Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
6, 2002 Volume 97
Working Full Time & Finding Practice Time
I have been reading most of the stuff you have been sending me...I
live and work in india and of late the pressures at work have made
me kind of overlook my practice schedules with guitarplaying....i
am too tired mentally to sit down and give it my all...wondering
if you could give some tips on rejuvenating my mind before every session
Yes, Hobby, that is a real issue for all of us. I have always hated
practicing when I am tired, so I have always arranged my life, from
my teenage years, so that I am never tired! I do that by taking
a nap every day.
I learned early on to divide my time so that I slept on period of
5 or six hours at night, and 1 or 2 hours during the day. This keeps
me at maximum energy to practice to about 2 in the morning, which
is what I did for many years. Now, of course, that will not fit
everyone's lifestyle, but sometimes it didn't fit mine either, when
I had a fixed teaching schedule, or one period in my life when I
actually had to work a job that required one full day a week (the
other days were half days).
I would work in even a 15 minute nap, and that would simply rejuvenate
my energy enough to avoid feeling completely unable to concentrate
for practice. I would sleep in the car between lessons when I drove
to students, whatever I had to do. My nap was (and is) sacred to
me, because my ability to work productively throughout the day and
night depend on it. One time I worked in a supermarket, and used
my 15 minute break for a 15 minute nap. Even if you don't fall asleep,
you consciousness lowers, and can be remarkably refreshing. This
technique is taught to high level executives in major corporations,
by the way, and some even provide "napping rooms" for
their employees, because they realized this is one of the cheapest
and most effective ways to boost productivity. Winston Churchill
(an enormously productive individual) once said "I recommend an afternoon nap in order to obtain
the most from the human structure", so, we are in good company!
I was surprised when I was doing some research for an essay on achieving
expert performance to find that this practice was found to be common
among high achievers in various disciplines. Here is an excerpt
from my essay "It's A Jungle Out There" that addresses
From "It' A Jungle Out There":
The report goes on to talk about how expert performers
will generally arrange their lives so that they can practice at
least 4 hours a day, and will arrange an afternoon nap so that evening
hours can be utilized for more practice. This is exactly what I
did when I was young. I took a nap after school, and later after
my part time job and spent the rest of the time practicing the guitar
and studying music. No, I didn't keep up my grades in other subjects,
and just got by as well as I could. I felt I had started guitar
and music late (age 14) for my goals. I had no musical training
as a child, and felt a great pressure to prepare myself to be able
to do music for a living. So, I would never allow anything to stand
in the way of my practice, and made many sacrifices because of it,
but I was determined that it would be guitar first, and everything
else about life second. That is how people act when they REALLY
want something. If I had had the advantage of the kind of training
that I can now provide for people, I would have made incredibly
better progress in half the time, but you do what you have to do!
(Would that have made me do my homework? Probably not!)
Tension At Lower Frets
When I do the exercises " all aboard" , "the ladder"
, "the butterfly" and so, it's almost ok at the 7th fret
but when i try to move them, let's say to the first fret i have some
difficulty with thumb and fingers keeping them at the right angle,
the first fret seems to be to far to hold my fingers with the knuckles
at the right angle towards the strings, I'm sitting with my left foot
up some books like shown on your picture "sitting positions" I feel I'm not relaxed when it comes to fretting at the first frets. I
feel something is wrong cause the difference in tension at 7th and
1st fret is enormous.
Can you give me some advise?
All the best,
No, nothing is wrong. The difference in the requirements for hand
strength and stretch from the 7th to the 1st fret IS enormous, and
usually underestimated, as you are doing, so a student thinks something
is wrong. My student Jim who comes in once a month from Chicago thought
he had genetically inferior hands because his left hand got nowhere
in a year and a half of lessons he had taken before coming to me.
It has taken him about six months to get really comfortable and strong
with good form at the 1st fret, carefully working those exercises
down the neck, on the lookout for loss of form and extra tension.
Of course, his hand has developed wonderfully as anyone's will who
does things the right way. So, be patient, only push the demand on
the hands a bit at a time, give them time to adjust, as well as giving
the entire body the time to learn to be relaxed while the hands are
meeting those increased demands of strength and stretch.
This is your chance to change your life as a guitarist, as Rick
from Belgium did over the summer, after taking the workshop and
a private lesson:
I wanted to give you some post-lesson feedback. It's been about
a month since the workshop and our 3 hours of lesson time. I want
you to know I'm really reaping the rewards of your one-on-one instruction
In the left hand, I immediately felt 100% more control of bends
and vibrato, suddenly I have a "mature" sound. Now my
fingers have quieted down and stay close to the strings. I'm so
much faster and feel less stress, and less stress leads to more
endurance, etc. It's a long chain of trickle down effects that's
hard to sum up in words. I just know that being shown how to do
everything technically correct, is saving me a lot of growing pain.
It's cool - I feel I'm learning new riffs much faster!
My picking technique is also much improved, I'm faster and have
accuracy like never before which I notice in string skipping riffs
and arpeggios. It's a powerful feeling to know you can hit the string
you have in mind. Using the metronome and learning 1/4, 1/8, and
1/16 notes tuned me in to rhythm. You must play with intention!
I look forward to continuing this journey to mastering the guitar.
