Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
13, 2001 Volume 44
Listen to My Mother, Listen to Yourself!
In tribute to Mother's Day, I would like to tell you about one
of the wonderful contributions that my mother has made to my life.
It is only one of them, because there are many, such as my whole
love of, and need for music (my mother listens to music practically
every second of her waking life, and needs to). She also supplied
the "bloodline" for musical tendencies, having three cousins
in major symphony orchestras, and a father who sat in front of his
radio, listening religiously to opera all day Sunday, after a hard
week at the barber trade, as if he felt this was the proper way
to keep the Sabbath holy.
Often, the most meaningful legacies we get from other people appear
at the time to be inconsequential, and only later do we fully realize
the importance of something someone may have said or done. When
I think of my mother, there is one phrase that she often says that
comes most to my mind. It is "I always listen to myself".
She says this to congratulate herself after her intuition about
something has proven correct ("something told me to go look
in the basement, and you know what? My whole basement was flooding
from a broken pipe! I'm glad I always listen to myself!")
People often write to tell me how special my book is. They notice
that it contains things they have never heard of before. It is interesting
to realize why this is so: It's because I always listen to myself.
Artists, mystics, and philosophers in the past have often attributed
their "genius" or "inspiration" to a "voice"
that speaks to them. In Socrates' day, it was called the "daemon".
He felt he had a "daemon" that spoke to him, and he simply
listened. He was so good at listening to his inner voice that he
would often be seen by others standing alone, in contemplation of
some thought he was pursuing, for hours at a time. One person reported
seeing Socrates struck by a thought (our inner voice usually appears
to us as our own thoughts), and stop dead in his tracks, and remain
standing, lost in his "listening". This was in the morning.
He didn't move until the middle of the next day!
In the Bible, encounters with God are often described as hearing
the "still small voice". Later in history, in medieval
France, Joan of Arc heard voices that told her to lead the army
of France to save the dying country by conquering England. Everyone
told this 17 year old girl she was, at best, out of her mind. Perhaps
she was, but she DID lead the army of France to conquer England,
and is know today as the only female in history to ever lead an
army, and also as a military genius.
Now, you may say, "well, that's okay if you are a genius or
something. They hear voices because they are geniuses. What about
ordinary people". If you are saying this, you are wrong. These
people did not hear voices because they were geniuses. They were
genius because they heard their inner voice, and they LISTENED!
Everyone has an inner voice speaking to them. Everyone has a "daemon"
like Socrates. Everyone has a special purpose in this life, and
a special voice that will speak to them and guide them, perhaps
telling them things that have not been spoken to anyone else, ever.
Many times it is our special purpose to be willing to listen to
that voice, and take seriously what it is telling us. It may not
be a literal voice that you hear as did Joan of Arc. It may very
well be like my mother, something you "feel", something
that will guide you if you have the sense and the courage to allow
yourself to feel it and be guided by it. You must trust it, and
you must know when to trust it.
When I started to write music, I began to "listen" to
my inner voices, hoping to hear some music to write. Often, I would
hear something inside, and say to myself "that's terrible.
I'm not even going to bother writing that down". Sometimes,
even though the I had rejected the idea, it would keep coming back
to me. It was pestering me, begging me to be heard. I learned to
stop judging these ideas, and just become sensitive to the fact
that some ideas seemed very NECESSARY.
I would find, as I wrote these ideas down and developed the music
over time, they became some of my best compositions. I couldn't
believe that what I once thought was worthless had become so worthwhile.
I learned to "sense" these "necessary" ideas,
and began always to listen to them, or pay attention to them and
nurture them, as soon as they arrived. After awhile, I began to
become sensitive to the "place" from which they came.
When I sensed an idea was coming from my special "place",
I immediately gave it my attention.
I learned not to judge these voices, feelings, and ideas, but to
follow them to see where they lead. This is how I came to everything
in "The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar". This
is how I continue to discover new things every day. I listen to
What voices are speaking to you? I will take for granted that anyone
reading this has a voice telling them to play the guitar! But you
know, that is only the "surface" of what that voice is
telling you. It is really telling you that you as a whole person
NEED to express yourself and involve yourself with something "greater"
than yourself. You need to express and develop your artistic nature.
My advice is to take this voice seriously. Also, be sensitive to
the nuances and details. Perhaps your voice tells you to play blues.
Perhaps it tells you to sing songs and accompany yourself. Perhaps
it tells you to write songs and write music. Perhaps it tells you
to play classical guitar, and learn music theory. Or any combination
of the above. My inner voice has at one time or another told me
all of these things (when my inner voice speaks, I often can't find
the stop button!).
Knowing how to listen to yourself is knowing when something feels
I usually try to inspire my students to become better guitar players
by telling them "be like me". Today, in honor of Mothers
Day, I will tell you "be like my Mother, listen to yourself".
The most important thing to realize about an interval is that it
is not a note, meaning, an interval in not a sound. An interval
is the distance in pitch between two sounds. More specifically,
an interval is the name given to the sensation in the human brain
as the brain perceives the difference in pitch between two notes.
