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Archimedes and the Art of Leverage on Guitar


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


Give me a lever long enough and I’ll move the world.

Archimedes


Here in the Great Northwest, logging is a major industry.

In the old days (and still, in some places) loggers used the rivers to move hundreds and thousands of limbless trees downstream to the ports.

But sometimes, the logs piled up and jammed. And while the beavers may have marveled in admiration, the loggers had to get things back flowing.

Usually, there was just one log, known as the “King Pin”, that, when released, would free all the other logs.

Working on the log-jams further back was pointless. Wasted work.

But a small amount of time and energy directed at the King Pin would set things right in no time.

This is a prime example of leverage: applying pressure at the most strategic point to get the biggest results with the least effort.

In classical guitar….

…we also have King Pins. And we can leverage these to get the biggest long-term results in the least time.

It can be tempting to “work the logs further back”, because the problems are often sexier. These problems feel more advanced, and are good for the ego. But they’re often unnecessary. In fact, many wouldn’t even be problems if we focused on the “King Pin”.

So what are the “King Pins” in classical guitar? Here are a few:

  • Our technique – how we move our hands
  • Our attention – how aware we stay of what we’re doing (hint #1: slow down; hint #2: we play with more than just our fingers)
  • Our consistency – focusing on something long enough to make it stick, then keeping it in our awareness (and improving)

Usually, one of these will go far in solving any problem we encounter. Logs moving miles down a river may jam multiple times. But each time, the King Pin is the first place to focus. It’s the same in guitar. If something’s not happening, go back to basics.








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.




Thanks to you (you are my only teacher) in only a few months I've gone from very basic beginner pieces to having just completed learning Bach's Gavottes 1&2 in good form and execution. As a non-classical electric guitarist who has always used a pick and never his fingers, this has been no small feat!


-Gregg Olson

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!


-Arnoud Reinders



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