Josef Lhevinne guitar practice

Pianist Josef Lhévinne Shuns Boring Practice


“Variety in practice is most important. Repeating monotonously over and over again in a treadmill fashion is the very worst kind of practice. It is both stupid and unnecessary… using your brains and your ingenuity, and your practice will not be a bore to you.”

Josef Lhévinne (pianist)


Repetition is part of mastery. Indeed, mastery doesn’t come without it.

Grand Masters play game after game. Poker champions play tens of thousands of hands. Runners run and swimmers swim and martial artists do their forms.

But blind repetition, or “auto-pilot”, doesn’t work. It’s low-quality and largely ineffective.

So how do we stay interested on the millionth major scale? How do we stay engaged day after day of the same exercises or patterns?

Variety is the way forward. Changes make things new.

When we set new challenges, we perk up. When we force ourselves to sweat a bit, to give our best or fall flat, we pay attention.

Risk breeds engagement, and engagement is the currency of progress. Time alone won’t do it – we need both time AND attention.

And nothing demands attention like novelty. When something is new, we become curious and interested. This is where the brain lights up and learning happens.

To create variety in practice, we can change certain elements of our music (or scale, exercise, etc.).

We can alter the speed, rhythm, tone quality or volume. We can change the mood or feel. We can even change the notes, if we know what we’re doing.

If we become bored, it’s our fault. It’s not the exercise, the tune, or the drill. These only become boring if we don’t make them interesting. And this takes creativity and courage.

Only with an ongoing positive agenda in each practice can we move ahead and reach new heights in our music. Only by “playing” can we truly “practice”.


“Variety in practice is most important. Repeating monotonously over and over again in a treadmill fashion is the very worst kind of practice. It is both stupid and unnecessary… using your brains and your ingenuity, and your practice will not be a bore to you.”

Josef Lhévinne (pianist)




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.


Great Work!!!  I thank you sincerely for all the effort you have put in and the terrific work you do for the classical guitar community.


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These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.  

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!


-Ulysses Alexandre Alves


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