Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
15, 2001 Volume 40
Thinking: What a Concept!
I was very fortunate when I was growing up, because my father worked
for one of the greatest companies a person could work for, especially
at that time (1950's, 60's). He worked for IBM. IBM was founded
by a very great and visionary individual named Thomas Watson. Mr.
Watson didn't just start a company, he created and controlled an
entire culture, an entire philosophy of life, which he carefully
taught to all his employees.
The cornerstone of his philosophy was embodied in one word. This
word was hanging on every wall in and IBM office, and, along with
boxes of punch cards, this word was in my house all the time, because
it was the title of the official IBM magazine that came to our house.
The word is THINK. Thomas Watson realized that "most of the
trouble people get into begins with the phrase "I didn't think
before I acted". It is a major step forward in our growth when
we realize this truth. The next major step is when we become aware
of how little thinking we actually do, especially at the times we
need it most, which is when we have "problems", a word
which Principled Players immediately translate into "challenges".
I got a real insight into this one time when I couldn't find my
wallet, (an almost daily occurrence, because I'm usually "thinking"
about something else!). I caught myself mindlessly roaming around
the room, looking in all the same places I had already looked, over
and over as if it were going to magically materialize! It gave me
the feeling of "doing something", and allowed me to avoid
the hard work of sitting down and thinking where I might have left
it. But it didn't give me my wallet! In the same way, guitar players
will mindlessly repeat the same ineffective actions over and over
again, as if the notes are going to somehow magically appear! We
will do anything but put that guitar down a second and really think
about what we are doing, and why it isn't working, and what we can
do about it.
I have experienced, literally, struggling with some passage of music
for years, and one day solving it because I put the guitar down,
started thinking about everything I was doing (fingerings, arm./hand/finger
positions, etc), and began to "think of", or "create",
new possibilities to experiment with. And because of doing that
"thinking process", I would often "solve" those
problems on the spot, or get pointed in the right direction.
If we are really honest and insightful, we may realize that, in
fact, we NEVER think! We just mindlessly adopt the ideas and attitudes
of what is around us, and we never actually examine, inspect, juggle,
calculate these ideas and attitudes with our minds, or, just as
important, "feel" these ideas and attitudes with our emotions
(intuition), If we are equally honest, observant and insightful
about ourselves as guitar players, we will likewise see that when
confronted with problems, with things we are having trouble doing
on the guitar, we don't actually THINK. Instead we mindlessly DO
what we have already been doing, even though it is producing no
result. We keep doing the same fingering or picking, we keep approaching
it with the same hand position. We don't stop, re-examine, observe,
draw conclusions, plan a new approach, and then observe and draw
To be a guitar player who considers continual growth to be the
cornerstone of their day to day activities, practicing and playing,
is to be a person who is going to be constantly confronted by one
thing: PROBLEMS! Practicing is nothing but the confrontation of
problems, one after another. If you are one of the gazillions of
players who are NOT experiencing improvement in your playing , then
please realize that you do not know how to solve problems. Don't
be depressed! Be like me. I love finding out what a jerk I am, because
then I can start getting better!
For more insight into how "thinking" dramatically improves
the rate of our growth as guitarists, read these essays:
Next time I will talk about exactly what thinking is, and how you
can start doing it too!
It's a Jungle Out There! Part Two
Last week, I psycho-analyzed the mindset of a majority of my fellow
guitar teachers, and I am sure I made a lot of new friends among
them! In case there are any teachers left who I haven't offended,
I would like to make another excursion into the psychology of guitar
Part of my mission with GuitarPrinciples is to educate guitar students
as to what is REALLY possible for them to achieve as players. I
have seen with my own eyes that it is extremely common for students
to have LIMITATIONS placed upon them BY THEIR TEACHERS, for no good
reason other that the fact that the teacher is really only able
to produce results with students who already have "talent".
