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Yo-Yo Ma on How to Approach Practice and Performance


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


“When people ask me how they should approach performance, I always tell them the professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner.”

Yo-Yo Ma

As we progress on guitar, we seek greater and greater challenges. We tackle bigger and more complex pieces of music. We push the limits of our speed and control.

And as we work this way, we tend to look ahead. We drive forward. We see the next prize and lean for it.

As we reach higher levels of ability, we feel good about all the work we’ve done. We rank ourselves above others. And this becomes part of our identity. We’re proud.

But there’s a catch.

As workflow wizard Kourosh Dini has written, “Most of mastery is a mastery of the basics.”

This means that to move forward, we must embrace the work shared by beginners. And not just the work, but the mindset – curiosity, openness, humility.

In short, we must release the idea that we already know it all. And by opening to all possibilities, we expand our understanding and use of the basics.

What are the basics? Form, positioning, movement. Process, attention, acceptance of reality in the moment.

To reach the state of the beginner that cello icon Yo-Yo Ma refers to in the quote above, we must look on our work with fresh eyes.

We have to acknowledge we are as yet incomplete. We have to ask the silly questions and be willing to stub our toes in new experiments.

So how do we do this? What do we actually do in our daily guitar practice to enter this state?

We slow down. We listen. We look for holes in our sound and thinking. We explore like children. We poke and prod. We play.








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 other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, 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.




Your GCS site and The Woodshed community are really super! I am glad I finally joined in, and smacking myself for waiting so long. Thanks again!


-Carol Morin

Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary. Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice. He is a very good and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning. I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.


-Peter Buck, R.E.M.



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