Peter Drucker guitar practice
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How Saying No in Guitar Practice Helps Us Improve

When we play a piece of music, we aspire to:

  • Play the right notes
  • Play the right hand fingerings as written.
  • Play the left hand fingerings as written.
  • Play in the given rhythm
  • Swell and fade just so
  • Create beautiful tone with each note
  • Synchronize the hands and on and on.

But if we can’t do each of these separately, there’s no way we’ll do them all at the same time.

And here is where saying “no” comes in.

We practice most effectively when we focus on one thing at time.

To be clear, we don’t abandon any musical element for long. Instead, we put all else aside for a moment so we can focus on one little piece of the puzzle.

Then, we put that one aside and focus on some other element. Then another. And another.

Until soon, we’ve given each element our full attention. And when we put them all back together, the total package sounds better.

Chances are, not every element will be as “perfect” as when we isolate it. But it’s better, and we’ve learned something. We’ve learned to listen better. We’ve learned to practice better. And even if it’s only 1% better , that’s still positive progress.

Over time, we’ll be more able to track the individual tasks while combining them. But even then, we’ll still need to say “no” to a thousand possibilities in order to practice effectively.

We can call saying “no” to certain things to focus on others “elemental practice”. The irony is that while the work is often simpler and feels easier, it takes massive discipline to actually do it.

It feels right to just dive in and start thwacking away at the whole piece. But this is rarely effective. It can be hard to “say no”, but that’s where the good work gets done.


“People are effective because they say no.”

Peter Drucker




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.


Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.


-Joe Bazan

Hello Allen,
I feel my guitar proficiency is improving considerably. Every day I’m exceedingly comfortable with my right hand technique and overall fluency. And my sight-reading has improved as well. Thank you for creating the Woodshed. It’s thoughtful construction and scope and sequence of knowledge and skills has advanced my guitar skills significantly. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.


-Michael Immel


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