James Carse training surprise
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James P. Carse on Education vs. Training

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


“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.”

James P. Carse

Playing pieces of music, it’s not uncommon to make unexpected mistakes. Indeed, the random buzzed note or missed string is a regular occurrence for most players.

These surprise mishaps are due to lack of training. We know the notes, and we know the moves. But we have not properly trained them to be accurate every time.

And as we study and learn, we also discover common pitfalls. We notice patterns of tension and mental distraction. We recognize recurrent scenarios and find solutions and remedies for them. This is what James P. Carse refers to in the quote above as “educated” (taken from his book, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility).

“Training” is embodied education. This take time, repetition, and one-pointed attention. “Education” takes study, experimentation, and often an experienced teacher.

We need both. We need to know what may go wrong, and how to avoid or recover should it happen. And we need to train our bodies and hands to execute consistently.

There’s an old saying in the theater world: “An amateur studies her lines until she remembers them. A professional studies her lines until she can’t forget them.”

Amateurs are often shocked by how much work it takes to truly train something. It’s more concentration that they are used to. It takes more time and effort than it seems like it should.

Actor Robert Downey, Jr. is a professional. He is said to memorize his lines to the degree where he can say them quickly in reverse order. (i.e. “See Jane run” becomes “run Jane See.”) This is more than learning – this is training. And it’s motivated by his understanding of his craft.

It takes massive focus and practice to perform consistently at the highest level, with each note clear and intentional. This is true even for “easy” pieces.

Many players lose interest and move to a new piece before the work is done. This is why the random errors appear when we play. When we don’t spend the time to fully polish a piece, we miss many of the lessons and obstacles needed.

So errors are no mystery. They are usually a lack of training. And if we don’t understand and anticipate the errors, it’s a lack of education.



allen mathews classical guitar

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarists, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s.  Despite a lot of practice and work with teachers, 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 sore after playing.  I was frequently frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward.  Then I studied with two stellar teachers –  one focused on the technical, and one on the musical.  Between the two, I came to discover a fundamental set of formulas and movements. These unlocked my playing, and brought new life and enjoyment to my practice. Now I help other guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play beautifully.


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

Your GCS site and The Woodshed community are really super! I am glad I finally joined in, and smacking myself for waiting so long. Thanks again!


-Carol Morin


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