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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.








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 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 beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.




Your GCS site and The Woodshed community are really super! I am glad I finally joined in, and smacking myself for waiting so long. Thanks again!


-Carol Morin

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



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