Elvis on Picking Up the Guitar and Getting to Work

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

“A little less conversation, a little more action, please”


On guitar, given the choice between doing something and doing nothing, doing something is usually the better choice. And this is truer the less advanced we are or the less we’ve practiced recently.

In an ideal world, every note and every movement is intentional and strategic. Every minute of practice leads us forward on a direct route to mastery.

But it’s folly to turn ideals into expectations (for ourselves or for others). It’s a recipe for disappointment.

Instead, we can work toward the ideal, while doing what we can. And to work toward ideal practice means creating or adopting a practice plan. It means scripting at least part of our practice beforehand.

We often hesitate to practice if we don’t know exactly what to do first. So a plan for the first few minutes is useful. And this plan is best made in advance.

But if we don’t have a practice plan, it’s best to simply pick up the guitar and do something. Anything will do.

Then afterward we can work on a better plan for next time.

We build guitar skills over months and years. And as with any such pursuit, frequent and consistent practice is the biggest lever.

It can be tempting to put off practice in favor of searching for new lessons or ideas. We may feel pulled to hop on the internet rather than do what we already know to do. The allure of shiny new pieces and exercises beckons.

But this should only happen after practice. Otherwise, we may not practice at all. And we may still feel successful for doing something music-related. We get the internal rewards without any of the actual benefit. This often leads to more of the same, and eventually we quit guitar altogether.

Elvis famously quoted, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” So it is with practice. We can distract ourselves browsing and shopping, but eventually, it comes down to time spent playing.

The remedy and solution is to touch the strings. Even if we do the same thing we did yesterday or last year. It may not be perfect, but it moves us in the right direction.

As a starting point, technique practice is useful early in a practice session. We can work on scales, right-hand patterns, reading music, chords, and other guitar skills. These encourage us to become more aware of our bodies. They can help us focus and point our attention.

We can decide on a general routine for the first few minutes of practice. When we repeat this daily, it becomes easier to pick up the guitar and get started. And getting started is the number one job for any practice session. It marks the day a success, regardless of what or how long we practice.

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 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,
Greetings from the UK. I would like to thank you for providing such an excellent resource. The effort and skill which has gone into creating this program is very evident. I started classical guitar a year or so ago with a teacher but was unable to commit to same time regular slots each week.

The Woodshed Program was exactly what I was looking for. I have found the site very intuitive and well structured and have taken your advice and started from the very beginning of the program whilst still practising some of the pieces I was already working on. It is clear that I will benefit greatly from these early technical studies. There were clearly weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge even though I am still at an early stage. Once again many thanks for the program and very best wishes.

-Rodger Paylor

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