michelangelo guitar practice
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Michelangelo on mastery, perception, and daily practice

In our culture, we love to idolize “The Greats”. We put them on a pedestal and think of them as somehow non-human.

But no one was born knowing how to tie their shoes, much less how to paint or play guitar. Any master of anything got that way through hard work and hours logged.

Study after study now shows that the main determinant of mastery is not “talent” or any special cosmic endowment – it’s time.

The best in any field have simply put in more hours of deliberate practice than anyone else. This is true for Michelangelo and it’s true for Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan.

“Talent” may be a word invented by people looking to discount hard work.

But there is something that sets some apart from others. And this is interest. Interest, fascination, curiosity – these are the motivating factors that help us show up and practice.

Of course, Michael Jordan had height, and Michelangelo had eyes and hands. We’re limited by our physical bodies.

But mastery is a time-game. In anything we do regularly with focus and attention, we will improve to the extent we’re physically able.

No magic, no genetic inheritance, just hours.

All we can do is sit down and pick up our instrument. Then do it again tomorrow. This is our side of the deal: challenge ourselves, listen like crazy, return to things often enough to make a difference. Time does the rest.

Even with the worse technique and no teacher, we get better. We go further faster with great technique and great teachers. And we go even further still with one-pointed attention while engaged. But hours alone are a big part of it.

This can be of some comfort on the inevitable days when our flow doesn’t feel so “flowy”.


“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

Michelangelo




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 work with teachers, 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 sore after playing.  I was frequently frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward.  Then I studied with two stellar teachers –  one focused on the technical, and one on the musical.  In time, I came to discover a fundamental set of formulas and movements. These unlocked my playing, and brought new life and enjoyment to my practice. Now I help other guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.


Hi Allen, I am a Dutch guy who plays classical guitar (solo and together with a flute player). Unfortunately I have been suffering from focal dystonia since begin 2016. Of course I tried physical therapy which didn't help… But I tried some of your [technique] lessons (I had teachers before but I was never taught your techniques) and to my big surprise the nasty feeling in the back of my right hand which pulls my index finger upward was gone! So now I practice your lessons. Anyway, I am very happy to have found you on the internet. Thanks very much!


-Arnoud Reinders

This is the ideal starting position for me. As a relative beginner with no teacher this is helping me enormously in developing good technique and not falling into bad habits. I no longer feel (A) That it's a struggle to learn a new piece and (B) That I am alone in my endeavors. My advice is to try The Woodshed program. It is fantastic and will not only bring up your playing but his explanations of musical concepts as you go along put things into perspective.


-John Andersson


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