Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
1, 2001 Volume 38
Q & A - My Position On Positions
I have a question that concerns theory, I suppose. What does "first
position" mean? I've heard many people refer to it but I can't
make any intuitive sense of it, myself. I suppose there must be
other "positions" as well... 2,3... How does all this
relate to the guitar.
"Position" on guitar refers, very simply, to where your
first finger is. Let's look at what this means. It means "where
your first finger is positioned to play, whether it is playing or
In other words, if I am playing the 5th fret, 1st string with my
1st finger, I am in the "5th Position". If I play that
same note with my 2nd finger, I am in 4th position, because my 1st
finger is now lined up with, and ready to play, the 4th fret, whether
I am using it or not.
If I play that note on the 5th fret with my 3rd finger, I am in
the 3rd, position. If I play it with my 4th finger, I am in the
2nd position. If you don't understand that, read it over till you
That is one aspect of the meaning of the word "position"
as it refers to the guitar. Another very important aspect of it's
meaning is it's relation to the MUSICAL KEY you are positioned to
play in, by virtue of the fact of having your 1st finger positioned
to play at any given fret.
In other words, whichever position you put your hand into on the
guitar, there are certain KEYS that we say are "good"
for that position. That means that it is easy to play certain keys
from that position, and it is hard to play some other keys from
For instance, if I position my first finger to play at the 1st fret
(which means my fingers 2, 3, and 4 are stretched out ready to play
at "their" frets, frets, 2,3,and 4), then I am in a good
spot to play in the key of C. THAT IS BECAUSE ALL OF THE NOTES THAT
MAKE UP THE "KEY" OF C ARE EASILY REACHABLE FROM THAT
POSITION. I don't have to go "out" of position for needed
notes. This 1st position I am now in is also good for the key of
F, and for G, although since G contains the note F#, I will have
to stretch out my 4th finger in order to play it (so I better have
developed it properly by using the Foundation Exercises in The Principles
- shameless plug!!).
If I move my 1st finger to the 3rd fret, I am in 3rd position. The
keys that are good here are Eb and Ab. All the notes of the key
are within reach. Another way to say this is that it is easy to
play the scale of the key there. The two common moveable major scale
forms would be used here to play all the notes of an Eb or Ab scale.
However, a key like Db is a little trickier. I would find that to
play that scale, I would have to reach my 1st finger back to the
2nd fret for the Gb I would need. This is not a big deal, but it
is a factor technically speaking in many passages. (There are "ways"
of doing these little out of position moves to make them easier,
such as not moving the hand or arm, but just reaching out the finger)
Certain keys, such as the key of E would be a nightmare in 3rd position,
but a dream in 4th position!
So, one thing people do who want to be good, intelligent, guitar
players, is learn what positions are good for what keys. You want
to know this whether you are reading music or not.
In the normal course of lessons with someone, I will, as the years
go by, teach them to read in all positions. I spent years reading
from all types of books; sax, clarinet, and other special position
study books just for guitar. This is a common thing for jazz players
I recommend learning to read in all positions to all players. It
takes years, perhaps, but with every increase in knowledge, day by
day, there comes an increased comprehension of what MUSIC is all
about. Some books I really like and have used over the years are
Mel Bays "Position Studies" for the guitar, and the Berklee
series books on position, "Melodic Rhythms" and another
one, I don't recall the name, but it made you play in EVERY KEY
from EVERY POSITION! Not an easy thing to do!
The Truth about "Slow Practice"
Are you really sure that speed will come by practicing at slow tempo?
I mean, is playing 16th notes at 200bpm supposed to feel free of
Slow practice, by itself, does not guarantee anything. If I practice
slowly, but still maintain unnecessary muscle tension, I will always
be limited by that tension. It will always be present, and be my
undoing as soon as I go for speed.
Many teachers over the years have preached slow practice to their
students. After awhile, they notice it isn't helping! That's because
the part that is left out is the method for becoming aware of the
SUBTLE muscle tension that is really there. For long time players,
it is harder to become aware of.
Understand that the point of "slow" practice is simply
to give us "room" for our awareness to function, and be
powerful and penetrating. If we practice "slow" and "mindless",
it will do us little good (although, perhaps, we might experience
some improvement). But when we are "stuck", there is always
unknown tension, coming from a possible variety of sources, at the
bottom of it.
Any yes, anything we have truly "mastered" will be free
of tension. Not free of "effort", just free of tension.
Effort is simply the sensation of activity, tension is the sensation
of "struggle", so great that it PREVENTS the achievement
of our goal (the notes).
