confucious guitar practice

Ancient Wisdom: The One Main Thing NOT to Do In Your Guitar Practice

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

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”


Neil Gaiman wrote much of his book Coraline just one or two sentences a night before bed. That’s all he had time for. But it kept it moving forward.

Many aspiring writers don’t write because they “don’t have enough time”. How did Gaiman allow just a couple of sentences a night to suffice? How did the slow-going not get him down?

Our minds operate largely in equations: “This equals that.” or “If this, then that.” Equations are our rules about the world and our place in it.

But often, our equations are wrong. They may have been valid in the past, but not may not be anymore. Or they may define an ideal, but not be practical much of the time (more on this below).

For instance, many rules we had for navigating the world as kids no longer apply. In many situations, it’s actually beneficial to talk to strangers or accept candy. And as it turns out, we can actually “trust people over 30”. If we hold to these rules, we limit our experiences and opportunities.

These equations save brainpower. They’re shortcuts. If we create an equation, we no longer have to think about it. This is how the brain works, and it’s very helpful. We’d feel overwhelmed by daily life otherwise.

The key is to review our equations and make sure that they still work for us (not against us). Many of these we choose knowingly. But most we don’t. So we need to cull them to stay open to the world and have new experiences.

When it comes to our guitar practice, we also create these equations. Some are great, some are not.

  • A good practice looks like this: ….
  • I’ll be a good player when…..
  • I’ve done well when…
  • I’ve finished a piece of music when…

These ideals can be useful. We can use them to gauge our focus, organization, progress, etc.

The problem lies in the inverse. When we don’t meet these ideals, we can feel as if we’ve failed. And this is disheartening.

Take this equation:

A successful practice = at least X minutes.

It’s an ideal. But to believe this equation, we must also believe the opposite. This means that if our practice is shorter than this, it’s not successful. And after a few “unsuccessful” practices, we lose motivation. Eventually we may just give up (“After all, If I can’t do it right, what’s the point? ”)

Instead, we could change the equation to this:

An ideal practice = at least X minutes.


A luxurious practice = at least X minutes.


A non-workday practice = at least X minutes.

Guitar is a long game. This means that each individual practice is less important on its own. In the larger scheme, the most important thing is to keep moving forward. Sure, we can get each practice as effective as possible. But it’s still more important that we keep showing up and sitting down with the guitar.

Like any long journey, we will have down days. We will have interruptions. We should expect obstacles and setbacks. They are part of the game.

In light of this, we can create equations that keep us moving forward and feeling good about it.

Such as:

Any practice = a successful practice.


A successful practice = at least 3 minutes.


At least one moment of one-pointed attention = a successful practice.

When we think in larger time-frames, we can cut ourselves some slack and enjoy the time we do have now. When we release the need for each practice to be some perfect example of time management and focus, we can relax and just enjoy playing guitar.

allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at

I think the program levels are a great way to teach the guitar. I have had several teachers over the past few years and none came close to the structured organization that you have put together.

-Peter Marior

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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