John Muir guitar practice

Naturalist John Muir on the Ecology of Guitar Practice

Each of us knows (to some extent) what we want.

As we pick up our guitars and play, we become aware of areas we could improve.

“If only I could play faster…” “If only I was more flexible….” “If only I was stronger and had more stamina…”

Whatever we notice, we assume that’s where we should put our energy. If we want more speed, we should practice speed drills. If we want flexibility, we should do stretching exercises.

For any desire, there’s an obvious answer.

But the obvious answer is rarely going to get us where we want to go. And the reason for this lies in today’s quote from the great naturalist John Muir:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

This means that speed cannot be separated from strength and flexibility.

To maintain accuracy at high speed, we need precise and reliable finger movements. We need our hands to synchronize like a Swiss watch. We need to master the on/off switch of muscle tension.

And for any of the above, we need keen observation skills. We need focus and awareness. We need curiosity and the ability to respond to new information.

And to develop these, we need to slow down and look past the obvious answers.

And all of this takes time.

Of course, we want what we want, and we want it now. We’re only human, after all.

So perhaps the master-skill in all our classical guitar training is the ability to keep the long game in mind – to see whatever we’re working on now as part of a larger progression towards mastery.

In each practice, we can hold ourselves to our highest standards as we know them, and resist the urge to take short-cuts. We can gauge success by our levels of focus and awareness in the moment. And we can break the habit of judging ourselves against some future ideal.

We can make it a game of steady, incremental improvement.

Before we know it, we get what we want. And as a bonus, we enjoy the journey even more.


“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir




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.


Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!


-Arnoud Reinders

Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!


-Arnoud Reinders


Become a Member and Play More, Beautifully!

“The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin  

Join the program that takes you from the beginning fundamentals to advanced mastery, so you…

  • Move your hands safely and fluidly

  • Enjoy fulfilling practices and meaningful work

  • Play beautifully with expression and flow

Click the button to take a step towards an organized, effective guitar practice. >>>



Featured Courses

$39
jesu bach classical guitar

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Bach

One of the best loved of all classical guitar arrangements.

See more...

$39
read music guitar high positions notes

Play and Read Music in the Higher Positions

Learn to read music and identify notes on the entire neck.

See more...

$39
how to play segovia scales

Better Technique, with “Segovia’s Favorite Scales”

Detailed explorations of this popular technical tool.

See more...

« » page 1 / 2

See more…