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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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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 Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary.  Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice.  He is a very good,and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning.  I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.


-Peter Buck (r.e.m.)

Hi Allen, I am thoroughly enjoying your website and I find it is just what I need in my renewed passion for classical guitar. I have rediscovered a great love for this instrument and the music I can learn and play and it has changed my life for the better dramatically! Thank you facilitating this process.


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