Thanks for setting me off with the right principles.
Shortly after your lessons I had to stop playing for 4 days because
of travel hassles. I had been suffering from some tendonitis in
each elbow before the rest period, but afterward it was gone. Since
I've begun again, using your method, I've been practicing more,
but feel no new occurrences of the tendonitis. I think it's the
I'm a new man.
Thanks VERY much - Rick
the Week and a Lifetime
The highest responsibility you have is to your own potential.
of Your Potential!
You could be saying what Adam said after receiving "The Principles
of Correct Practice For Guitar":
Thanks for the book, Ive had it since june.
I have played the guitar for about 15 years. All that's in the book
is what I have been looking for all these years. I have played for
teachers and other friends that plays the guitar. No one has ever
told me anything about how to practice even if I asked them. The answer
has of course many time been "-play slow at first". But
not like the way you describe in your book.
After reading the book I have really really improved my playing and
the way I practice. It´s like a new world to step into.
I got one of your recent newsletters and actually finally read
it.The article was "MAKING IT". It was really a great
article. I actually feel better about playing the guitar and continuing
this journey that I embarked on 3 years ago.
What is really strange is that every time I hit a hard place which
is like every couple of weeks, I encounter some ray of hope that
pulls through to continue. I personally believe that it is God who
is trying to keep me going in music. I thank you for all your help
in this journey.
Fellow aspiring musician,
Just wanted to say thanks for your continued generosity in writing
these newsletters. It's funny how they often seen to arrive at just
the right moment.
I've been playing 30 years, and play rather well in many people's
eyes, and can work on a fairly high level. For example, when the
symphony here needs guitar, they call me (which has led to such
things as playing with Pavorotti and the entire orchestra - an awesome
However, though it seems impressive to some folks, playing a job
like that really only requires owning a tux, showing up on time,
remaining confident while surrounded by seriously good musicians.
Anyway, to get back to why I wanted to thank you: despite a certain
measure of musical "success" (and hey, certain amount
of musical failure too! <g>) my particular weakness has long
been a recurrent feeling of hopelessness about improving. It began
many years ago, when one day I suddenly realized that not only did
I have no idea how to get any better, my efforts were making things
So I continued to play for money, but for some years I didn't try
to improve at all, because I didn't want to go backwards (paradoxical,
isn't it?). You could say I gave up. And as you just wrote, when
you do that, you "live with some degree of torment about it"
and I can attest that that is true.
Your book came along a few years ago at time when I was really searching
again for answers to this dilemma, and immediately I knew it was
right. I already knew locked-in tension was a problem for me (I
started playing with symphony-level musicians at 15 or 16, way before
I was really ready, but at that time a guitar player who could read
at all could get the gig).
The book linked up with other things I'd known for years, like Roberts
Robert's dictum to "practice so slow it is impossible to make
a mistake." I knew that was right in 1975, but never understood
just how slow "slow" really meant. I mean, he said it:
"so slow it is impossible to make a mistake" but somehow
never understood until seeming it laid out in your book with metronome
markings. Four clicks per note at MM-60?!? Or slower if necessary
- "so slow it is impossible to be tense!" Duh! Why couldn't
I see the obvious for so long?
To close, even these days, with a much better idea of how to practice,
I often fall back into the old habit of feeling that nothing is
really going to help and that my playing is stuck. On those days,
you could say that I've heard the truth, but don't really know it
("To Know and Not Do is to Not Know) but it really is remarkable
how your essays show up with the right inspirational message at
just the right time.
It is obvious these essays cost you time and effort. A mega-media
corporate bean-counter would say don't bother, why spend time and
effort on people who -already- bought your product? But I say the
essays are in many ways more valuable than the product I bought,
because they help keep people like me on track and reminded to keep
looking for the truth in our own path and our own playing.
In a mega-media corporate bean-counter world, I'm been amazed again
and again that you continue to take the trouble to write them and
send them out free, and today I thank you for the help they've been.
PS. If any of that sounds like the kind "gushing" that
guy was complaining about, so be it. And as far as "cult-like":
no. I think your central theme is the opposite of any kind of cult
and could be stated as "Learn to see yourself and your playing
directly, as it is. Stop waiting for someone with a magic wand to
appear. Forget about magic and do simple, basic things at a deeper
level than you ever imagined possible. Decide for yourself how simple
and deep you want to be."
MEL BAY STUDY
GROUP: Key of A minor
Following is the latest "Checkpoint" from our ongoing
Mel Bay Study Group. It is a topic of major importance to all musicians,
so I have deemed it appropriate to bring to everyone's attention
in the newsletter. It deals with the relationship between major
keys and minor keys, and the 3 forms of the minor scale. This subject
is in the category of "only vaguely comprehended by a large
number of students", as are many aspects of music theory. This
is because the subjects are often incompletely and almost casually
introduced, and not reviewed and expanded on as time goes on.
Remember, to learn something successfully, you must use it right
away, and begin to make your own connections with the material by
applying it to everything you do, and all new things you know. From
here on in, you should always know when you are playing in a minor
key, why it is minor, and what form of the minor scale is being
Following is a lesson
on the fundamentals of understanding the minor tonality. If the
links or images don't appear you can access it on the site.
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com