Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
Jan 10, 2004 Volume 131
NOTE: Even though the following essay was written with the special intention of instructing teachers, those students practicing without the benefit of a teacher should study it as well, since they are, in effect, their own teacher.
Correct Practice, as all Principled Players know, must fulfill two conditions:
knowing the right thing to do, and then making sure you do it. The first part,
providing the correct knowledge, is my (and every teachers) responsibility. The
second part, making sure the correct things are actually being done, time after
time, repetition after repetition, speed after speed when using The Basic
Practice Approach, this is the job of the student when practicing alone.
However, it is very important for teachers to realize that they cannot take for
granted that a student will be capable of having the intense kind of focus
necessary to insure that the correct thing is actually being done time after
time. This is especially true if a new and unfamiliar skill is being learned,
and even more especially true if a new way of doing something is replacing an
old way. As I have stated in the "Summa Principia", "physical tension induces
mental confusion". The clouds of confusion will be part of the usual climate
conditions surrounding the student's head, as they are constantly challenged to
adapt to higher levels of physical demand in the process of developing guitar
technique, and the teacher must be there to dispel those clouds, and bring the
light of awareness and understanding to the student. In "The Principles", I have
called this "inserting awareness points into stress points".
This means that it is critical that the teacher actually sit there with the
student, metronome in hand, and conduct the Basic Practice Approach, from the
beginning, up to the students' present limit. Along the way, the teacher must
carefully observe the student, and catch every detail of incorrect action that
may arise, and make sure it is corrected before the next speed is attempted. In
this way, we make sure we "bring up the ease", and not the "disease" as we make
each new attempt at a higher speed (and so, make a greater demand on the
body/mind playing mechanism). The teacher must also make sure that the student
understands what went wrong, why it went wrong, when it went wrong, and how it
went wrong. Both teacher and student must be satisfied that the ability to be
aware of, and to fix, wrong actions has been achieved. Then, and only then, can
teacher or student expect that correct practice can take place during the week.
This is what I mean by "Quality Control" during practice. Our ability to conduct
our practice with a high degree of Quality Control is essential. It is the
teacher's job, at each lesson, to discover what is most likely to go wrong during
the process of skill building in which the student will be engaged all week.
I mention this because I believe that all too often the teacher is assuming that
by merely carefully explaining the correct action, and by going over it a few
times, the student will be equipped to conduct correct and powerful practice
over the week. This is manifestly not true, and there are a few reasons why.
First, the student, almost by definition, is still developing the ability for
powerful focus and awareness of the state of the body's relative states of
tension and relaxation, as well as its actual actions during playing. This means
it is extremely easy for there to be things going on of which the student has no
Secondly, we cannot assume that just because a student can perform an action
correctly at a slow tempo, they will be able to maintain correct action as the
tempo increases. There have been times in teaching when I was tempted to make
that assumption, and found, to my horror, that when I asked the student to do a
BPA work-up in front of me, everything went wrong! And that, I realized, is what
would be happening if I had trusted the student to do the right thing at home!
There is a good reason for this, and it is a critical understanding: there are
conditions that present themselves at higher speeds that are not present at
Like a car that is out of alignment and starts to shake to 60 mph, but is fine
at 30 mph, the imperfection will not show itself until sufficient stress is
placed on the system. The imperfection is there no matter what the speed, but it
does not create effects. One of the primary benefits of the Basic Practice
Approach is that it allows us to observe the gradual emergence of the effects of
imperfections in our technique and approach.
So, every error which is going to occur (and they can vary widely with different
students building the same skill), must be discovered in the lesson, before the
student is sent home. They must all be written down in the student's lesson
notebook, and the teacher must, at the next lesson, check each one of those
things to make sure they were tended to during the week of practice. If they
were not tended to, the student's attention must be drawn to them, and the
student's intention to do the right thing during the upcoming week must be
established. (In this, and in all things, the student must clearly understand
what the teacher expects at the next lesson, the teacher must verify that this
understanding has been established, and it must be in writing in the students'
notebook, to be checked the next week).
3 Areas Of Awareness
The students ability to observe the imperfections they must correct will be
fostered in three areas, visual (seeing what is wrong), aural (hearing what is
wrong), and kinesthetic (feeling what is wrong). The teacher must train the
student to see what is wrong, hear the effects of the wrong action in the sound
itself (missing or damaged notes), and, most importantly, to feel the
uncomfortable physical tension that precedes and accompanies the wrong action.
