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Yo-Yo Ma on practicing clarity


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


“If you don’t have clarity of ideas, you’re just communicating sheer sound.”

Yo Yo Ma


There’s an old saying that if you don’t care where you go, any road will get you there.

But as soon as we ask powerful questions, our movements become more intentional.

  • What do I want?
  • What do I want to feel, physically and emotionally?
  • What’s going here, specifically?
  • What’s stopping this from happening?
  • What would it be like if this were easy?

Questions like these rarely have a simple answer, but they help us build clarity.

Clarity isn’t something we “get”, like a loaf of bread on the way home. Clarity comes from exploration and experimentation. It comes from listening critically, and examining our assumptions.

Clarity is a process, not an event.

When we practice a piece of music, what do we want? We want to play the notes at the right time with the right fingers. We want the notes to connect smoothly. We want good tone and volume.

Then, as we deepen even further, we want this passage to sound dark and brooding. We want the next to be bright and cheerful. We want these notes to get louder and those to get quieter. These to stand out and these others to fade into the background.

As we progress on guitar, we gain more and more clarity. We discover new possibilities we weren’t aware of before. We encounter new problems and overcome them.

Even from day one in our guitar journey, we can seek clarity. At first, we’ll focus on the broad strokes. That’s as it should be. We need the basics.

With time, we travel deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of musical expression. And that, too, is as it should be.

But it only happens if we ask questions. We only grow as musicians when seek greater clarity. Otherwise, as Yo Yo Ma said, it’s just sound.








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.




Hi Allen, just wanted to provide some feedback. Since I've started doing the exercises [in The Woodshed program] my guitar is sounding a lot better, with fuller sound, less effort. Its as if I bought a new guitar or got a new pair of hands (or both). Amazing my friend. Thank you!


-Nusret Aydemir

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.  

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!


-Ulysses Alexandre Alves



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