marcus aurelius guitar quote
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Marcus Aurelius on taking one step forward

 

Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world at his time. As emperor of Rome, he wrote Meditations as a diary. He had no idea that we’d still be reading it 2000 years later, or even that anyone but himself would ever see it. He simply needed to remind himself how to live.

Learning guitar is messy. Even with the most perfect plan, we make mistakes and have to later clean them up. As time goes on, we come to deeper understandings, and our previous learnings take on new meanings.

When we see a new house built, we expect that they’ll have to move some dirt around. We expect the mud, debris, and piles of scrap laying around. We’re not surprised or alarmed at the noisy (and seemingly chaotic) mess.

But in our guitar practice, we may secretly believe that everything should stay tidy and neat. And it doesn’t.

The way forward, the surest path to precision and accuracy and beautiful playing, is to jump in and make “even the smallest step forward”. It’s to focus on one little skill or project, and give our best attention to it.

Then, as Marcus says, “to regard the outcome as a small thing”. Or, in other words, to not worry so much about the end product.

And here’s the irony: If we do focus and treat each small step as an end unto itself, we rise to much higher levels than we would otherwise.

If we’re always focused on the future, and dismiss the details and nuances of our current projects, we never get to where we want to go.

Master storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes used a phrase that illustrates this: “There’s no milk at the Ram’s house.” To draw the parallel, perfectionism and hustling on to the next thing won’t give us the musical enjoyment and satisfaction we crave.

Country singer Johnny Lee shared the same lesson in his 80’s hit “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places“.

Sure, we do best with a general (or detailed) plan forward. But in the moments we spend with guitar in hand, we gain the most from relishing each repetition, each little revelation, each small step forward.


“Don’t await perfection… but be satisfied with even the smallest step forward, and regard the outcome as a small thing.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (9.2.(4)




allen mathews classical guitar

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 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.  In time, 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 more beautifully.


For the first time ever, I have achieved great tone on my acoustic guitars. I've been studying fingerstyle guitar and music theory for about one year now. Tonight is the first time, I feel quite satisfied with my ability to produce a nice clear tone when striking the strings with my right hand fingers. By following your training videos in the program, I'm gradually developing my fingerstyle playing ability. KUDOS to you, Allen Mathews.


-Joaquin Kenyon

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


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