Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
9, 2001 Volume 59
Knowledge of Results
My problem is that I can't tell whether I am practicing a song properly,
or whether it really is too difficult for my level. In other words
how do I know what I should be able to do and what I
should be stretching to next?
That is an easy one, but nonetheless your dilemma is quite common.
The root of your problem is that you are missing the one most essential
ingredient there is when it comes to improving in any motor skill,
or in fact, any effort in life: you are not receiving what is called "knowledge of results" or feedback from your efforts.
Now, in your case, which is simply wanting to know if you are really
adequately meeting the requirements of the music you have chosen
to work on, it is quite simple to receive this feedback.
I will give you the steps for doing so. Whether you take the steps
is another question, because taking these steps can be very emotionally
upsetting, which is why most people tend not to do so. I had to
force myself to take them at one time, and now I force all my students
to do so. It is the only way.
Here are the steps:
1) Record yourself playing the music in question. If your goal is
to master the whole song, you must record the whole song. However,
you can modify these steps for individual passages.
2) Play a professional recording of the song immediately afterward.
If it is an original song from your favorite band, play that. If
it is just a solo from a song, play that.
3) Compare yourself with the recording. Are all the notes there?
Is the timing right? Are the tone and feel good? For this step,
you must have what I call "the fearless honesty". Most
of us don't have it, we have to develop it. The "fearless honesty"
is the ability to actually be aware of yourself and what you are
doing, without avoiding the parts you don't like, or changing things
around to make the picture a little rosier. All truly good musicians
and artists have this.
The only way to begin to develop it is when you have begun to feel
that you are CAPABLE of changing bad things about your playing.
Until you feel that, you won't allow yourself to become aware of
the bad things about your playing. That, of course, is why everyone
needs to learn what practicing is.
4) If you have gotten this far, this is where your work begins.
This is where, through proper practice, you close the gap between
what you put on tape, and what the real deal is.
Now, if you have taken these steps, and you sound as good as the
original, then the answer to your question is "yes are practicing
properly and this music is within your abilities. If there is a
wide gap (there usually is), then, you begin to practice. If, after
a few weeks, you re-do these steps and there IS an improvement,
then, again, the answers are yes, you are on track.
If there is no improvement, the answer is no, you are not practicing
properly, and the music may very well be beyond you at this time.
But the thing I want you to realize Jim, is that if you don't know
how to work on something so that it improves, than essentially,
everything that is above your present level of Vertical Growth will
remain out of your reach.
Also, the way of thinking you are using by saying "what I should
be able to do" is incorrect and unproductive. There is no "should"
about it. Whatever you ARE able to do is exactly what you SHOULD
be able to do based on what you actually DO when you practice. What
you THINK you should be able to do is based on various ideas and
beliefs you have gathered along the way, usually by comparing yourself
with others, and then making demands upon yourself to measure up.
Forget all that, and pay attention to reality, not your beliefs
I suspect from your question that you usually feel that you are
not doing the music justice. Hopefully. you are ready to take the
approach I have outlined, and come to an accurate and realistic
assessment of your playing. As the psychiatrists used to say in
the old movies "the very fact that you realize you have a problem
is the first step in solving it". Too corny for me to say,
How Much Time Should I Spend On Foundation Exercises?
I received your book and devoured it cover to cover right away.
It really gave me some inspiration to have a better approach to
my practicing. I would like to ask you a question as I am trying
to write my weekly practice routines.
I have been playing a couple of years and I am only growing "horizontally" which is why I ordered your book. I concentrate on playing electric
blues so my practice time has been divided into 3 general areas:
1.) blues rhythm and lead. 2.) theory and learning sight reading.
3.) playing general songs I know.
Obviously I want to incorporate your principles into my practice
routine. I'm very serious about practicing and I do so for about
2 hours a night.
How much time should I spend daily working on your drills and how
can I incorporate them into the material I already know without
starting over? Any help would greatly be appreciated. I think your
book is really going to be good for me. Thanks.
