar trials and setbacks. And part of the study is that of managing our interior landscapes.

Guitar is for fun, but it’s not always a game. It’s serious. It’s hard. It takes great physical and mental energy sustained over time.

Of course we’ll wish it could be easier. But if it was, it wouldn’t be as rewarding

So how do we turn things around when we’re feeling and thinking in ways that don’t support us? What do we do with frustration and disappointment? 

We treat ourselves gently.  We practice a little compassion. 

One way is to speak to ourselves as we would a young child who has just had a fall or setback.  They are upset and flooded with emotion.  So we say everything will be alright.  We understand and show them they are not alone.  It’s not the end of the world, it just feels like that for a few moments.  

We use a soft tone of voice.  We soften our eyes and features.  

This may sound silly, but it works.  When we’re feeling down, it’s nice to have someone treat us tenderly.  And it’s even better if that person is us.  

When the maelstrom of negative voices invades our thoughts, a single kind word is like a lifeline. 

We need both the bossy general and the consoling parent.  Too much of one and not enough of the other slows our progress.  Balance doesn’t always mean equal.  It means we get enough of each when we need it.  

Training our inner voices takes practice.  But it feels good, and it makes life easier.


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 have to say, two practices later [after a video review] with the new position - the difference it's made in my playing is... unbelievable, really. It's like many months of improvement overnight.

Everything is so much more secure, left-hand stretches are easier, I feel like I'm getting way more volume for the same effort, the tone is noticeably better all along the neck, and the list goes on.

Thank you!

~ Alexander Mosolov


I have to say after over 12 months of one-on-one training with a teacher before joining The Woodshed, this is the first time that I feel I’m making technical progress.


~ Nusret Aydemir

-Nusret Aydemir

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