Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
27, 2003 Volume 121
Becoming The Music
"I want to become the music!" I shouted, after running
around the house to let off steam from my excitement. I had just
finished a practice/play session, learning the first couple of songs
in my new guitar playing life, age 14. The songs were by my idol,
Bob Dylan. That last practice session was, up to that time, my most
intense experience of the great power there was in music, and the
great pleasure there was in being a person who could play music.
So, after running around the house, I came upon one of my brothers
in his room, as I shouted at him, and declared quite triumphantly,
"I want to become the music."
Of course, he shared my enthusiasm. I believe his reply was, "Umm,
Why do we play music? What is the root, the fundamental thing we
are really doing when we play and practice music?
We play music because a great desire has been awakened in us; and
that great desire is to become the music. It is this desire, which
for some is a mild prompting to explore such a possibility, and
for others an overwhelming urge and need to possess completely the
ability to become the music, that makes us pick up our instrument
to practice and play. Fundamentally, when we practice and play,
we are in the process of becoming the music.
The world needs such individuals, who devote themselves to becoming
music, because the world needs music. It must have it, there is
no doubt about it. And so, being devoted to developing ourselves
as worthy to become our music so that we may offer it to the world,
it is important to understand what we are really doing, or perhaps
what we should be doing, so that we may really, and completely,
become the music.
We must understand the word "become." What is it to become
anything? It is to "be," so that what we desire will "come."
It is to so dispose ourselves that we create the conditions, inside
and outside, for something to come into being. That is what it is
to "become" something. If I want to "become" a
doctor, I have to do certain things so that the condition, in which
I will be a doctor, will become a reality. So the things I must do
are the things necessary for it to "come." So, in the process
of becoming a doctor, you will see me do things like going to school,
studying hard, and so forth. Similarly, there are certain things we
do to become the music. The whole question, really, for musicians,
is how to "be" so that the music is able to "come."
For myself, I often learn the hard way. I have seen firsthand some
of the ways you don't want to be if you want the music to come! I
remember when I first started to perform. I was in the middle of a
big concert, and I forgot the music! I was really mad, and totally
embarrassed. I tried to start again from the beginning, but I hit
this same spot and had a blank where the music was supposed to be!
The reason was very simple: in my practice, I did not completely become
that music. I had become it up to a point, but not far enough. I learned
from that experience the importance of one particular aspect of becoming
the music: becoming the music in a mental way, that is, knowing the
music, note for note, consciously and clearly, so we could say the
notes and fingers if need be. That is one of the aspects of becoming
the music, one of the things we must do.
This mental "knowing" aspect of becoming the music is different
for various styles. You certainly don't need to know all the names
of the notes you are playing if you are just strumming and singing,
for instance! You will simply have to know the chord shapes, and the
order they come in. All the styles of music range in complexity from
very simple, like strumming and singing, to staggeringly complex,
as in classical guitar. In the concert I mentioned, I was playing
a fairly complex piece of 20th century music on the classical guitar,
and I needed to have the note by note awareness always necessary for
a classical guitarist. But, even if you are a non-reading rock guitarist,
you still must have the appropriate mental conception of your music
- every guitarist does - as appropriate to the demands of the style.
For instance, a rock guitarist may not think in terms of note names,
but they will be thinking in terms of scale and chord shapes, as well
as other finger patterns. They will have a sense of the form of the
song. They need to do whatever is necessary to know, consciously and
clearly, where they are in the song.
One other aspect of becoming the music is also common to all styles
of music, although the degree needed will range from moderate to extreme,
and that is our oneness with the physical process of becoming the
music. Depending on the technical sophistication of the music we play,
our need to commune with our bodies as they function on the instrument
will vary. The higher the technical demand, the more need there is
to commune with the body during practice, during the becoming of that
music on a physical level. When something is new for us, the demand
for our attention in this area is always great. That is why Principled
Players understand two things: mishandling of the physical aspect
of playing is what effectively prevents most people from beginning
the process of becoming the music, and the continued development of
awareness in this area is a mandatory part of creating vertical growth
in our playing, regardless of our stage of development.
When we practice, the music itself is imprinted into our bodies, that
is why we sometimes say, "I have this piece of music in my fingers
now." It is repetition, with focus, that imprints the music into
our bodies, that enables us to "become the music" on a physical
level. We usually call this "muscle memory," and there are
pieces my body knows so well that, if I had another set of hands to
type with, I could be playing them while I write this!
