Josh Waitzkin guitar practice
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Josh Waitzkin on Cultivating Quality and Reducing Sloppiness

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


“When you’re not cultivating quality, you’re cultivating sloppiness.”

Josh Waitzkin


In our day-to-day guitar practice, what is “quality”?

To know whether something is quality or not, it helps to know an ideal. Or we can at least have a general sense of what we’re trying to do. The more specific we can be, the higher quality we can bring to each moment.

Quality attention is focused and aware, relaxed and engaged.

Quality movement is intentional and deliberate. It’s in control and uses appropriate tension.

Quality listening means playing slowly enough to hear each note. It’s hearing the actual sounds coming from the instrument, and objectively comparing them to sounds we hear in our “mind’s ear”.

We can also know quality by what it’s not. It’s not sloppiness. It’s not rushing through. It’s not just the “which notes?”, but also how we play them. It’s not mindless and distracted. It’s not flaccid.

As Josh Waitzkin implies with this quote, quality is something we cultivate. We tend it daily. We nurture it.

We gain quality in our music through attention and practice. When we make quality our standard, at any level, we define success by the type of work we do. The end goals of “finishing” specific pieces or speeds are secondary. Our main foci are to stay engaged and hold true each step of the process.

Through quality practice, we make new discoveries. Practice stays fresh and rewarding. And we enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.


“When you’re not cultivating quality, you’re cultivating sloppiness.”

Josh Waitzkin




allen mathews classical guitar

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 stellar teachers –  one focused on the technical, 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 beautifullyClick here for a sample formula.


I also want to thank you for including more video lessons on the Bridges Guitar Series. I have learned to play Calatayud's Waltz. The most exciting thing about having done this is that I sight read the entire piece as I was learning it. Six months ago looking at a sheet of music was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Learning to read notation is empowering and I appreciate the sensible way you are teaching us to learn to read music.


-Steve Simpler

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.)


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