(The student must be trained, over time, to distinguish between the appropriate
and necessary effort that accompanies normal and natural development of the
playing mechanism from the pathological conditions that accompany all the
effects of incorrect practice).
Special attention must be given to precision of rhythm. Distortion of rhythm is
the first effect, in the sound, of physical tension. Constant recording and
playback during lessons will be found to be an extremely powerful training tool.
As with everything else concerning our development as guitarists, our ability to
conduct powerful Quality Control is an ever evolving ability; it increases in
proportion to the microscopic awareness that correct practice continually
engenders. This is the primary reason we practice Beginners Mind, and visit
the bottom of our practice with a given piece of music, no matter how many years
we have played it. In every practice session, our ability to see something new
should be greater than it has ever been. In reality, we are never practicing the
same music twice.
Finally, teachers should realize that even though it is their responsibility to
oversee this process in each student, as they do so, they will be at the same
time, strengthening their own powers of observation and awareness. And so, by
putting out the effort of sitting there and conducting Quality Control through
all the speeds of the Basic Practice Approach, two guitarists will be improving
for the price of one!
Keep In Touch
I have posted a new lesson at TrueFire on the subject of achieving speed in fingerpicking. I suggest anyone working on fingerstyle or classical check it out.
Keep In Touch: Increasing Speed In Fingerpicking
Of Special Interest At GuitarPrinciples
Should I Take Guitar Lessons Should I Or Shouldn't I? Get the lowdown on who needs lessons, when, why, and why not!
Getting to "first base" with guitar. Many students never reach the point where they can strum & sing, sometimes after years of trying. Find out why, and how to remove the 2 biggest obstacles.
Review Is Required! Robert Louis Stevenson said "A man who holds the same views at forty that he did at twenty, is a man who has been stupefied for twenty years!" I say, a person who plays a piece of music at the same level now as he did a year ago, does not know how to practice and does not know how to create vertical growth in their playing ability. Find out why you MUST make review a regular part of your practice.
Jamie Plays! Hear samples from Jamie's CD of Guitar Classics! "Classical Gas", "Yesterday", and more!
A Model Principled Student: Karla Fisher!
While I am extremely proud of the amazing progress and seemingly boundless
enthusiasm that so many players and students (and around here, what's the
difference?!) have been making, I think most of them would agree that there is
one student whose ferocity of Intention is leaving all of our heads spinning!
In fact, even though I have often recommended to students (out of a sincere
regard for their progress) "look, just try to be as much like me as you can
be!), I think I have to (out of the same sincere regard) start changing that to
"look, try to be as much like Karla as possible"!
I mean really, I am starting to get an inferiority complex, I am starting to
feel like an underachiever when I read all of Karla's posts on the forum, and
then I visit Karla's website, where she codifies and makes available all of her
intense, creative, and effective strategies for using The Principles, (and
everything else she comes into contact with), and then I read about her concert
performances, and then I read about the movies she has made of those
performances, and how she is sending them to everybody, and on and on and
on……The scary thing is that this is probably only half of it, she doesn't have
time to tell us about the rest of it, being so busy actually doing all this
Well, I'll tell you, I will gladly move over and yield my place as most
inspirational role model. It will probably be a lot easier for most students to
identify with, and also to access their own power and confidence in themselves,
by studying the efforts of this 11 month old guitar student who I believe, is
new to music as well as the guitar. It is no surprise to discover that Karla is
a very powerful, and a very successful person in life in general, having made
her mark in the computer field. She is a perfect example of something I believe
I said in the "Summa Principia"; what you are as a person is what you will be as
Characteristic of what I call "highly developed people" Karla takes an intense
interest in other people, and spends an enormous amount of time and energy
helping other people on the forum, providing direction and inspiration to all
who ask (and many who don't!). One of her recent innovations/inspirations was
founding the BPA club in the forum, where a number of people pick specific
technical and musical challenges to solve using the Principles and the Basic
Practice Approach, reporting the details of their progress (I believe they have
just rightfully elected her President!)
So, I am sure I speak for many people when I say a big thank you to Karla for
all she has done, and will do. If you would like to meet Karla, just drop by the
Forum. Spending time with "winners" is one of the best ways to become a winner
yourself, and we are all very fortunate to have a winner like Karla on our team!
