Wooden guitar practice

John Wooden on Developing Your Strengths

Basketball coach John Wooden believed in the power of fundamentals.

When he first started coaching at UCLA, he reportedly spent the first week on something so basic that most of the players had never given it a second thought.

He didn’t start with layups or free throws. He didn’t drill plays or talk strategy.

Instead, the players spent the first week practicing how to tie their shoes.

He believed this fundamental skill, when mastered, would lead to better performance and fewer injuries. And he was right – performance increased and injuries decreased.

We have similar fundamentals on the guitar. We can focus on how we move our hands, one finger at a time. We can master the art of connecting notes and shifting gracefully from one position to another on the guitar neck. But we go even more basic than these.

Even at the most beginning levels, we can put our energy into the areas that have the biggest potential payoff.

These areas of highest benefit are not scales or fancy techniques. They’re not to be found in the next book or Youtube video.

The most fundamental and important skills to learn guitar are…

Focus and Attention.

When we can focus and pay attention to the fine details, we can learn anything else we need. We can build on these two skills more than any others.

We don’t need to find a video on tremolo or three-finger scales. We don’t need to understand esoteric music theory or decipher lute tablature.

All that can come later. Or not. Either way, we do best when we build on the fundamentals.

With these fundamentals, we can make the most of what we already know. We can deepen our understanding of each lesson. We can grow steadily more agile and nimble without sacrificing safety or sound quality.

Focus and attention. These are about as sexy as tying our shoes, but also just as beneficial.


                “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

                                 John Wooden




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.


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.)

Hi Allen, I am thoroughly enjoying your website and I find it is just what I need in my renewed passion for classical guitar. I have rediscovered a great love for this instrument and the music I can learn and play and it has changed my life for the better dramatically! Thank you facilitating this process.


-George Rogers


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