Heraclitus guitar practice
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Heraclitus on Meaningful Play


“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”

Heraclitus (535–475 BC)


One of the luxuries of childhood is the lack of logistics. Grown-ups take care of everything, so we can focus only on that right in front of us.

When in a state of pure play, like that of a child, we lead with curiosity. We do what we do for sake of doig it. We formulate little questions like, “What if…?” and “What happens when I …?”

And through these explorations, we learn about the world around us.

As adults, we have more on our minds. We hold a thousand little (and not so little) responsibilities. We manage projects, have relationships, and work within the confines of time of resources.

And while these are unavoidable, they’re not always as meaningful and fulifilling as we’d prefer. For that, we may need to step outside of our roles and responsibilities, at least for a time. We may need to release our lofty aspirations and personal stories in order to fully engage in serious play.

When we step outside our everyday lives, status concerns and mental constructs, we can be as children at play: present, engrossed, curious, willing to try and fail and try again.

When Heraclitus said we’re “most nearly ourselves” when we achieve the seriousness of a child at play, he may have been speaking of these qualities.

And while we can show up and hope this seriousness happens, we can also engineer it. We can aim for the qualities of attention and mindset that will help us get there.

To set up the conditions whereby we enter states of child-like play, we can:

  • create a practice environment that suspends interuption and distraction (both physical and digital).
  • have everything we need close at hand.
  • set creative boundaries that offer both structure and freedom.
  • set a timer so we don’t have to worry about time.
  • act as if we have all the time in the world to explore and experiment.

Afterward, we can reflect on what moved us towards total engagement, and what distracted us from it. Then next time we can act on that information to optimize future practices.

Over time, we fom habits of this playful “seriousness”, and in doing so, find more flow and fulfillment in our music.


“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”

Heraclitus (535–475 BC)




allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.


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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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