Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
IN THIS ISSUE
Jan 2, 2005 Volume
It has been said "virtuosity is in the mind". That is true. However, it is
also true that virtuosity is in the body. In practice, we must know how to use the mind to train the body, as well as
how to allow the body to train the mind. We will look at a way of doing both.
In "The Principles", I have defined practice as "knowing the
right thing to do, and making sure you do it", and that is a true and most useful definition. But it is a little like
defining how to win a football game as "getting more touchdowns than the other team". It is mostly good for letting
you know to look out for whether it is happening or not; it doesn't quite tell you how to do it! Both parts of the
definition of practice pose enormous challenges; figuring out the right thing to do, and then getting our fingers to
do it! The Foundation Exercises in The Principles begin the process of educating the fingers as to the right way to do
the most basic functions on guitar. As we progress on guitar, we find ourselves in an ever expanding series of playing
situations, in many of which we find we have no clue as to the right thing to do! Our only choice then, is
experimentation and analysis, and/or seeking help.
The person beginning to learn "The Principles" learns many fundamental concepts that serve as the foundation for
more sophisticated practice procedures. Two of these are "stress points", and "awareness points". A "stress point" is
a discrete move within a passage that causes us physical tension, with its associated mental tension, withdrawal of
awareness from the body, and the stopping of the breath. They are what most people simply call "the hard parts".
Hitting them during playing is like hitting a pothole while driving; hit one big enough, and you might very well be
stopped dead in your tracks (and in guitar playing land, potholes are all over the place for everybody!) In any case,
going down the same road and hitting the same potholes gives you a pretty shaky jalopy after awhile. There are two
remedies for this situation: either find a way of repairing the pothole, or find a better road to take that still gets
you where you want to go.
With correct practice, we repair potholes in playing by replacing "stress points" with "awareness points". We
do this in a variety of ways. If we are lucky, we may untangle the knot of tension in a stress point by the simple
expedient of practicing slowly, with extreme attention to the body, and working the passage up through the tempos
using the Basic Practice Approach ("The
Principles Of Correct Practice For Guitar", p.74 ) Very often, and especially for those new to the process,
playing problems will magically disappear as unfelt tensions become conscious, and replaced by a new, relaxed way of
moving. The reason it happens often with players new to correct practice is because most of their problems are caused
by tensions locked into the muscles through all their time spent playing with unawareness. So, stress points are
relatively easily replaced with awareness points.
However, there are also many times when the problem is not occurring because of how we are doing what we are
doing on the guitar. Often, the problem is occurring because of what we are doing; we are simply doing the
wrong thing! This is when we need to find a new road to take. The way we have arranged our moves, our fingering, the
exact configuration of forces that we are bringing to bear on the strings, right and left hands, is not sufficient or
appropriate in order to obtain what we are attempting to obtain, at least not at the speed we are attempting it. And
so, all of the movements and conditions of the playing process must be examined and re-evaluated to determine where
the trouble is coming from, and a new approach must be developed, applied, and evaluated.
In "The Deeper I Go, The Deeper It Gets",
I explained that a player must regard a note differently than a listener. To a player, a note, in addition to the
actual sound we hear, is also the entire set of events that are "causes" of the "effect" we call the note. When we are
having trouble it means that we are producing unknown causes, and those causes are creating unwanted results. We must
strive to make all of our "causes" known, and to learn what "causes" will produce the effects, or notes, we desire. If
we can do that, and then train ourselves to produce those causes when we play, we can solve any playing problem we
come across. A master player is simply one who is proficient in this process.
Most people are familiar with the meaning of the word coordination, and we would pretty much agree that
coordination is a good thing to have if you want to play the guitar! Coordination means to bring into alignment two or
more "ordinates". An "ordinate" is a specific point in space and, when it comes to the movement process of
playing the guitar, it means a specific point in time as well. Finding the right ordinates, in space and time, and
bringing them into alignment, is what practicing is all about. In fact, Eliot Fisk, one of the greatest, if not the
greatest, classical guitarists in the world from a technical standpoint, has said " I tell my students that the secret
of great playing is timing. Just look at Michael Jordan play". This statement indicates much more than the usual
meaning of the word "timing" in music. He means the precise timing of all the movements that go into making each note.
However, that tells us nothing about what those movements should be, or how to train ourselves to do the movements
with the precision timing required. We can "just look at Michael Jordan play" all day long, but that hardly means we
will play basketball like him at the end of the day!