The one area that does not vary, the one way in which we must become
the music with the utmost fervor, no matter what style we play, no
matter how simple or complex the music might be, is, of course, the
emotional dimension of our involvement with the music. Our emotional
connection to the music is the crux of the matter (still, as players,
we must realize there can be no expression of the emotional connection
until the physical connection is achieved). Our emotional connection
to the music is what we are really communicating to people when we
play, and that is what, ultimately, they want to receive when they
receive our music. They want to know, they want to experience their
emotional selves, and that is done through another emotional self
breathing life into the music. We cannot breathe life into the music
when we play unless we have breathed the music into our beings when
we practice. This is why I am always emphasizing the complete focus
of attention during practice, focus on the physical, mental and emotional
The music exists first as a thought in our minds. This thought then
unites with the desire and the emotional feeling for the music. At
that moment, the music is literally "breathed into" the
body. The energy taken in through the breath drawn with feeling for
the music, is what brings the music into our bodies so that it may
be given life, through the action of the muscles and bones of our
body. This is the process of synthesis and synchronization that takes
place as we become the music during practice and playing. This is
why various dysfunctions of breathing, such as holding or constricting
the breath, are so common with players, especially while playing whatever
is most difficult for us. Fundamentally, problems in playing, and
their continued existence, can be seen as a failure to properly breathe
in the music. The music cannot be placed in our bodies without the
synchronization process, mediated by the breath, that takes the thought
and understanding of the music, and synthesizes it with the emotional
feeling for the music, and results in the physical power to play the
It is interesting and important to realize that we must, at times,
experience and focus on the physical aspect of playing by itself,
relating to the music in only a technical way, without emotion. Equally
important, at other times we must relate to the music with only our
emotional selves, with only a background awareness of the physical
element of playing. There are also times we must measure our attention
in different degrees to each while playing. Sometimes our music wants
playing, sometimes practice.
Great musicians devote their lives to becoming their music. The
greatest music requires this lifetime devotion in order to be fully
manifested by an individual. For instance, it has been said of the
Bach Chaconne in D minor (considered by many musicians including
Johannes Brahms to be the greatest piece of music ever written for
a single instrument), "Do not perform it in public before the
age of fifty." It takes that long to become deep enough as
a person to match the depth of the music.
I have two recordings of Julian Bream playing the Chaconne. One,
made in his twenties, is quite careful and controlled, the notes
are there, but not much else. The other one, made in his 60's, is
phenomenal; for me, is THE interpretation by a guitarist of this
masterpiece. The growth in Bream, with the Chaconne, is quite evident.
It takes time and great devotion to reach these heights with our
music. The challenge of performing our music makes us put this time
and devotion into our music. That is why Segovia recommended performing
a piece for a year or so before recording it, to "burnish it
Whatever style of music we play, and whatever level of playing
we are at, the process is essentially the same, and we must meet
the demands of becoming the music. The first demand is the desire
for the music itself, the desire to hear it, think it, and feel
our bodies make it. We should hunger for our music, and go to our
instrument to satisfy that hunger. And we should feel a joy and
a satisfaction when we do so. To feel this hunger is a special calling
that we honor by giving all of the best of ourselves. As we do,
we become the music more and ever more completely, always seeing
something new, always feeling something new, always finding the
deeper we go, the deeper it gets.
From Michigan to New York on the Road to Guitar Ability!
I had one of my most satisfying teaching experiences lately, teaching
Howard, who drove from Michigan to New York for two lessons with
Right before turning 50, which I call "now or never time,"
Howard decided he had to become "really good guitarist."
He has had two and a half years of lessons and been through three
teachers, and it was clear to both of us that he needs to continue
looking for a competent teacher back in Michigan.
Howard has the best attitude in the world, is totally in love with
the guitar, and his dream is to "play really really well, and
have people pay to hear me play." His sincerity and willingness
to practice and follow directions is touching, and so I was particularly
upset that he has received so little effective teaching in the time
he has been taking lessons.
Although he could strum chords, and even change them fast enough
to do a song, he did not know one song! After all this time, he
was still not making music. I explained to him that he was like
a bicycle, except that all the parts were lying on the floor disassembled,
instead of being put together. So, even though all the parts were
there, nobody was going to be able to hop on and take a ride!
And so, even though we did work on some important technical issues,
my main advice for Howard was to begin the process of "becoming
the music." Build a repertoire, learn one song solid (we chose
"Blowin' in the Wind" and). Simple, basic skills, like
strumming and singing, and starting on the right voice note had
never been addressed. After getting this one song solid, I told
him to learn three songs solid, then ten. Then, play for people.
This is how you become a musician. Every teacher should be making
sure their students are building a repertoire, and using it! If
you are not, you are not doing your real job: building guitarists
Howard has plenty of talent for guitar, and with proper instruction,
will have no trouble fulfilling his dreams. It was a real thrill
to see his face light up as I taught him his first blues lick! As
the music began to emerge, (after carefully working up the lick
for about 20 minutes with the Basic Practice Approach), he knew
that he can achieve his goals, like the rest of us, with two things:
the right information and the right approach.
I hope to see Howard again, and when I do, I want to hear those
FREE Mp3 Download: Tremelo Study in Am by Carcassi!
I remember seeing Jose Feliciano on TV when I was a kid. He played
something that blew me away, I had never heard anything like it
Years later, when I learned this piece, I recognized it as the
piece he had played: Get
Dear Jamie, Why Are You So Mean?
Your emails have helped a lot, and I appreciate them, but
I have but one complaint.
There is something about your emails that bug me. In just about
every one of them, somebody will complain about how their lessons
are unfulfilling, and you will begin to criticize their teacher.
