Epictetus on remembering the basics

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

“That’s why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with more learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should.”


I had to read this one a couple of times to truly get it. In layman’s terms it’s this:

  • Knowing something isn’t enough.
  • You have to practice it.
  • Then, when you’re good at it, you have to train with it (meaning you keep practicing it).
  • Otherwise, you’ll first forget about it, then slip into bad habits – habits of which you know better.

As Derek Sivers once said, “If information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with 6-pack abs.”

Learning something new is great. But even better is to put that knowledge into action. And best of all is to ingrain it, then continue to refine and hone it.

If we’re not moving forward in our guitar practice, we’re moving backward. We never get to the point where we don’t need the basics. The basics are the basics because we need them all the time, forever.

Is there any area of your guitar practice you could spend a little more time? Are there any basics you could brush up on, or explore for the first time?

PS: Smart people who pick things up quickly are notorious for skipping or ignoring the basics. If this is you, how could you approach guitar practice with humility? What sort of systems or habits could you form to keep you training the basics? And what checks or reviews could you put in place to make sure you’re not playing with techniques, as Epictetus warned, “the opposite of what you should”?

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.

Hi Allen,
First public performance ever! I am up to Level 1E in The Woodshed program. It is certainly mega helpful.

-Peter Graham

I have lost my entire metallic sound while I am playing now. Even my single note practice sounds more melodious, less tinny. [The Woodshed technique practice] has made a major difference in my tone. Thank you.

-Harlan Friedman

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