Kurt Vonnegut guitar practice

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[Quote] Kurt Vonnegut on Frustration in Guitar Practice

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


“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.”

Kurt Vonnegut


In our regular music practice, it’s easy to fall into the quicksand of frustration.

We think, “I should have this mastered already!” or “Why is this hard for me? Surely everyone else gets this with no trouble…”

So we feel frustrated, affronted, maybe even a little angry. We begin our inner grumbling and judging.

But none of this does any good. Worse, it cuts us off from the resources that would help us succeed.

The problem is not in our abilities. And it’s usually not in the material we’re working on.

The problem is most often our expectations. We expect that we should learn at certain rate. We expect that because we could do something yesterday we should be able to do it again today.

We expect for habits to come easy, and musical memory to die hard.

But these aren’t always true.

If we’re feeling fussy about some part of our work, we can first consider our expectations.

Barry Schwartz once said, “The key to happiness is low expectations.” True or not, low expectations can help us avoid frustration. We may even be pleasantly surprised when things go well.

A primary ingredient for musical mastery is time. So one of our most important jobs is to keep motivated to pick up the instrument again tomorrow.

Low, or at least realistic, expectations wind the clock so we keep on ticking.


“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.”

Kurt Vonnegut




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.


Hi Allen,
First public performance ever! I am up to Level 1E in The Woodshed program. It is certainly mega helpful.


-Peter Graham

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


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