Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
11, 2001 Volume 32
Why Should I Learn To Read Music? Part Two
Should YOU learn to read music?
What I say now should be understood and used in the context of what
I have already said. There are many players for whom this question
never even comes up. They know already, intuitively, the right answer
to this question as it applies to them. But many people do have
questions about this issue, so I will try to provide the clarity
IN GENERAL, everyone can only benefit by learning to read music.
Believe me, if you DO have talent, if you have something to say
as an artist, you are not going to lose it by developing your mental
understanding of the "theoretical" aspect of music. The
only people who will lose their artistic ability by education in
music are the ones who didn't have any artistic ability to begin
If you DON'T have much natural ability for music, or much experience
in playing music, then learning to read can open up a whole world
of understanding for you. It can give you the keys to understand
the "mysteries of music". I love to teach students to
read, because then I can teach them music theory. In fact, for the
guitar student, learning to read is like an insurance policy against
future confusion. So many guitar students, as time goes by, start
bumping up against concepts that they can't understand, and it is
a source of great frustration for them, because understanding these
concepts is the doorway to new and more sophisticated playing abilities.
I often get questions from students (other people's students) like
"can you explain secondary dominants", or "how do
I use a harmonic minor scale in improvising". Unfortunately,
I can't answer these people. They don't realize that in order to
understand the answer, a knowledge of music theory is required.
And in order to learn music theory, you must know how to read music.
In other words, I have to use a particular language to answer these
questions, and they don't know the language. So we can't communicate.
They are stuck with their question.
It's like trying to learn grammar without being able to read words.
You may be able to get some understanding if you find a creative
teacher, but you will never achieve a complete or satisfying understanding
of grammar in the way you would if you could read.
So, in general, I always recommend learning to read music.
Who Should Learn to Read
Specifically speaking, the following are the types of people who
definitely should learn to read music.
Who shouldn't Learn to Read Music:
- Anyone who really wants to;
- Anyone planning on someday having a complete and sophisticated
understanding of music and music theory;
- Anyone planning on a career in music, unless it will be
a career as a rock/blues musician, or folk musician. Even then,
of course, it won't hurt, it is just not as necessary;
Anyone who wants to play the classical guitar.
When to Begin to Read Music
- Anyone who really doesn't want to;
- Anyone who is planning on being only a blues/rock musician
or a folk musician;
- Most people who are just starting to learn to play the
There is a common belief that students should learn to read music
right from the beginning. I don't think so. I rarely do that with
students. Usually, it is just a way of throwing water on a fire that
is just beginning to burn. With guitar, it is very easy to teach music
in the beginning without learning how to read. By doing so, the student
is connected right away to music in an emotional way, and it is the
emotional aspect of playing music that made them begin lessons.
Learning to read music is a very complex, mental affair, dealing with
many abstract concepts. Doing it in the beginning is kind of like
reading your girlfriend an essay on the philosophy of love on your
first date, instead of just being romantic with a box of candy and
So I believe in fanning that fire first. I find a song they love that
has easy chords, I teach them how to practice, and we're off and running.
After a few months, I bring the subject of reading music up, and by
then there is no problem in doing so. Also, by then they are more
able to understand why it is important.
Teaching children to learn to read is very tricky, and requires great
skill. It is often done badly. Suppose, for instance, that you are
trying to teach a third grader to read, and you have to teach the
concept of dotted notes. In order to understand dotted notes, you
have to understand fractions, you have to understand the concept of "one half of something". They most likely DON'T understand
that. So, you have to be a math teacher for a bit. It can take six
months to really have a 10 year old understand this one musical concept.
In fact, I believe many adults who have had trouble learning to read
music are the victims of bad teaching. There are often a lot of unexplained,
and under-explained vital concepts along the way, which are the real
culprits, not a lack of ability to "get it".
And finally, it should be understood that learning to read music can
be a long process, in the same way that learning to read words can
be. It takes enough work, over a long enough period of time. You can
learn to read enough to go slowly through music, as you can learn
to read slowly, or you can become a "speed reader" and read
music you haven't' seen and still play it up to performance level.
Whether or not to learn to read, and how far to take it is up to you.
But it is certainly a subject you should make an informed choice about,
based on careful consideration.
A Tale of Two Students
This past week I gave two lessons which were very illustrative of
the whole point of my work. It seems some people do have a difficult
time grasping the essential nature of my teaching approach, and
how it differs from all other approaches to learning the guitar.
And the difference is that I do not ONLY teach you how to PLAY the
guitar, I teach you how to LEARN how to play the guitar. That is
what everyone really needs.
While I was in Philadelphia, I gave a lesson to someone who recently
got my book. Although Charlie had recently got the book, he hadn't
had time to really read it or use it. So I told him I would give
him an assessment of his playing and technique. I saw what I usually
I saw someone with plenty of natural ability that he would never
be able to benefit from unless a few things were immediately brought
to his attention, and unless he began to practice correctly and
effectively. Also, as usual, his troubles began with sitting and
holding the guitar.
He had no idea his right shoulder and arm were "locked"
into place, and from that built in limitation his fingers were doing
what they could.
He had a very nice, expensive Guild steel string, from which he
was getting none of the sound the guitar really could produce. He
was very surprised when I took his guitar and played a few notes!