So how do we train ourselves to move with coordination, to move in a way that brings into alignment
the various ordinates of a particular note? There are many parts to the answer, many of those parts are in The
Principles. Right now we will look at a more advanced technique I call "coupling". Coupling is the bringing
together, into one playing moment and motion, of two or more events necessary to produce a note. It is done by intense
focus on the tactile sensations of fingers on strings during the movement process, and this focus is reinforced during
repetitive practice at various levels of speed, from no tempo to slow tempo to performance tempo.
Let's make all this theory real by looking at an example. Here is the opening riff to Arlo Guthries "Alice's
Restaurant". It is a traditional Travis style picking pattern on a dominant 7th cycle pattern in the key of C. I have
detailed 4 places where the ease of playing will be greatly improved by "coupling" two events into one playing moment.
The first two involve playing a note with one right hand finger while at the same time touching another string with
another right hand finger. The 3rd one involves touching an unused string with the 4th finger of the left hand while
playing a bass note with the thumb. The last one has the index of the right hand touch the 3rd string while using the
These moves have been discovered by a careful analysis of the music, and now must be trained into the fingers.
Internally, we will focus on the tactile sensation which occurs at that playing moment, the feeling of the fingers
actually touching the strings, and that feeling will be our experience of that playing moment when we play the music.
These are all example of what I have described elsewhere as "tightening the action" (Deeper, p.
Can the music be played without making these moves? Yes it can, but not by everyone. People with enough natural
talent will often be able to overcome the extra difficulty of playing with less than optimal technique (until they try
something sufficiently complex). By optimizing the movement process in the way we have, anyone can learn to
play this passage easily, and those that could play it without doing these moves will play it even more easily, and
the easier something is, the more our musical selves can come through the music. Most importantly, by learning
to think in this way, and practice in this way, anyone can continually improve the level of their skill, and master
increasingly complex music, and as music becomes more complex, these approaches become increasingly necessary.
Always look for ways to streamline and optimize the movements your fingers make to create the notes. If you look
(and if you know how to look) you will almost always find them. It will often involve the grouping together of two or
more events into one playing moment, with one or more of those events serving the purpose of preparing for upcoming
notes. The discovery of these events is achieved through an intelligent analysis of the music, and the combining or
coupling of these events is trained into the fingers by systematic workups using the Basic Practice Approach.
Will The Principles Work For Me?
Will YOU Work For The Principles!!??
It seems many people are discovering The Principles for the first time. Of
course, that is great, and we love it! But its kind of like meeting a
whole lot of new people, one after another, who want to
know all about you, so you find yourself telling your life story over and over, and explaining who you are to
everyone's satisfaction. We keep having new people come into our forum and asking things like "do The Principles
really work"?, or "will they work for me", or "are they for electric guitar", and on and on. These are questions which
have been asked and answered many, many times in our forum. Fortunately, there are many enthusiastic players there who
always seem to be eager to offer reassurance to newcomers, as well as their own stories of progress, and I
really appreciate that. They, like me, love to spread the good news to people that it is possible for anyone to play
the guitar, and to play it well.
For some folks, it seems, there is a bit of bad news too. The bad news is that you are going to have to actually
WORK to acheive excellence on the guitar! Oh my!
As our forum members explain The Principles to newcomers, the point is often made that The Principles is not
a quick fix. GuitarPrinciples is NOT "learn guitar in 7 days". It is more like "learn to play, better and better,
every day of your life". The Principles are not for impatient people, and they are not for lazy people. They are for
winners, and for people who want to be winners. They are for people who really want to play, and play well. They are
for people who want the guitar to be an ongoing, intense, and rewarding part of their lives. In my years of teaching,
I have found that most people WILL work hard, as long as they are shown how to work, why they should work that way,
and then see for themselves what wonderful things happen when they do---"wow, I can really do this!".
There is no question as to whether The Principles "work". There is so much proof on our site and in our forum, that
the question can only be asked by someone for one or more of the following reasons: the person asking:
- is simply an irrational skeptic who refuses to believe something even when presented with every good reason for
doing so (do you think we have made all those success stories up??!!) Some people really do think it all sounds too
good to be true!
- has not spent any time looking on our site or in our forums
- is in reality full of self doubt about their own ability to work, or achieve.