Of course, the student adopts these limitations as part of their
own belief system, and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. "I
am tone deaf", " I have no sense of rhythm", "I'm
just not musical", "I'm too old", and the litany
Last week, I included a letter from a player commenting on how guitar
teachers seem to have this egotistical "we must do it my way,
with the music I like" approach to every student. He wondered
why guitar teachers in particular are so obnoxious in this way.
I said I would print a letter from a life long guitar teacher I
came into contact with on the web when I first started to promote
"The Principles". Being my usual naive self, I sent this
guy my book, figuring he would see how wonderful it is!
Well, not only didn't he think my book was wonderful, he disclosed
a whole lot about his philosophy of teaching. I showed his remarks
to a friend, who made a very perceptive comment. She said "he
is threatened by the statement you are making that anyone can learn
to play the guitar well. He wants to feel that he has some special
talent, not available to everyone."
After much reflection, I believe my friend is right.
Here are excerpts from the letter I received, only a few days after
I sent him my book.......
Your book on "correct" practice techniques represents
an approach which I fundamentally disagree with. Although most of
what I say here is my own personal opinion, I do need to take issue
with a statement you make which I believe is highly misleading.
You say, "I firmly believe that anyone can learn to play the
guitar as well as they want to, if they have the correct information
and use the correct approach." This is simply not true.
There are many journeyman basketball players who work every
bit as hard as Michael Jordan, who maybe use the same practice techniques
as Michael Jordan, who wish they could be as good as Michael Jordan,
who never will. We are all given a certain amount of talent or potential.
I also think that your statement that "anyone can play...as
well as they want to.." seems to make the assumption that
it's all about technique and mechanics. How can you possibly think
this when it is clear that some people have better ears than others,
some have more natural rhythm, some are more naturally creative,
some have less personal baggage.
I once had a student who, when I played two notes a fifth
apart, could not hear which one was higher or lower. We worked
for a year to get to where he could hear differences between notes.
Fortunately, we set very modest goals, and he got a great deal
of satisfaction from hearing music in ways he had never heard
it before. Do you honestly believe he could go as far as he wanted
to, just by learning to move his fingers in a certain way? I believe
this statement can cause potential harm to someone reading it,
who naively believing that they have no limitations, would then
feel that they have failed if they have done all the "correct"
things and still not gotten to where they wanted to.
It could cause a marginally talented person to think they
have done something "wrong" when they have followed
the formula and failed.
Now, the first thing I want you to notice about this teacher's
reaction is his passionate and steadfast opposition to my book,
EVEN THOUGH HE DIDN'T READ IT! Because of what he said, and because
he responded within a few days, I am quite confident he read the
preface, and perhaps glanced through the book. He certainly didn't
give it the time and thought that anyone who is using "The
Principles" knows is required to even BEGIN to see the potential
of this method of approaching the learning process as it relates
He was poised to dis-agree from the beginning. Like most guitar
teachers, he was quite proud of his particular viewpoints (as I
am of mine), and he was ready to assert them as superior to someone
else's, even if he really had no understanding of what someone else's
viewpoint is (a mistake I never make). This teacher is obviously
much more interested in passionately asserting his own viewpoints,
and vehemently disagreeing with a different viewpoint, than in even
UNDERSTANDING what he is dis-agreeing with! He is harshly judging
a different viewpoint, even though he has taken no time or trouble
to know it, or understand it. What do you think would happen to
you if you came in for lessons, and presented him with some "teaching
challenges" he hasn't seen before, and required a different
approach than he is used to using? Do you think he would take the
time and trouble to understand where you were coming from, especially
if he had never seen anyone coming from that place before (which
happens often as the years go by, there are a lot of different types
of people out there!).
You would be labeled as one of those people with very limited "talent"
This ego based, sell-protective "attitude of limitation"
is the primary characteristic you must be on guard against in lessons.
You will be affected by it, you will inherit the legacy of that
limitation, even as the teacher himself suffers it without knowing
it. (This does not mean you cannot learn anything from a teacher
like this, you can learn a lot because they obviously have a lot
of knowledge, you must step carefully however, especially if you
are coming from a different place musically and temperamentally.
