Steve Jobs guitar practice

Steve Jobs on How to Improve at Guitar

How do we know when it’s time to start a new tune?

How do we know when to drop one exercise or study and pick up another?

With all the myriad things we could work on, how do we decide?

It’s common to have a “to-do” list. Many of us live by them. But what Jobs is recommending here is a “not to do” list.

To focus and bring one project to completion, we often have to say “no” to a thousand other projects.

If we want to really master that one piece of music, that may mean holding off on starting another. We may need more time to work on one technique before jumping onto Youtube and finding another. This is the price we pay for improvement.

Chances are, starting a new piece won’t get us that much better. But bringing an existing piece up to a new and higher standard – that takes work. And this work elevates our abilities and stretches our palette.

To get better on guitar, we need to ride the edge between challenging and impossible. We need to hit this zone in every practice, with everything we do.

But there are only so many hours in the day we can practice guitar. We can’t do everything every day. We have to decide. And that means slicing away attractive options. Not forever, but for now.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”

Steve Jobs

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

For the first time ever, I have achieved great tone on my acoustic guitars. I've been studying fingerstyle guitar and music theory for about one year now. Tonight is the first time, I feel quite satisfied with my ability to produce a nice clear tone when striking the strings with my right hand fingers. By following your training videos in the program, I'm gradually developing my fingerstyle playing ability. KUDOS to you, Allen Mathews.

-Joaquin Kenyon

Those videos on practicing the piece were just awesome, Allen! I've always thought that learning songs might be something completely different than practicing exercises, but the way you teach it makes it much easier than I thought. I'm positive that joining the Woodshed has been the best investment I've ever done for learning the classical guitar. Thank you so much for these lessons.

-Ulysses Alexandre Alves

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