He was suffering from "wimpy picking", which I have discussed
in a Technical Tip. I explained that it didn't matter how much he
practiced (he practices 1-2 hours a day), and how many things he
learned, he would never get a good sound until these fundamentals
I then walked him through the Foundation Exercises in "The
I look forward to hearing from Charlie shortly, and hearing about
how he is using what we went over in the lesson to make real vertical
Another student came by when I got back to New York. Richard is
interesting. He attended a workshop I gave two years ago, right
after I wrote "The Principles". He committed the gravest
sin of all. He hardly read it and was not using any of the practice
approaches in it! And he was being punished for this sin in his
playing! He has played classical guitar for many years, and had
hit that "wall" so many people hit. He was so locked up
with tension he didn't know he had it was incredible! He has a whole
lot of natural talent which is why he could even get his fingers
to move quickly with all the tension in his shoulders. But the sound,
even though he had a very nice classical, was terrible. There was
I yelled at him for taking so long to come and do something about
it. I yelled at him because he had told me how badly he wants to
play well, and I couldn't understand why he had not even read the
book after having seen me in person two years ago, and getting corrections
at the time from me on these fundamentals. Then I calmed down and
became my usual calm, reasonable and tolerable self.
He had even gone to someone else for lessons, and he got the usual.
He had all the books, he spent the time, he spent the money. Now,
he has to start over, and learn what practicing is all about.
I am going to fix him up. I am going to make a new man out of him,
and a new player. I told him I was going to make an example out
of him on my website. He laughed, and I know he is relieved that
now he finally is going to do something about getting what he wants
so badly. I also got the feeling that deep inside, he really didn't
believe it was possible for him to get past these playing problems.
After all I do to convey to people that playing problems are not
evidence of your personal inability, they are evidence of your lack
of proper training and approach, Richard still doesn't fully believe
it, I'm sure. He will, he is starting to.
What is my point? It is this. If you say you really want to play
well, DO something about it. BELIEVE in what your common sense tells
you is true, after you read the material on my site. If you have
my book, USE IT! There are now over 1200 people who have my book.
There are 5000 people reading this newsletter every week. I don't
want anyone having my book and not using it. I want the world to
be full of good guitar players, happy guitar players, happily getting
better every day.
The people really using my book know the truth, they are experiencing
it for themselves. ANYONE can learn to play well who practices correctly.
Anyone can learn that CORRECT practicing is an ever deepening experience
leading to ever increasing ability. You get what you give.
Sad, But True Response
Last week, I published a lament from someone who had a string of
bad teachers. I advised him to be agressive about finding a good
one.I advised him to find a prospective teacher and hand him or
her a copy of my book. If they agreed with my approach, if they
agreed with the basic premises written about on my site, I said
go with them.
Here is a response to that write-up by someone who knew already
to do just that. Thanks John for sending this in:
I am John, from Mesa, AZ I am on my 9th teacher. The person who
wrote you about his 2nd bad teacher. He should keep on searching
and he will find what he wants. When I started with a new teacher
I told him I want the discipline of Jamie, and I handed him your
book, And if he could not do that then I would look for number 10.
Now I have a very good teacher that
doesn't let me lift a finger unless I need to. Just what I needed.
Also, after 5 years of searching I found one who loves classical
guitar and is will to show me what I am doing wrong. He told me
for someone who plays like I do, that I can play any music, like
a typewriter, Now, he will show me how to play music. Made sens
to me. Hope he finds what he is looking for.
Johnoneoldman Mesa AZ
The point is you DO need teachers and other resources to learn to
play the guitar well. If you allow yourself to tolerate mediocre
teaching, teachers who allow you to come week after week while you
are obviously making no progress, and who still keep teaching you
in the same ineffective way, then you have only yourself to blame!
Jamie, Why Is Your Book Different From All Other Guitar Books?
A recent letter from an unbeliever:
You know, I have been receiving your emails for a few months
now. I read them with great interest. I have read about those who
are having problems in this area and that area. I have read emails
about those that have bad teachers, who have been practicing for
years(to no avail).
I have read emails about those who cannot seem to find the time
to practice religiously or even unreligiously, who cannot seem to
find the right teacher, who hate to practice scales, and so on,
and so on. You always bring up your book (and why not, of course,
you seem to be quite proud of it) and why it is so important to
have it. i've bought books, so have a lot of other people, and with
me, at least, its always the same; either I get discouraged with
the system that's presented or it doesn't seem to be what I'm looking
for (although, I am not quite sure what system i am looking for).
anyway, my question to you, Jamie, is this? . . . why your book
over anyone else's? why would your book make a difference when others
did not? with the cost of the book, what if anything, would I have
to show for my money 6 months down the road in my progression?
please don't misconstrue this email in any fashion other then what
it was intended (a serious question). no rudeness meant at all and
my apologies if it has come across as such.
That is a very rational question, I don't take any offense. In
fact, that is why I went to great pains to answer the question on
my site, Take some time, read through the "tour" on my
site. Read about the book, read the testimonials. That will be your
answer as to why my book is "the answer". As to what to
expect after 6 months, well, I will assume you are talking about
6 months of intense study and application of my methods. If that
is the case, you can expect what people who are doing that are getting,
which you can read about in my forum. Two exemplary users of my
book have posted about their breakthrough progress since using "The
Basically, my book teaches you how to fish, instead of just giving
you a fish. The following write-up of two people I recently saw
for the first time are good examples of what happens to people who
have only been handed fish as they were learning to play. As usual,
by the time I saw them, they had some pretty smelly fish!
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com