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James Stephens and the Well-Packed Question


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


“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.”

James Stephens


What happens when we ask questions in our guitar practice? Anything? What if we don’t know the answer?

What might a question do to our attention? Do we choose where to point our attention, or does the squeakiest wheel automatically get the worm? Are we curious about different things at different times?

And when are the best times to ask questions? Before practice? Or during? Or just after? What about at other times? Could that be helpful in any way?

And are some questions more useful than others? What if we’re pragmatic and don’t want to waste any questions?

For instance, what kinds of questions could help us to play more smoothly? What kinds might inspire us to look a little closer at the small details? Could asking a particular question help us to understand our music better? What about playing faster, or cleaner, or more expressively?

But what if we don’t have much time for guitar practice? Could asking any specific questions keep our music alive in our minds, even if our hands never touch the guitar?

And what if we’re not used to asking questions? Could just the occasional question do any good?

Is it safe to experiment?








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.




Hello Allen,
I feel my guitar proficiency is improving considerably. Every day I’m exceedingly comfortable with my right hand technique and overall fluency. And my sight-reading has improved as well. Thank you for creating the Woodshed. It’s thoughtful construction and scope and sequence of knowledge and skills has advanced my guitar skills significantly. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.


-Michael Immel

For the first time ever, I have achieved great tone on my acoustic guitars. I've been studying fingerstyle guitar and music theory for about one year now. Tonight is the first time, I feel quite satisfied with my ability to produce a nice clear tone when striking the strings with my right hand fingers. By following your training videos in the program, I'm gradually developing my fingerstyle playing ability. KUDOS to you, Allen Mathews.


-Joaquin Kenyon



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