John Wooden on Developing Your Strengths

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

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

John Wooden

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.

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.

I just want to thank you for your lessons. You are helping us to understand how a piece is composed, the parts to analyze and how to do it. You are teaching a lot about how to read and play, and the most important part: PLAY with the music and ENJOY it.

-R. Martinez

Allen: Just wanted you to know I have thoroughly enjoyed The Woodshed program. I'm in Level 1C and love how every part works together. It has improved my "general" playing already.

-Lydia Chance

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