The next thing I want you to notice is the statement "we are
all given a certain amount of talent and potential". This is
an extremely arrogant statement. It is the assumption of putting
yourself in the position of not only assessing for someone where
they are (talent), but also how far they will be able to go (potential).
I cannot count the number of great people I have read of, who at
one time or another were told by some "expert" in their
field, that they would never amount to anything, or achieve the
goal they said they would. These people, after wisely ignoring the
judgment placed upon them by some "expert", then went
out and became great in their field, usually achieving something
no one else ever had.
While it may be true that we are all "given" something,
to think that you can judge WHAT that something is, and then judge
what that something can BECOME, is to presume a power that no one
can truly have. Albert Einstein comes to mind first, being so "unusual"
in his mental organization when he was a child, that the people
around him could only conclude he was "retarded". If there
was any lack of ability, it was on the part of others to recognize
the talent and potential that was really there. They couldn't recognize
it, because Einstein's peculiar mental nature didn't fit their pre-conceived
notions of what "intelligence" SHOULD be. His peculiar
mental nature led him to ponder questions no one else had ever thought
of before, such as "what would happen if I sat on a beam of
light and shined a flashlight ahead of me", which led him to
discover the relative nature of space and time. Not too shabby!
To base your teaching approach upon the judgment you have already
made about how far a person can go, is a supreme violation.
For myself, I am interested in the greatness that lies within every
ordinary person. I look for it, I find it, I point you toward it,
and together, we nurture it.
Next: More of what is wrong with this teachers attitude: the latest
scientific discoveries in the field of "expert performance".
Walking Exercises, on the Other Hand!
Okay, you figured it out. There is more to doing those walking
exercises than just the left hand that I showed you. A number of
people wrote to ask about that other hand we use in playing, the
right one. Here's the deal.
I am using just index and middle, playing rest strokes on all six
strings to play them. If you are training yourself for fingerstyle
guitar, practice them that way. Pay special attention to using the
Gradual Pressure Technique to minimize Sympathetic Tension throughout
the right hand and arm while doing the rest strokes.
If you are developing pick technique, play them down-up across all
six strings. Either way, the practice process will involve developing
the 3rd Foundation Exercise, the "Right Hand String Shifting
Exercise". Work the right hand alone, with the metronome, using
the Basic Practice Approach.
I was in a lesson the other day with a new student, and he was doing
such good "slow tempo" practice on this exercise, that
I decided to put a clip of him on the site for you to see. He is
doing it slow, at 60, 2 clicks per beat. We will be using the Basic
Practice Approach over the next few weeks, to work it up to speed.
I will show you the results of that practice later on.
Check it out here
down at the bottom of the page.
Posture On Rock Guitar
I have been making improvements, by reading and practicing the techniques
in your book, however there is one thing that eludes me; Practicing
with proper posture and all when sitting makes a HUGE difference,
but how do you transfer that to the rock guitarist's posture?
I was practicing seated for a few weeks using the lessons in
your book, but when I went to apply this in a band situation, I
noticed that at higher neck positions, my left hand finger's muscles
would tighten up to the point where it was painful. Is there a guideline
for setting the strap length? I would appreciate it. I haven't seen
this topic addressed before. Thanks, Brian S
The strap length may be the factor you would want to experiment
with. Higher is always better. But more important than that is to
understand a few things about practicing and playing, or we could
say, going from the "training process" to the "performance
You see, Brian, if you are standing and playing, you can't expect
to have your motor reflexes reproduce the results you got when you
sat and practiced. They MAY be able to, depending on your level
of development, but I wouldn't assume they would in a performance
situation. Understand this: when we practice, we want to create
the "optimum" learning conditions for the playing mechanism
(motor system). This gives us a foundation for the many variations
of conditions we will actually encounter in playing.
