J.R.R. Tolkien on Precision, Accuracy and Consistency in Guitar Practice

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

“The hasty stroke goes oft astray.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Playing too fast – this is the bane of most of our guitar practices. It’s easy to do. It takes discipline and awareness to avoid. It feels good in the moment, but yields poor results over time.

So how do we slow down in practice? While it sounds simple, it’s not necessarily so.

The key to high-quality slow practice is specificity. When we focus on specific things, we change the level of our listening.

When we play fast, we listen to the gestalt of our music. And as such, small mistakes slip by unnoticed.

But instead we can slow down and focus on specific goals. And when we do, we slow time.

On what should we focus? Anything. Everything. Just one at a time:

The connection of each note to the next

The volume of each note in relation to the one before

The placement of our left-hand fingers behind the frets

The movement of our right-hand fingers through the strings

The difference in volume between the melody and bass notes.

The feeling of the string under our finger

Anything specific will do. When we get curious about a single element, we are pulled to slow down. Otherwise, we can’t focus on it.

And this is the way to better guitar technique. It’s the way to more expressive playing.

We cannot play a piece of music – we can only play one note, then another. And after the sequence is done, what happened happened.

The quality of our playing is determined by the level of awareness we have of each moment in turn.

When we slow down and put the microscope of awareness onto our playing, we improve. We find challenging opportunities for growth.

This is timeless knowledge, shared in many ways:

“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

“Haste makes waste”

“Mind the pennies and pounds take care of themselves.”

But common knowledge is not common practice.

Each day, when we sit down to play, we have to manage our own attention and energy. We can be mindful and inquisitive, or we can be hasty and careless.

Which will it be today?

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 have lost my entire metallic sound while I am playing now. Even my single note practice sounds more melodious, less tinny. [The Woodshed technique practice] has made a major difference in my tone. Thank you.


~ Harlan Friedman

-Harlan Friedman

Hi Allen, just wanted to provide some feedback. Since I've started doing the exercises [in The Woodshed program] my guitar is sounding a lot better, with fuller sound, less effort. Its as if I bought a new guitar or got a new pair of hands (or both). Amazing my friend. Thank you!


~ Nusret Aydemir

-Nusret Aydemir

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