Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
8, 2001 Volume 39
It's a Jungle Out There! Part One
As many of you may know, my essays appear on many of the major
guitar sites on the web. Recently, my essay "Teaching
By Travel Brochure" was featured on many sites. In this
essay I have put into words the experience of many guitar students,
and the reason for it. The experience I am talking about is taking
lessons, for months or years, and SEEING NO PROGRESS!
My message is this: if you are doing what your teacher tells you,
and you are not getting better, it's your teacher's fault! They
will probably try to put the blame on you, but it is their own lack
of teaching ability. Some of you may find this shocking, but I know
it is true.
There is no shame in having a "lack of teaching ability".
There is quite a deal of shame in not RECOGNIZING the fact, and
continuing to take people's money without delivering the product.
Because of "The Principles", there is no longer any need
for this situation to continue. I have said over and over, very
boldly, that ANYONE who uses the Principles will learn to play,
and become as good as they want to be. I prove it every day with
those I teach in person, and my testimonial scroll proves it with
people around the world I have never met, but are using "The
Principles" to achieve growth they didn't think was possible.
Recently, because of the publication of the "Travel Brochure"
essay, I have gotten many letters from students telling me of their
bad to awful to horrid experiences with guitar teachers. Here is
an interesting excerpt from one of them:
"If I hadn't run into so many horrid teachers on ego trips
- who believe in the "purity" of music and put down one's
innate abilities instead of trying to work with you at your level
of ability - I might have been much more advanced today. Music teachers
seem to be in a class of their own. You don't get the same abuse
in physics or English or foreign language study."
I believe this person is very correct: when it comes to "ego-trips"
and intimidating, petty, self-protective behavior masking deep seated
inferiority complexes, I believe guitar teachers are in a class
by themselves. And there are very good reasons why you don't find
the uplifting purity in the teaching process that you do find from
teachers of other disciplines, especially mathematics (I have always
found that math teachers tend to be wonderful, superior teachers
with a true love of the subject and a desire to pass it on).
The main reason is that most people out there teaching guitar DO
NOT WANT TO BE TEACHING! They didn't plan on it, they wanted to
be performers, they wanted to be "stars". They are frustrated.
Many are really still trying to be stars, and will leave that teaching
gig as soon as they don't need the money! I will go so far as to
say that often they will harbor a secret contempt for the student,
as if the student were to blame for their unfulfilled dreams. (I
am not saying EVERY guitar teacher).
You students out there should keep this in mind as you go about
trying to make progress based on your association with flesh and
blood teachers. You very well may bump up against their "inner
conflicts" and "quiet desperation". I certainly did
from time to time with some of my teachers.
Next week I am going to share a letter from a longtime professional
teacher that offers a revealing insight into the real attitudes
of many in the field. Till then, watch your step as you travel through
Parallel Knuckles In Right Hand Classical Position
I'm using the principles book for about 2 months, and I still can't
get the right hand positioning correct.. you see, do the knuckles
still need to be parallel and the thumb so outstretched when you
are playing say alternating rest strokes on the first string??
Another example would be Bach's bouree (lute suite no.1) ,when I
play it, my thumb will somehow adjust itself so much so that it
no longer sticks out to the right, but comes down that it is aligned
to the I finger. Is this wrong? I can't seem to correct it even
after posing, it just naturally goes down! Is this wrong?
The main issue is that my thumb does not stay straight 7/8 of the
time, this is wrong ?? What should I do to remedy this problem,
it is pretty frustrating...
Good question, and one that is on an aspect of technique that is
quite difficult to pin down precisely, in fact, I could even say
impossible. However, I like to keep in shape by attempting the impossible
a minimum of 3 times a day, so here goes!
First, let's understand this: there is no "one correct"
hand position for ALL playing situations, or even, for ALL hands.
When it comes to the "fine tuning" of things like sitting
and holding the guitar, and positioning of the right arm and hand,
there are always exceptions and variations, and nuances to be adjusted
along the way. For instance, I am working with someone right now
who has very long arms, and very large hands. It has taken a few
weeks of the two of us working on it in lessons, and him at home,
to discover HIS optimal sitting and right arm/hand positions. We
just found, for instance, that his best sitting position requires
the elevation of BOTH feet, (the right foot only an inch or two).
It made a big difference in his ability to keep his arms/hands relaxed
So, with that understood, I always try to give the best GENERAL
guidelines possible, and to emphasize the aspects of positioning
and technique that are most "universally valid". Taking
things in order:
Knuckles parallel to strings: you will see great players
with very parallel knuckles most of the time (Parkening, Segovia),
you will see great players with less of a deviation, or turn of
the wrist (Fisk). I will vary it myself in playing, but will generally
keep near that "parallel knuckle" position, often turning
the wrist a bit upward, (toward thumb) so the fingertips contact
the string with a little more flesh, for a rounder tone. I stressed
'knuckles parallel to strings" to get people away from the
common, and horrible, position where the FINGERS are almost parallel
to the strings. This position is common among old folk type players,
but is severely limiting in terms of your ability to bring the fingers
to the strings with force.
Thumb Out: most beginners, and many longtime players, suffer
from thumb problems resulting from positioning. Their thumbs are
either held chronically tense, and/or in a position that DOES NOT
GIVE THEM EASY ACCESS TO THE STRINGS THE THUMB NEEDS TO PLAY (which
is usually the bass strings, but could easily be treble strings).
I have found the best way to prevent this in a players development
is to train the hand from the beginning to have the thumb out and
away as a general hand position. 99.9% of the time, beginners will
TENSE THE THUMB AS THE FINGERS PLAY, keep it tense, and lose the
position and everything else. Of course, even if your thumb is out
from the hand, but tense, that is no good either.