To the first type of person, I really have nothing to say, except if I were you I would try to find out who in your
life burst all your bubbles and took away your power to believe in life's potential wonderfulness. To the second type,
yes, I understand, we are all busy and impatient; we want it all and we want it now. But, just to save our beleaguered
forum members from answering the same skeptical questions a hundred times, I have collected a number of threads from
people asking "do the Principles really work". You will find your answers here. You will see that the real question is
not whether The Principles will work, but whether YOU will work.
From The Forum...."Do The Principles Work?"
Finding my way - is this the right place? Hello All, I am new
to this forum and to this website. I would like to take a few moments to introduce myself and then ask for your
The Principles - How have you benefited?
I am new to the Principles and was wondering how others have
benefited from using this book. Did it make a big difference?
buying the book? Just found
this site a little while ago and now I'd like to know if there's anything in the Principles book that's not on the web
To the third type, I recommend you realize the real root of the problem. Lack of
confidence, inner doubt, is nothing to be ashamed of, I have certainly had to deal with it myself. But do deal
with it, get rid of it. It totally ruins your ability to have fun in life. And when you start to use The Principles,
and you see yourself turning into a real guitar player, you will get rid of it. Make it your New Years Resolution. You
can be like the many people who write in our forum about reaching levels of ability they never thought possible. If
you don't believe in yourself, believe in The Principles, soon you will believe in yourself.
Here are some threads to help you see it is possible for you too. By next year, when your
friends are clapping after you finish playing, telling you how good you play the guitar, you'll be glad you did!
From The Forum..."Wow! The Principles Really Do Work!
WOW it really works!!!
Hi all, Wow the principles really work! :D I’ve been playing now for 1 month and just trying the normal major scale
and trying my best to do i
BPA kicks butt!!!
Over the past few weeks I've started to apply the BPA for the first time to some music, and it
is working so well I can hardly believe it!
Library Of Guitar Classics...excellent collection of intermediate to
advanced classical repertoire. Clear and easy to read edition, will provide a lifetime of study and enjoyment.
Book......The best book I have found for gaining a deep
understanding of what singing is all about, and how you can improve as a singer. Like "The Principles", it approaches
the subject from the viewpoint of the whole body, and uses many ideas from the "Alexander Technique". Great for anyone
interested in understanding the basic mechanics of using the voice, and developing the use of the voice for singing or
any other purpose.
Of Contemporary Travis Picking....Mark Hanson......."Travis
Picking" is heard in many styles of guitar, and used by artists as diverse as Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, to the
singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon and James Taylor. It can be considered required knowledge for the guitar player
doing popular styles. This book delivers a very effective and graded approach to learning the basic style and its
variations and applications.
Complete Beatles In Full Score!
For a music lover and/or guitar lover, it just doesn't get any better than this! This
is truly a book to treasure for a lifetime, one that offers endless possibilities for musical pleasure, and musical
growth. The two best things about this 1,136 page tome are these: it has every song the Beatles ever wrote OR
performed, and it has the note for note transcriptions of the arrangement used on the recording. For us guitar
players, this is extremely fortunate, since the guitar was at the heart of most of the Beatle classics (and certainly
those wonderful acoustic based songs.)
"That's Just The Way It Is" says the song by Bruce Hornsby, but, as President Bill Clinton has reminded us, "that
depends on what you mean by the word "is"!
Yes, human beings have an inborn and desperate need to
know "what's going on" and "where it's at". We need certainty so badly, we will make it up if we have to, until the
real thing comes along. But, as many of the greatest minds from Socrates to the Buddha to Einstein have realized,
after thinking it through till they reached the end of thought itself, there is no "is" knowable by the human mind.
The "reality" delivered by the human mind is relative, subjective, and not to be confused with the real thing,
whatever that might be! We really are making it up as we go along. All that we call "Reality" is "Maya", or Illusion,
said the ancient mystics of India, who felt they had reached a deeper and more ultimate Reality in their mystical
contemplation, an intuition echoed by mystics of every tradition from Jewish to Muslim to Christian, etc. Wow, I
think Bill Clinton was on to something.
Our lives are so full of illusions we never know when the next one will have its covering curtain pulled by some
little dog named Toto. The sky isn't really a bowl with stars hanging from it, and the earth isn't really flat with
monsters waiting when you fall off the edge. The sun isn't really a guy named Apollo riding a chariot across the sky,
and Armageddon has come and gone countless times, and we're still here. And just between you and me Virginia, in spite
of what they told you, no, there isn't really a Santa Claus (although I refuse to give that one up too).