For instance, an opera singer needs to run around the stage and
sing in all kinds of strange body postures, bending over, laying
on the floor, etc. Strict attention to posture and the other variables
that can be controlled to create optimum conditions for the vocal
mechanism while practicing, give the singer more flexibility to
DEPART from those strict conditions if needed.
However, we need to also simulate real life playing conditions,
especially if we are going to be performing soon, and it is going
to be in a different circumstance or setting than our practice provides.
The singer needs to actually EXPERIENCE the running around and laying
on the floor and singing and so forth, so the motor system learns
how to make the necessary adjustments. The better the foundation
that has been established, the easier it is to have a high level
of performance even in conditions that are not optimum. (I can play
things perfectly while standing on one leg that I couldn't even
play at all at one time in my development.)
So, yes, experiment with the strap length, but also realize that
you need to PRACTICE playing while standing up, and perhaps moving
around too, if that is what you will be doing on stage. Practice
playing in those high positions while standing if that is what is
going to be happening when you perform. Use the various tools such
as No Tempo Practice and the Basic Practice Approach while standing.
You'll see a difference.
Begin With Acoustic or Electric?
I am an adult beginner never having taken a guitar lesson. In
fact I don't even have a guitar. My Question is for a beginning
student should I go with an electric or acoustic guitar or does
it make a big difference? I have a little musical background on
piano, and enjoy all styles of music especially rock and country.
Again Thank you for your book and the time you take to help. God
Whether you start with electric of acoustic does make a difference,
but not what people usually think. People usually think electric
is somehow "harder" than acoustic, and perhaps they should
do acoustic first because of that, and do electric later.
I believe you should first do the one you are most excited about.
Technically speaking, they are each equally accessible for a beginner,
(assuming competent instruction). However, the technique is different
in some ways for electric than for acoustic. In general, let this
If your "first goal" is to be able to strum and sing,
do acoustic, and learn the basic chords, and build a repertoire.
All of that will be used when you pick up the electric later on.
If your first goal is to "jam with your friends" in a
band situation, do electric first, learn the blues, power chords,
and the pentatonic scales and common licks. Some of that will be
used when you pick up acoustic later on.
Cramping On Bar Chords
I've played for 28 years and am basically self taught. While I work
full time and have two small children, I don't have much time to practice.
Most of my practice comes in the form of orchestra rehearsal for my
church orchestra, and playing in the worship band every weekend (we
have 2 services on Saturday and 3 services every Sunday morning).
I don't have any problems for this type of playing.
Here is my problem. At Christmas and Easter our Church has very
elaborate programs which we perform 9 to 10 times. I am usually
playing for a full hour during these times, and often day after
day for 3-4 days straight. During the rehearsals and performances
my left hand cramps so bad I often have to stop playing.
The cramping is from barre chords, and occurs just behind the
web between my thumb and first finger. Am I out of shape or playing
incorrectly? Usually the cramping goes away about the time we end
the performances, but last Christmas, I continued to have the cramps.
What am I doing wrong?
Thanks in advance for your time.
It could be a few things, and perhaps a combination of these things.
Here is what I would look at. First, make sure you warm up gradually.
Do about 15 minutes of slow scales, or other mild workouts for the
left hand. I have often experienced having to play something that
demanded a lot of strength, meaning lots of bar chords or a song
in a nasty key like Bb, and not being warmed up. Let me tell you,
it can be "my hand is falling off" time! Especially when
I was playing a 12 string!
So, make sure you warm up.
If that doesn't improve the situation, then look to your technique.
MOST people press way too hard on everything, especially bars. Make
sure you read my essay on bars, on Making
Bar Chords Easy.
The last thing to look at is the guitar. Make sure the action (lowness
of strings, and also the tension, which determines how much force
is needed to press them down) is not unreasonable. You could try
lower tension strings, moving from perhaps light to extra light.
My guess, Doug, would be that it is mainly the second reason, pressing
too hard. If so, your entire technique, from holding the instrument,
to hand and arm position, to exact finger placement, would need
to be examined. And remember: RELAX THOSE SHOULDERS!
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com