Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
6, 2001 Volume 43
Q & A - Improvising
I'm interested in getting good at playing lead, and creating
tasteful licks.I know my diatonic scales pretty well but only know
some pentatonic in box position.I want to learn how to improv using
both forms of scales, but I'm stuck with trying to play too many
notes and less tasteful ones. Right now I'm playing rock only. Any
advise or suggestions you could give me I would appreciate it!
Thanks, Max P
Okay, here's the deal on becoming a good "improviser".
First, there are a few things EVERYONE does wrong at the beginning.
Actually, it's not so much that these things are wrong, they are
just the beginning stages of the process of learning how to improvise.
However, they must be "grown out of". You have mentioned
the major "wrong move", which is the tendency to play
too many notes. In the beginning, everyone thinks they must keep
their fingers moving all the time, like they are going to get in
trouble if they don't look "busy". This happens because
when we first attempt to improvise, we relate to as a purely physical
mechanical process (moving fingers) instead of the EMOTIONALLY based
process that it really is.
It's like talking. Imagine someone just learning to speak as a adult.
They would be so concerned with the mechanics of speech production,
making the sounds and having the words clearly articulated, they
would forget to stop and ask themselves whether they had anything
to say before they spoke!
That's what people do in the beginning of improvising. You are not
actually FEELING anything emotionally before you move your fingers,
you are just moving your fingers. It is as if I had nothing much
to say here, and no thought or feeling behind what I am saying to
you, but I like the way it feels as my fingers type these words.
Well, actually, I do like the way my fingers feel when I type these
words, but that's beside they point! The point is that without first
having something to say, just sitting here and typing words is not
going to give either of us much of a fulfilling experience. In the
same way, if you are not FEELING something when you play, if you
are not getting EMOTIONAL SATISFACTION from the sounds you are making,
no one is going to get any by listening to the sounds you are making.
Bearing that in mind, try these practical steps:
As an "exercise", practice soloing and only using long,
slow notes. Use only whole, half and quarter notes. Use "space"
and silence in your phrasing. Make sure you HAVE phrasing (coherent
musical sentences with meaning). Make the effort to "hear"
what you will play BEFORE you play it.
Make your own, personal "library" of the tastiest licks
you have heard your favorite players use.
Practice soloing to various chord progressions, and have a few of
your favorite licks picked out and sitting in front of you. Consciously
and deliberately USE them as you solo, in the same way that you
would build your vocabulary of words by deliberately using them
in conversations with people. Over time these licks will become
a part of you, and you will find yourself giving them your own personal
"feel". You will use them to generate other licks. Do
this for as long as it takes, months or years. Many players do this
as an ongoing process.
Keep a separate list of licks you have made up. Make sure you really
get an emotional charge out of them. Use them.
Make some of these licks very technically challenging, and use them
in your technique sessions. This is what all great players do to
amaze and mystify their audiences (wow, how does he do that? He's
been practicing it two hours a day for the last ten years, that's
Landscaper and Guitarist Don Turton
I think it is useful to provide inspiration to other players by
highlighting the stories of my own personal students. Many of us
face the same obstacles in our efforts to develop as players, and
it helps to learn about how others have met these obstacles. To
read about other students of mine, check this
My student Don Turton is someone I like to lift up as an example
and an inspiration to the many people who write to me and ask me
if they can seriously pursue becoming accomplished on the guitar,
even though they are adults with careers, families and responsibilities.
Don, who runs a landscaping business, has a wife and child, and
bowls every weekend, has, for the last ten years, kept the guitar
in his life, and worked hard to gain considerable ability on electric
and acoustic. For the first few years, we focused on electric blues.
As time went on, we did a lot of theory, and arranging. For the
last two years we have been dealing mostly with classical technique.
Of course, by this time, we have covered a lot of ground. Don is
definitely on the Vertical Growth track, his playing ability continues
to reach new levels as we move into more advanced repertoire. From
time to time, I make sure we review some old material, so that both
of us can see the difference in his playing from the last time he
played a particular piece. We did this recently with "Dust
in the Wind", and we both were extremely gratified to see the
new sense of ease and freedom he had in his playing, which was the
result of a lot of intense "microscopic practice" over
the past couple of months.
In fact, Don has a peculiarity which makes him different than most
students. Most of the time, I have to fight with people to get them
to practice with enough focus, and at slow tempos. Don is the opposite.
Left to himself, he would do nothing but this kind of practice,
and never allow himself to just kick back, have some fun, and play!
This tendency in the direction of "the school of hard work"
as opposed to the usual tendency in the direction of "guitar
players just want to have fun" is very interesting. Although
it appears desirable to have this ability for hard work, once again,
we must understand this in terms of Jamie's "law of life"
#317b, which is, of course, "Every Strength is a Potential
Weakness". In this case, it means if I did not at various times
exert great effort to make this guy turn off the metronome, and
stop working for a half hour on one measure, and start putting the
piece together, and then just play it, he would never turn into
a guitar player!
