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Bela Bartok on Comparison and Competition


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


“Competitions are for horses, not artists.”

Bela Bartok


Kids love to mark their height on a wall or door-frame. They love to see how much taller they are than on the last birthday or New Year. It’s fun to witness growth.

But imagine the kid who doesn’t look at her past heights. Instead, she only compares her height to her older sister’s line on the wall.

Every year, she still falls short. Sometimes the gap gets even larger. Always so far to go, and any progress feels paltry and insignificant.

Most of us would recognize the error of this stance, and try to help. We would bring this girl’s attention back to how far she’s come. We would urge her to look back at her own lines for evidence. We would try to explain how her sister’s height has nothing to do with her own.

And as musicians, how should we gauge success? How can we know we’re on the right track? Are we improving? Are we growing?

We may be tempted to gauge success by comparison.

Which is the faster runner? the one who wins the race. It’s cut and dry. It takes little thought or perspective.

But for a lifetime pursuit like music, comparison doesn’t work.

Why? Because the goal is not to have the fastest scales in the neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if we play bigger pieces than….. who exactly?

Improvement is a valid goal. But for its own sake. For the thrill of the chase. For the satisfaction of a job well done.


“Competitions are for horses, not artists.”

Bela Bartok









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.




Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.


-Joe Bazan

I came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.


-Gloria Mader



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