But some illusions are not only comforting, they are downright useful. Some are so useful I think we might call
them necessary. One of my favorite is the annual ritual of rebirth and renewal called the New Year. I mean, when you
think about it, there isn't some new, blank roll of manuscript paper ready to be written upon with the
continuing drama called "history", one with a brand new volume number, 2005, guaranteed to be recognized and respected
no matter where in the 15 billion light year expanse of the universe you find yourself in. In fact, this partition in
time called the "New Year" is such an elusive illusion it begins and ends at a different "point in time" depending on
where you are. But real or not, as long as we all agree on it, it works, and I wouldn't want to try to live without it
for very long.
I always try to make full use of this wonderful and necessary illusion of a new chapter in time. As I look at the
new, clean, empty and untouched calendar I place on my desk with the coming year laid out, waiting for me to
create the next chapter of what I affectionately call "my life", I feel energized with new possibilities. I try to
think of what would excite me the most to achieve, and what seems to be the most necessary thing for me to accomplish
this year. What wants to be done.
Last year it was bringing my book "The Deeper I Go, The Deeper It Gets" to completion. This year it will be, among
other things, writing and recording a new CD of original music. That feels very exciting and necessary. Of course,
there are also many projects on the list that will expand further my teaching work, including a new member area at
GuitarPrinciples that will offer specialized courses in various styles, beginning with a classical/fingerstyle course
for beginners unlike anything available anywhere else.
I hope all of you are planning your adventures and your conquests for the New Year, especially ones having to do
with playing the guitar! I hope you will grab hold of this New Year with renewed Intention, with power and confidence,
and shape it into the form you desire. You know we will be here, doing all we can to make those dreams become
real, or at least as real as it is possible to be!
"row row row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream"
I really believe that. And as I stay awake in the dream, I intend to be as merry as possible. With my guitar in
hand, I intend to enjoy to the fullest 2005, the newest chapter of this necessary illusion we all share.
Change A Life (yours or someone else's!)
"Deeper" not just for musicians.......
"I have also just finished Deeper. I have been completely blown away by this book. I think
the third section of the book, about life, can be for anyone. Besides the wonderful insights on how to be a great
musician and artist, the third part of the book is the best book I have ever read on how to live a happy and
I have already put many of Jamie's principles to work in both my personal and professional live,
and I have seen immediate results. I have read many self help books and most are pretty useless, but this is one I
will also read many times. As I was reading this book I kept asking my self "how did Jamie get this much wisdom and
insight". I am having my non-musician wife read the book and I have also ordered a copy for a present. FYI, I
got a signed copy from Jamie(really cool)."
on Life and Guitar
by JAMIE ANDREAS
Five years in the writing, this book
is the most
unique and profound work on the guitar, on being an
artist, and being a person, that you are likely to find.
Limited Edition Hardcover.
Full Color Dust Jacket, 220 pgs.
Numbered and Signed. 25 Essays. $36.00
The Essays are:
On Problem Solving
Sometimes It’s Not How Fast You Move, But How Soon You Get There...Bruce Lee
The Perfection Of One Note Leads To The Perfection Of The Next
The Two Most Important Things In Life
When You Can’t Put It Together,
It’s Time To Take It Apart
Penetrate Form, Uncover Essence,
Confront Your Confusion
The Shoulders Of Giants..
Freedom Is The Only Law That Genius Knows
Always Strive For Perfection, Never Expect To Reach It • •
There Is A Crack In Everything, That's How The Light Gets In• • • • • • Leonard Cohen
How To Use Other People For Your Own Growth • • • • •Confucius
There Is No Path To Success • •Anonymous
If At First You Don’t Succeed.... Try,
Try Again-Then Quit, No Sense Being A Fool About It!...W.C. Fields
All You Need Is Love
The Meaning Of Life • •
In The Beginning Was The Word • • • • • • •
The New Testament
Attention Is The Arm Of Love
Honesty Is Such A Lonely Word ...
One Marshmallow Or Two
The Three Great Sins
The Way To Do Is To Be • •Lao Tzu
Happy Is A How, Not A What, Where, Why, When, Or Who
It Ain’t Braggin’ If You Can Do It • • Yogi Berra
The Peace I Feel As I Take This Breath Is How I Measure My Success
material copyright © 2005 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com