Now, think carefully about that. It is as if you were trying to
explain to someone about another measurement we use, an inch. An
inch is used to measure "space". But an inch itself is
not a "point in space". An inch is the name we give to
the DISTANCE between two points in space.
An Interval is the name we give to the DISTANCE in PITCH between
The next most important thing to realize is that each interval has
a particular FEELING associated with it, a particular EMOTIONAL
Play the 3rd string, 2nd fret. Then play the 3rd string 5th fret.
Those notes are 3 frets apart. Listen to the effect of playing one,
then the other. Now do this:
Play the 3rd string, 2nd fret. Then play the 3rd string 6th fret.
Those notes are 4 frets apart. Listen to the effect of playing one,
then the other.
The first one is called a MINOR THIRD. It has a sad, dark quality.
The second one is called a MAJOR THIRD. It has a brighter, happier
When we play an interval by playing one note, and then the second
one, that is called a MELODIC INTERVAL, because, like a melody,
the notes come one at a time.
If we play the two notes together, so they blend their sound, that
is called playing a harmonic interval. On the guitar, we can't do
that by playing the notes on the same string, so we have to do the
second one on a different string. That is easy, since, unlike the
piano which has only one key for every note, the guitar can play
the same note in a few different places.
So, we will repeat the above example by playing the second note
on a different string.
First, the MINOR THIRD:
Play the 3rd string, 2nd fret with the 2nd finger. Let it ring.
Play the 2nd string 1st fret with the 1st finger. Let it ring.
That is a HARMONIC MINOR THIRD. It is what makes an Aminor chord
a minor chord. It is dark and sad. Curiously, most people prefer
this sound to the MAJOR THIRD. Does this mean we like being sad?
Now, the MAJOR THIRD:
Play the 3rd string, 2nd fret with the 2nd finger. Let it ring.
Play the 2nd string 2nd fret with the 3RD finger. Let it ring.
That is a HARMONIC MAJOR THIRD. It is what makes an A Major chord
a major chord. It is brighter and happier than a minor chord.
Composers use the emotional content of intervals in their melodies
and harmonies (chords) to convey emotion. As a melody is being played,
it is the distance in pitch between the notes as they are played
one after another, that contains and conveys the emotion of the
There is a lot more to know about Intervals, and you can get a good
start by studying the material on the links below. Along with what
I have already said, you should know that every Interval has two
names: a number name and a type name. Intervals might be 2nds, 3rds,
4ths, 5ths, 6ths, or 7ths.
The number name comes from the number of letters that make up the
distance between the notes. So, if I play the note A, and then the
note D, that is a 4th, because there are 4 letters between them,
A-B-C-D. The guitar is tuned in 4ths, each string being 4 letters
away from the next, except between the 3rd and 2nd. That is a third,
the notes being G and B ( G-A-B, a 3rd).
The type name is much more complicated. Types of Intervals are Major,
Minor, Diminished, Augmented and Perfect. The reasons for the type
name are rather complex, and beyond the scope of this discussion,
but further study on your part will make it clear to you.
However, even with what I have presented here, you have a lot of
material to think about as you go about your practicing and playing.
For further study check out the links to INTERVAL LESSONS from some
of our affiliated sites.
Most useful is Sound Reference on second page. You can hear the
different intervals being played. All examples are harmonic intervals.
Last week's student profile of landscaper/guitarist Don Turton
brought quite a nice reaction from readers, including Carlos Velez,
who attended a workshop with me in December. He wrote to me, and
also included a recent photo of himself with the guitar. I was amazed
at the improvement in both his hands, but especially the right hand.
Carlos is playing mostly blues, fingerstyle. I remember how tensed
up his hands were at the workshop. I remember that his right hand
thumb was being held tensely against his index as he played, a common
fault. He has made significant progress in the 5 months since. Here
are some of his thoughts:
Thank you for profiling Don Turton. I can certainly appreciate his
hectic schedule, and am truly impressed with what he has been able
to accomplish. It's interesting to watch the video clip over and
over. I can't help but be amazed at how relaxed his entire right
are seems to be, and how smoothly his thumb returns to E, while
his other fingers continue to play.
My play has definitely improved, and am now working on fingerstyle
blues techniques which, as you know, require a great deal of finger
independence (thumping bass notes while picking melody notes).
Although I do encounter quite a bit of sympathetic tension I feel
comfortable knowing that I have tools with which to identify and
correct (No Tempo has been a HUGE help, BTW).
My wife takes a photo of me practicing every so often, just to check
my position. I can use a bit more work on my left hand position
on that C chord!
It's fair to say that after ~5 months of not-so-intensive practice,
my right hand looks and sounds a lot better.
Your techniques help me establish an independent bass thumb (that
is, I do not feel the need to "think" about the thumb,
even as I move from chord to chord), so that I can really focus
on the other fingers of the right hand. I hope to spend more time
in the future on the left hand.
Please keep up your great work! And feel free to quote this
email on your site, if you wish.
Best wishes for continued success
Another Principled Player
Wappingers Falls, New York
I suggest you take a look at Carlos' before and after pictures:
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com