It's one thing to say that they're wrong, that you disagree with
their technique of teaching, but when you assign attributes like
laziness and greed, you demean them and yourself. Maybe they are
lazy and greedy, but is it your place to say so? Do you know for
sure, or are you speculating? Even if experience has taught you
that there's a 99% chance of it being true, are you their judge?
Anyway, just my thoughts. You don't need to prove yourself. Your
work speaks for itself. The cream rises to the top without a word
of criticism about the milk. Again, thanks.
Well, that is an interesting line of reasoning, and not unusual,
I have certainly heard it before!
Now, let me get this straight. You appreciate the value of my work,
but you are afraid that I am demeaning myself by giving my opinion
about the motivations of other teachers. I believe that is a cogent
summary of your message to me.
First, I will answer your question on the easy points:
Q: "Maybe they are lazy and greedy, but is it your place to
Q: Do you know for sure, or are you speculating?
A: Both. I know for sure from the thousands of students I have had
over the years, and the horror stories I hear on a daily basis,
and the crippled students I see as well. I also know because of
personally knowing so many teachers, many of whom actually admit
that "they don't really care enough to make an effort to learn
how to teach." Why should they, the money is the same either
Why on earth would I be concerned that my opinion may be wrong one
time out of a hundred? If, for instance, a teacher were teaching
badly for many years not because of laziness or greed, but from
simple stupidity or incompetence, what difference does it make?
Should I include "stupid and incompetent" along with "lazy
and greedy" just to cover myself, so that I am always 100%
correct? And if anyone can tell me any other reason besides the
ones I have mentioned that will explain why so many teachers can
teach year after year with so little result from so many students,
and never attempt to do anything about it, please tell me.
Q: Are you their judge?
Just as you have the freedom to make any judgment about me, which
you have done in telling me I am doing something wrong when I criticize
the way I do, I am free, as is everyone, to form opinions and express
them. In America, we call it "freedom of speech." So,
just as you are taking advantage of your freedom to be my judge,
I freely do so with others.
Oh, and I have no idea what makes you think I am trying to "prove
myself" by my criticisms. It is the furthest thing from my
It is important to realize that I would not, and could not, do
the work I do if I did not have an extreme passion about music,
and about teaching others to be musicians and guitarists. The height
of my joy at seeing excellent teaching and learning taking place
is matched only by the depth of my contempt for its opposite. I
don't care what business you are in, if you are taking people's
money and not delivering the product, you deserve to be condemned.
I am creating a revolution in this area, and I don't have time for
tact. I don't believe the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions,
of suffering students out there have the time either.
I hope I have given you a place to put it all, R.C. Thanks for
your comments and concern, I appreciate them. At the very least,
you can think of it this way: I once was trying to get my mother
to stop worrying needlessly about my brother when he was going through
some difficult times. Then, I realized how ridiculous it was. I
realized that the same thing that makes a mother able to love with
the intensity required to put up with raising kids, is the same
thing that makes them unable to not worry, needless though it may
be, when there is trouble. One thing may seem a bit unnecessary,
or even inappropriate, but you can't have the one without the other,
it just doesn't work that way, it is part of the package!
My teacher gave me a piece to work on. We'd spent 2-3 weeks on it
but I wasn't getting the hang of it. My teacher said in the lesson,
"I thought you'd have learnt this by now - you've had all this
time." I was very upset. I felt that his next comment was going
to be, "And you're obviously not up to learning the guitar
after all!" It's a horrible feeling.
So I went back to the Principles- I went through it really slowly,
following it to the letter and testing myself for relaxation over
and over again. I was beginning to be aware of a new sensation in
my right arm- lack of tension! It stayed beautifully relaxed. The
piece sounded the way my teacher used to play it! I couldn't believe
I think genius is the ability to take something very complex and
state it in new way which sounds so simple and obvious that we can
all easily understand it. So obvious sometimes that we think we
already knew it-maybe somewhere deep down we did but it's the job
of the genius to point it out.
Your genius has created the Principles and I thank you.
Book Review: "Classic Guitar Technique" by Aaron Shearer
This method, which is now about 50 years old, is still my choice
when it comes to training beginning classical guitarists. The reason
is very simple: unlike so many methods that are trying to entertain
or impress you with lovely little pieces you will struggle with
and play badly, this method is actually interested in giving you
the essential techniques you need as a classical guitarist.
This is especially true of the right hand. Shearer, in this book,
has made a very fine attempt to break down right hand technique
and present it in an orderly, step by step fashion, giving the fingers
a much better chance of "getting it" as they go along.
For instance, free stroke is broken down, presented at first very
simply on two strings, and later, progressively developed to include
thumb movements, free stroke on the same string (tremolo), and then
2 notes together, then 3, then 4. Integration of the thumb with
fingers for striking full chords is also treated separately.
Right hand formulas for fingers rest stroke/thumb free, and how
to play melodies rest stroke with one finger while other fingers
are doing free stroke are also treated in and orderly fashion.
The left hand is given a good course of development as well, as
all the basic finger formulas for thirds and sixths and tenths are
All techniques are learned by studying very pleasing little "etudes"
of the author's composition.
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material copyright © 2000-2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com