Here are my thoughts. First, make sure you read my two essays "Changing
Bad Habits", and "Practice
Second, the fact that you are making a weekly practice schedule
is very good. Keep that up. As you go along, you will get better
at seeing what works and what doesn't in terms of choosing the material
you are working on, and in how much time to allocate.
Third, get rid of the idea that there is something wrong with starting
over. I start over every day. I find things that need improvement
in my fingers that have been there since I started playing, 32 years
ago! I just never recognized that they were flaws, or that it was
possible to change them.
Fourth, make sure that the finger action you are supposed to develop
from the left hand exercises is actually incorporated into your
technique, when, for instance, you are playing major scales. If
you never use the 4th finger, and stay exclusively with pentatonic
scales, then this does not apply. I will assume, since you are using
my book, that you desire a more comprehensive development of the
left hand. Check out my demonstration of the walking exercises done
at 60 bpm (16th's), and then at 120. Can you do that? If not, get
Other than that, make sure that the total body "relaxation-in-action" that I always advocate is being developed in your playing. Any playing
demands that cause a breakdown in playing are happening because
of un-located tensions, and these must be located, and worked on
using The Basic Practice Approach. Make sure you are doing that.
I know many people don't. Don't be one of these people!
Spanish Romance Help
I was very happy with the number of people who purchased "Practice
Secrets for Spanish Romance" in just the first week of its
release. As with everything I do, I want to make sure you get the
full benefit of this instructional product. So, I will be providing
further aids to helping you use all the material contained therein.
On the first page, I described a practice technique using The Gradual
Pressure Technique for training the right hand properly, so that
it is able to play the arpeggios with the necessary flow and relaxation.
I have made a video clip of this, and you should check it out, whether
you are working with Romance or not. Here's the link.
Also, for those working with it, make sure you write and ask me
about anything you are having trouble with.
"It's great to be able to do two things at a time, it's even
greater to be able to do one thing at a time." Jamie Andreas
Massive Confrontation of Confusion Worldwide!
I think I have noticed a change in The Force! The world is spinning
just a little bit steadier since my last essay called "Confront
Your Confusion". Apparently, I struck quite a nerve, judging
from the responses! I thought I would, I have to say. In my experience,
the mental and emotional dynamics I discussed are the primary reason
people do not make progress in various endeavors in life, and those
dynamics are of such a subtle nature it really is quite an achievement
to begin to recognize, and then transcend them within ourselves.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in their appreciation, it really does
mean a lot to me. Here are some reader responses:
Although we've never met, I consider you my Mentor. Your lessons
and teachings have helped me find Truth and Beauty in guitar playing
~~~ through which I've extrapolated many parallels to my non-guitar-playing
Life. Your gift of communication and compassion has helped me walk
through many doors (and break several windows!) I'm forever in your
debt! You've influenced me more that I can possibly say in words...
(Excuse me while I go wash-off my nose!)
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! :) ...........Benjamin
Thank you for your emails, my philosopher-guitarist. Much that
you write is as applicable to life as it is to the guitar. (I'm
an Advil-generation player limited, among other things, by Mother
Nature but loving the guitar.) Your essay in response to the "con-fused"
player contains such
wisdom that I'm giving it to a friend stuck in the cycle of a recurring
With much gratitude, Mathilda
Jamie - You are truly wise. Thanks for sharing your insights
into the mechanics not only for playing guitar, but more importantly,
for living a complete, satisfying life. Your principles are ones
we ALL can use in ALL aspects of our lives to make them better.
You are an inspiration to us all.
Just read the essay on confusion. I wanted to say thanks to Jamie
for Verbal Event Analysis - it's a real gem!! Something new to put
into my armory for practicing. I believe I have something tangible
here which I can use for life......a real empowering technique.
Cheers!!! Just on my second reading of your book, I may need a few
more before it sinks in. Keep up the good work, look forward to
Again, thanks to everyone who wrote in. When you are in the business
of communicating, there is no greater pleasure than to know that
the communication was received.
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com