Some Karla Highlights:
Karla's "Practical Approach of learning the Principles"...This study approach facilitates putting the Principles to use in every day guitar practice. It is intended to give guidance for how much time to spend in studying technique versus theory, repertoire and review. Furthermore it breaks down the foundation exercises in easy-to-follow daily workouts that provide a variety for the student yet still stresses good daily workout habits.
Karla's BPA Club Report:...Karla describes her process of working the Walking Exercises up to 60 in 16th notes using the Basic Practice Approach (with good form, of course!)
Karla Plays Live For You!...Movie clips of the intrepid Karla in performance!
From The Forum....Alin asks,
Reading through my 'Principles' I did not notice any command on when to increase the tempo.
My understanding is that one uses no tempo to learn a motion, then the Basic Practice Approach.
However, if at a certain tempo one is no longer relaxed when executing a movement, or one feels tension in the wrist/ shoulders/ whatever, should you stop and practice that tempo, OR decrease the tempo (Beats Per Minute) to a slower speed where there was no tension and stick to that?
If you become aware of harmful tension when doing a work up with the BPA, the first thing you do is attempt to release that tension at the speed you are presently at. Many times, we can do that simply with more focus (more Attention & Intention). If we are unable to do that, the 2nd thing to do is to stop and do "Bottoms Up", meaning, turn off (or ignore) the metronome, and review the move "no tempo" with great focus on relaxation (including whole body awareness, and breath).
Then, re-try at the previous tempo. If that does not work, you must go back down in tempo to where complete control, and complete verification of that control through focused awareness is possible, and easy, and then proceed to work up through the speeds again, maintaining that awareness at each speed.
Now, sometimes we notice not only tension as a inner sensation, but also a very visible manifestation of that tension in the form of a mis-behaving finger, perhaps our third finger is sticking up in the air in response to an action of the 2nd. A "biggie" like this usually requires an "eradication campaign"; very thorough work ups, with lots of no tempo, over a long period of time.
So, at one end of the spectrum, we may be able to do a "quick fix" on the spot (I call this "auto-correct"). On the other end, for major and intractable technical flaws, we must resort to an extended "eradication campaign". I do them all the time, and they last anywhere from months, to years (yes, there have been things I have changed in my technique that have literally taken me years to accomplish, it doesn't matter to me, as soon as I see the need for a change, I get on it right away, and I don't look back!)
Telling The Key Of A Song....
Can you tell a key of a song by (a) The first chord?
or (b) the fact that
all the chord roots or most of them are in a particular scale?
For instance, Hey Joe is simply C, G, D,
A, E, which are all in the key of A,I think. Does that make it in that key?
Or because it starts with C, the key of C?
Boy, that is a tough question to answer, because unless you understand a lot about music theory, you are not really going to be in a position to
comprehend the answer, and so, most musicians rely on experience, and various rules of thumb to get by (and this is one reason why I am always urging people to undertake a serious study of note-reading/theory, even if it is a long range goal).
You see, the question itself is wrong, and arises from a lack of understanding the whole story. Here is the deal: not all songs are in "major keys". You cannot fit all songs into the harmonic structures we call "major keys". Many songs are based on "modes", which are more "primitive" or less complex structures than major keys. They may be related, or have similarities to major keys, but they are not major keys.
So, this chord progression you mention, is like that, it is not in a major key. If I wanted to put it in the framework of a major key, I would look at it this way: C, G, D is IV, I, V in the key of G, while D, A, E is IV, I, V in the key of A. So, the D chord is serving as a "pivot" between 2 keys, being the V in G, and the IV in A.
This happens often in songs that are written from major scales, they change keys within the song, borrowing chords from other keys temporarily, as well as using chords common to two keys to act as "pivots" to switch in and out of them.
But this song is based viewed as being based on the good old A minor pentatonic, with the notes A C D E and G, which, yes, are the roots of the chords. Use that scale to jam, and you are good to go!
So, we would say it is in "A", but not the "key" of A major, but the "mode" of A Minor Pentatonic (in this case, perhaps, a distinction without a difference!).
But what will make a difference is studying the Mel Bay course on this site, and getting a grounding in basic music theory, learning traditional harmony, which will provide, over time, a framework withing which to understand the kind of things you are asking about.
Without that, as I said, you will have to rely on experience, experiment, and intuition to figure out what is going on in the music you play (for instance, does the first chord give you the key? Often yes, and sometimes no, but I cannot give you simple rules to determine that).
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com