Alder Guitar freedom

Mortimer Adler on How to Gain True Freedom on Guitar

It’s easy to think of freedom and discipline as incongruent. After all, isn’t freedom the ability to do anything anytime? And wouldn’t discipline cancel that out?

Freedom is a double-edged sword. Yes, it opens up possibilities and allows us to have new experiences. But there’s a dark side as well….

Freedom demands that we make decisions. With all the options, we’re forced to choose something. And the more freedom, the more options we have to choose from.

And here’s the banana peel that freedom throws underfoot: Decisions suck our mental and creative energy. The more decisions we make, the less creative energy we have to actually do something worthwhile.

This is where discipline comes to the rescue.

Discipline is a decision already made. With discipline, we narrow our options and remove choices. This frees up brainpower we can then spend on the parts that matter.

In guitar practice, this means knowing what we’ll practice before we sit down. We can then focus our attention on the quality of each note (instead of pondering what to do next).

Discipline allows us to go deeper in fewer areas at any given time. Lack of discipline (aka “chaos”) usually leads to shallower and more disjointed practice. Over time, we master the skills we go deepest on, and live with the longest.

So the fewer decisions we make in practice, the better the practice tends to be.

True freedom on guitar comes through focused attention and consistent repetition. And to guarantee these, we need only eliminate choices by planning ahead, then show up.

Of course discipline itself is a practice, and gets easier and more effective over time.

So the game is to: 1. limit our options and have a plan, then 2. allow ourselves the freedom to change it if we really want to (but default to staying with the plan).

This way we can benefit from discipline, but still feel free to go wild when the urge strikes.

                “True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.”

                                 Mortimer J. Adler

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

Allen: Just wanted you to know I have thoroughly enjoyed The Woodshed program. I'm in Level 1C and love how every part works together. It has improved my "general" playing already.

-Lydia Chance

Thanks to you (you are my only teacher) in only a few months I've gone from very basic beginner pieces to having just completed learning Bach's Gavottes 1&2 in good form and execution. As a non-classical electric guitarist who has always used a pick and never his fingers, this has been no small feat!

-Gregg Olson

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