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Composer Robert Schumann on How to Play Well and Avoid Mediocrity


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


“Try to play easy pieces well; it is better than to play difficult ones in a mediocre style.”

Robert Schumann


It’s perfectly natural to want to play harder and harder pieces. And indeed, we should always challenge ourselves in practice.

But we have many types of challenge.

One area of increasing challenge is speed. Another is note-density (thicker chord textures and voicings). Yet another involves the physical demands of shifting around the entire instrument.

We can tackle these more obvious challenges, and should. However, the notes don’t make the music. We do.

Music cannot speak for itself. We the musicians breathe life into music. It’s a collaboration between composer and performer. (Just as with architect and builder, writer and orator, manager and maker.)

We take the simple dots on the page and create the sounds that trigger an emotional response.

And we do this using skill and intention. We connect notes smoothly. We get louder and softer. We bring some notes forward and others to the background. We stretch and compress time.

These are the musical elements that take music from mere notes to something more. This is where we find humanity and meaning in our daily practice.

But we can’t do this more musical work if the notes take all our attention. Instead we can stay with “easier” pieces longer and do this different work with them.

In time, if we’re patient, we will play the difficult pieces. But instead of playing them, as Schumann warns, “in a mediocre style”, we’ll play them beautifully.

This only happens if we build the skills. And we learn the skills on the easier pieces.








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.




I appreciate the organized, well thought out progression of each level, as well as a measurable means to determine when to proceed to the next level.  I had burned myself out by pushing too hard and playing beyond where I was comfortable.  This course is just what I needed, and I am happy to be back on the road to playing again.


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


-Peter Graham



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