An interesting book by Lee F. Ryan

On the recommendation of my guitar teacher, the excellent Lee Mead-Batten, I’ve been reading the book The Natural Classical Guitar: The Principles of Effortless Playing, by Lee F. Ryan.

Yes, I know, classical guitar - not what Justin Guitar or this forum is about. But most aspects of the book are not specific to classical guitar and are very much applicable to playing a steel string, whether acoustic or electric. The approach is philosophical and psychological, focused on getting into the right state of mind and body to make playing effortless and beautiful. The book was published in 1984 and is out of print (but used copies are available on Amazon and other online booksellers), so I thought it would make sense to summarize the book’s ideas and put them up on this forum for discussion.

First of the book’s big ten principles: “Let nature support your playing - do less, accomplish more.” There’s a somewhat mystical aspect to this; Ryan refers to Yoga, Taoism and Zen and the image of water flowing effortlessly downstream as a metaphor for creating music in accordance with the laws of nature. On a more tangible level, Ryan says, this means “finding more efficient ways of playing” and “stripping away all excess tension and movement so that you do just what is necessary to play beautifully.”

Question: Does this resonate with anyone? How have you been able to “do less, accomplish more” in your guitar playing?


I do a lot of yoga and believe it’s helped my guitar playing in a number of ways. I’ve never really thought in terms flowing like water and yet I do plenty of Vinyasa flow classes so I’m not sure why I’ve never made that connection. In a class it’s certainly possible to jerkily move from one asana to another but it is much more satisfying to attempt to smoothly flow between them (whether I look smooth to an observer is open for debate). And maybe all of this flowing movement does help me. Certainly it’s made me very aware of how I move and I know I play at my best when my entire right arm from the wrist to the shoulder is relaxed and moving smoothly.
A lot of the benefits I mentioned are around mindset, being focused on the process rather than the destination and being ok with where I am rather than frustrated about not being where I would like to be

I would like to learn ketogenic guitar playing.

I don’t know what that is… combo diet and guitar?

Hmm, interesting ideas there. Your summary of the book sounds much too spiritual and New Age for my liking. As someone falling more on the practical side of things, I’d separate the “Yoga, Taoism and Zen” and “laws of nature” portion from the actual playing techniques.

“Finding more efficient ways of playing” is probably what all musicians, regardless of the level of their proficiency, try to do, whether consciously or not. I think a lot of it comes with routine when you are able to judge if something that is more efficient also sounds as good as it has to sound in the given situation.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to bash the book. I think the writer’s frame of reference to playing the guitar is just as valid as those of others who take a more scientific or sensory approach to help them structure and utilize their skills.

That “process versus destination” piece is really important for me to keep in mind as I practice. Yes, my ego wants the gratification of being able to play a song “perfectly” (as if there is such a thing as perfect), but the more I focus on that goal, the harder it is to make progress toward it. The more I let go of the goal and focus on the process of learning, the easier the progress comes.

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I feel your skepticism about the New Age stuff (and this book was written in the early 80s, so the author lays it on pretty thick!) but I don’t see any real contradiction between that and a more “practical”, technique- oriented approach. I can practice a technique until I’m blue in the face, but a scattered mind, tension in my body, frustration with my mistakes, etc. can shoot that technique to hell. What I’m trying to learn from the “mystical” stuff doesn’t replace technique, but allows me (I hope) to implement it more effectively, more beautifully, more musically.

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I’d say that skepticism is healthy but closing your mind off to other ideas is not. Maybe 10 years ago I wouldn’t have listened to any of this because I had my views and new age (and similar) stuff didn’t fit with that at all. You see the same mindset all over the internet covering all subjects from politics, religion, to the food we eat, people just shouting their beliefs at each other as if they are facts.

I’ve learned to listen to other views than my own and accept that I might be wrong on a bunch of stuff. When my yoga teachers talk of energy channels, I have my doubts (previously it would have been a hard no way) but I can’t prove they don’t exist so I listen and maybe learn something. It certainly does me no harm. And the reverse is true. I used to believe fully in what science tells us, but we see over time there’s a lot of bad science done, experiments that weren’t entirely unbiased or were based on the best information we had at the time which has subsequently proved to be wrong.

There’s definitely a point at which the harder an author pushes an idea, the fewer people that will take anything away from the book other than thinking the author is a crank. As I say, I’m open to more ideas than ever but there’s still a point where I close down. Best they introduce an idea and leave people keen to find out more than repeatedly hammer someone over the head with it!