(For more insight into this topic, see my essay "Going
From Guitar Student to Guitar Player" )
I am happy to say that Don has over the years responded quite nicely
to me "pushing him out of the nest". He has developed
quite a nice repertoire ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Dust in
the Wind (the whole thing fingerstyle chord melody) to Spanish Romance
and Testament to Amelia by Miguel Llobet.
I asked Don a few questions to get his advice for other working
adult type people with lives that unfortunately require them at
times to do something other than play the guitar:
J: How do you find practice time?
D: During the work week, I will do 15 minute practice sessions.
I'll spend maybe 5 minutes on some hard spot, a chord change or
something. Then I'll work a larger section for the rest of the practice
session. On weekends, I will get one or two hours here and there.
Then, I'll be able to get more done.
J: How has knowing how to practice affected your growth on the guitar.
D: It made growth as a guitarist possible! Before starting lessons
with you, I would try to learn to play, get frustrated, and then
put the guitar in the closet! After a few months, I'd take it out
and try again. Then, it would go back into the closet! Learning
how to practice to get results has made all the difference.
Don recently began work on a piece from the Noad collection of 100
graded guitar solos. The piece happens to be entirely composed of
a right hand pattern that is one of the Foundation Exercises from
"The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar". I asked
him to demonstrate the first few measures for my readers around
the world. I am very pleased with how good his right hand finger
action looks. When you view it, notice the relaxed and independent
movement of each right hand finger. View the video
And further, understand that as you watch Don's fingers perform
so nicely on the nylon string guitar, that these fingers spend most
of their time wrapped around shovels, rakes, and other instruments
of the landscapers noble trade. Yes, it's possible for anyone!
Lesson on Intervals
The lesson on intervals I mentioned last week will appear next
week. Please excuse the additional, er, one week interval.)
Every week, we add many new names to the list of Principled Players
out there. People write to tell me where they heard about GuitarPrinciples,
and they usually tell me their story (sometimes their life story!).
Here are a few interesting letters:
I'm 38 years old and always wanted to play guitar so 6 months ago
I bought one and started to learn. I started with a teacher but
after 3 lessons stopped because he was "The Lazy Teacher"
as you say. I studied on my own until last month when I hooked up
with another teacher. So far he is the "Good Teacher"
and uses a lot of your techniques, although I don't know that he
has your book.... maybe. I'll show it to him and ask him to help
incorporate it into my studies.
I have read all your essays and found them to be fascinating! So
of course I ordered!
Thank you for your time and interest in me.
First of all, I am interested in everyone who is using The Principles
to create growth in their playing abilities. I believe everyone
in the world should play the guitar, but I will settle for just
knowing that the people who want to can! And yes, you should show
your teacher my book, and ask him to help you incorporate the practice
methods I teach.
Also, I 'm glad you mentioned the essays on my site, because I want
to remind all my readers that if they haven't yet read all of them
(in the Getting Better section), they should plan on doing so, one
at a time. They are all essential to the process of growth and development
of guitarists and musicians in general.
I first found your webpage through a link from guitar.net. After
reading it for a while, and recognizing your dedication to teaching,
I knew the book would be valuable. I am particularly attracted to
your approach: meticulous observation and thoughtful, pre-meditated
movement... until it becomes automatic. I am a beginner, and I tend
to think a lot about the mechanics of a new chord formation or chord
change when I'm learning it (I haven't got beyond chords yet). But
I've been discouraged of this by my music friends who say I need
to quit over-analyzing and just do whatever feels right. They act
like it will constrain my creativity... but I don't want to be Bob
Dylan, I just want to play some good music. I look forward to your
Derek, I am glad you are using your own brain instead of relying
on the brains of your friends, because they are WRONG! That whole
way of thinking that says "just close your eyes, attune yourself
with the Universe, and let your fingers find their way" is
great, AFTER you can already do it! That's why the people who say
that are always the ones who can already do it!
To get from "not being able to do something" to being
able to do something, requires thought, analysis, observation, and
THEN Intuition and Inspiration. You are on the right track, and
you will do well.
For further insight into why players give this bad advice, read
By Travel Brochure".
I'm working hard on learning from "The Principles of Correct
Practice" book and want to compliment you. You've really put
together a definitive work that I've never seen before. As a long-time
player, I'm finding how much I have to re-learn!
I have a question on how to practice the "Butterfly" and
"Ladder" exercises. Once you have worked your way over
from the 6th string to the 1st string and are ready to return back
to the 1st string, which finger leads off? Say you are working on
the 1st and 4th fingers. In going to the 1st string, the book says
to start with the first finger then move the fourth, etc. When returning
back from the 6th string, do you start off by moving the 1st finger
or the 4th from the 6th string to the 5th string?
You lead off with the 1st finger in going back. After you master
that, you can make up other combinations to use, but learn it that
way first. Make sure you check out the video
of these exercises on the site. Everyone using my book should be
working toward doing these exercises as shown there. As a first
goal, get them to 60 in sixteenth notes, making sure the finger
action is independent and relaxed. Continue to work up the tempo,
then next goal being 80, then 100, and finally 120. After that,
you're on your own!
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com