F. Scott Fitzgerald on Opposing Ideas and Intelligent Practice

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

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s said that wisdom comes when we are able to view any situation from multiple perspectives.

In part, this means we can play with thoughts that may be foreign or offensive to us. Doing this, we can entertain ideas without actually believing them. And this helps us build a richer, more multifaceted understanding of the subject.

In practice, this means trying things we suspect may fail. This creative exercise can show us weaknesses in our current ideas and methods. Our experiments stress-test what we previously assumed as fact.

We open ourselves to possible improvements, and new methods and solutions present themselves.

One way to run such an experiment is to ask, “How would _______ think about this? What would they do?” Insert any person in the blank.

  • How would Yo-Yo Ma practice this?
  • How would a five-year old make sense of this?
  • What would Einstein say to this problem?

(This is especially useful when inserting people or players we don’t like, or disagree with. They don’t even have to be musicians to spark new ideas in practice.)

Further, with this ability, we can operate in time-frames that appear to conflict. We can strive for short-term wins while we keep integrity to the long-term vision. We can more readily balance immediate gratification with far-reaching goals.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm.”

This is certainly true in our daily music practice. Here, we ride the edge of failure as an intentional strategy. We push boundaries, and learn from the mistakes along the way.

We can try various practice techniques and problem-solving games, like the one above.

When we do, we allow ourselves to practice differently than we play. We step outside the bounds of the music and get to kernel of the challenge.

And this lets us return to the music transformed.

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.

Life is good, still enjoying [The Woodshed Program], the progress is life altering, I love it. The physical challenges of my situation have rained havoc for over half my life. In spite of those little pests this 40$ Yamaha classical who needed a new home and your course has given me the "part the clouds for the sun to shine through" outlook. You see, even when I am unable to play I know she patiently waits for my return as I do. A giant void in my journey was filled with light.


~ Ken Montz

-Ken Montz

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.)

-Peter Buck, R.E.M.

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