So, if you include in your practice the kind of intense awareness
you SHOULD be practicing with, coupled with Slow Tempo, and No Tempo
practice, THEN, the speed you are looking for will come.
Thanks for the book, I am eager to begin applying the principles.
I have a few questions first, however. In the section "How
to Use this Book" there is a suggested order to tackle the
information and accompanying techniques. I was wondering about the
fingerstyle section in part two-for the right hand.
Do you suggest that all players learn this even if they intend to
only use a pick? Or if (as I intend ) later the player wishes to
delve into fingerstyle, that this technique should be implemented
in the beginning or further along in the process. Any suggestions
you have would be greatly appreciated. I am 35 and very much a beginner
and with limited practice time so... I wish to narrow my focus as
much as possible.
You're thinking the right way, Matt, good question. If you plan
on only playing pick style for awhile, then don't do the exercises
for fingerstyle. (Ex. 7-14). Focus first on the 3 steps of the Right
Hand String Shifting Exercise. Couple this with the Understandings
of "The Correct Way to do a Down Pick" and "The Correct
Way to do an Up-pick."
These exercises train the larger muscles of the upper arm, back
and chest, which are the muscles that control the movements of your
upper arm and forearm. These are the muscles ultimately responsible
for control of the pick. These are also the muscles held in a state
of chronic tension by so many players, thereby restricting the pickhands'
movement across the strings. So, getting in touch with these muscles,
pick or fingerstyle, is of first importance, which is why the Right
Hand String Shifting Exercise comes first!
The Exercises devoted to fingerpicking are more muscle specific,
focusing on the muscles that actually move the fingers, so we already
need to have the larger muscles working for us properly, anyway.
So feel free to let the fingerpicking exercises wait awhile.
Here are some more instructions to help clarify your goals and practice
procedure at this stage of the game: (Note: the following instructions
apply, in essence, to everyone using The
- Make sure all Understandings and Practice Tools are being used,
especially The Gradual Pressure Technique, and the Complete Stroke.
When doing step 3 of the Right Hand String Shifting Exercise, make
sure you do a Complete Stroke on the Up Pick, going from 1st to
6th string, so the up pick takes you PAST the next string ready
for the next down pick.
- Look for the totally relaxed hand ESPECIALLY at the point of highest
stress (pick pressing into string), and especially on the up pick.
- Do all the exercises in Chapter 4 as given, but play the notes
with the pick. These should all be done using the Basic Practice
- Day by day, keep a written record of the top speed possible for
the Walking Exercises (ex 24 and 25). Of course, "speed"
is a very dangerous word! At first, you should be "crawling",
not "walking" or certainly "running".
- Make sure you keep strict "quality control" at each
new speed, always on the lookout for tension, and loss of form.
Good luck, Matt, and everyone else!
Left Hand Walking Exercises:
Check Out the Video
I am very intent on making sure that everyone using "The Principles"
get out of them what they are supposed to get. In addition to giving
you the Tools to be used to solve playing problems in practicing,
I have set forth certain technical goals to be worked for, as described
in "How To Use This Book". These are the goals I move
all my students toward. Specifically, I want everyone to be able
to do the "Walking Exercises" for finger combinations
1-2, 1-3, and 1-4, smoothly, up to a tempo of 120 in 16ths, with
To that end, I have put on the site a video clip of me doing this.
I am doing it at 60, then 120. Check it out. If you are not presently
working toward this, well, get out your metronome!
All players, keep this in mind: the finger mobility demonstrated
in these clips is possible for ANYONE to attain through CORRECT
PRACTICE. The ability to perform these exercises with good form,
smoothness and relaxation, is fundamental to all left hand functioning
on the neck, especially anything having to do with scales and speed.
I am proud and happy to tell you that I have begun to officially
document and publish the many reports from players around the world
using "The Principles" to create real Vertical Growth
in their playing abilities. These reports testify mightily to the
power of the Principles, and also to how NECESSARY they are to aspiring
It is so interesting to read them, and see the many reports of
INSTANT progress, as if they just received a key that turned a lock
they couldn't open. It is also interesting, and wonderful, to read
about the people who have become POWER USERS, using and expanding
upon The Principles in their practice on a long term basis.
I especially like the doctor who told me he has used The Principles
to improve his cross country skiing!
New reports from players are welcome. It helps everyone to read
how players of every age, style, and background are using the Principles
to become the players they want to be. I want to see YOUR story
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com