If I were playing rest strokes on the first string with the fingers,
I may very well allow my thumb to relax into toward the hand. But
my position would be such that I could reach it back to the 6th
string with no trouble or tension, or alteration of hand position.
However, in playing something like you mention (the Bach Bouree
in Em), where the fingers are playing rest stroke on the upper strings
AND the thumb must often play bass notes simultaneously, I would
keep my thumb out and near the bass strings they needed to play
pretty much all the time.
I couldn't answer your question with absolute certainty unless I
saw you in person, playing that piece, but you must investigate
it yourself. Ask yourself the right questions, such as:
1. Are the notes there when you play, or are they being missed at
a certain speed? If they are not there, then your fingers are not
there either, when they need to be. Where are they? Is it something
to do with position.
2. Is tension build up preventing the fingers from being in the
right place at the right time? If so, is it related to position?
Hope this helps you get closer to a solution Yongwie, let me know.
Tapping Foot In Classical Position
In one of your newsletters you said that when playing guitar
it is important to tap your feet along to the beat, to fully understand
the rhythm. I was just wondering that when playing in the classical
position what foot you should tap as my playing seems to be affected
when I try to tap either one.
Well, remember I pointed out it is important to BE ABLE to tap
the beat, not necessarily saying that you should ALWAYS be tapping
the beat when you play. It should be done as needed during practice.
The main thing to understand is that the BASIC BEAT (the downbeat)
must be mentally maintained, and able to be physically expressed,
even while the fingers are busy creating subdivisions of it, as
in 8ths and 16ths. If you cannot tap the beat while playing, then
you are not really aware of it.
There could be many reasons your playing is affected by tapping,
ranging from not really being secure technically in what you are
doing, or not really understanding the rhythm in the first place.
Make sure you can tap as you count the rhythm out loud WITHOUT playing.
I usually tap my right foot when in the classical position.
If it is a simple matter of having trouble because the guitar is
MOVING from the foot tapping, try just tapping your toes, inside
your shoe, up and down and not the whole foot!
Struggling With FingerPicked Arpeggios
I first of all want to thank you for your website and your tremendous
help with my guitar techniques!!! I haven't even bought the book
yet and I have improved greatly based on the information in your
newsletters. The "heavy arm" technique, and the calm attention
to detail has redefined by leaps and bounds how I play and how I
Until.... Last Sunday I started Flamenco lessons for the first time.
The first thing we are learning is the right hand "plucking" motion. It is a consistent movement where you pluck the top string
with the thumb, then the index finger plucks the G string, then
the thumb plucks the A, then the middle finger plucks the B, and
so on and so on... It is the beautiful arpeggio base so often heard
associated to flamenco. Well, I have been practicing and practicing,
applying as much of your principles as possible to try and improve,
to NO luck whatsoever!!! After about four (4) days I am no closer
to my simple goal of keeping a steady (apreggiated) rhythm. I am
My question is this: Am I just not "coordinated" enough
with my right hand, or is this just something that will take time
to work into my motor system...? Did you (yourself) struggle with
arpeggios in the beginning and is this typical of most of your students?
If you can answer, I am thanking you in advance. If not, don't worry
about it I know you are busy! Thank you for including me on your
email list and please keep them coming!!!
I have to tell you Jeff, that arpeggios are about THE hardest thing
to get students doing CORRECTLY, in a way that allows for future
development, and doesn't just bring some "quick results".
That is, after many years of hit and miss results with students,
I devised the "finger dipping" exercises in my book, that
have the student practicing individual actions with each finger
separately (while using other Principle based techniques to minimize
It is impossible to tell you exactly what your problem is without
seeing you in person. Anyway, these things are often "combination
problems", having many contributing factors, and it is a matter
of deciding which one to work on and remove first, then going on
to the next.
Based on my experience, what I would suspect is happening is that
your position is inherently too tense, and your wrist is tensing
(as well as forearm and shoulder area) and your wrist is coming
down flat with tension, which gets worse as your thumb is required
to reach back to the sixth string. If I were to watch you practice,
I would probably tell you that you are practicing too fast, with
too much tension.
In answer to your question "am I just not co-coordinated",
it depends on what you really mean. If you mean "is it just
not in me to do it", the answer is "yes, it is in YOU,
and every body ELSE to do it". I guarantee you if you were
sitting in front of me I would get you to do it, because I would
point out to you EXACTLY what is in your present approach that is
PREVENTING you from forming the correct motor programs that will
perform those actions required of the fingers that would result
in the smooth execution of that arpeggio.
Since you are not sitting in front of me, you must do you best to
discover these things. Follow the indications I have given you.
I don't remember having trouble with arpeggios, but I'll tell you
this: I, like so many people, learned them "wrong", even
though I could get them to be smooth UP TO A CERTAIN TEMPO. Because
of the "hidden" things wrong with them, I had severe problems
on demanding pieces and demanding tempos until I corrected what
was wrong, and I mean about ten to fifteen years into my playing.
Also, understand, although I say this skill is well within the
capabilities of any average person, as is the motor skill of, say,
walking, these things are NOT simple, but are often given out in
lessons as if they are! It is why I have said in my book "when
you see the complexity of what you think is simple, you will see
the simplicity of what you think is complex." Mastering this
"simple movement" is the key to so many other movements.
It shouldn't be "the first thing you are learning", but
until all the guitar teachers of the world have read my book, there
will still be a lot of this kind of thing happening!
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com