Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
1, 2001 Volume 50
The Bottom of Your Practice
This is Adam Van. The same day that I received your last newsletter,
I was trying to play a song and I kept getting really bad tension
in my right shoulder, to the point that it was difficult to keep
my right forearm up and there was some pain. At that point I decided
I really had to concentrate on keeping the tension down, and sat
with my arm strumming, thinking about what I was doing physically.
And it just came to me that I was almost meditating. . . Like you
had mentioned in your letter. Just a crazy coincidence, but crazy
coincidences are always fun.
Yes, Adam, you are on the right track. What you have described is
what I call "deepening the bottom of your practice". The
bottom of your practice is the level of intensity and awareness
that you are able to generate and sustain while practicing. For
many people, the bottom of their practice is extremely shallow.
They are hardly aware of ANYTHING they are actually doing, or anything
that is actually happening in their body or mind while they are
sitting there doing whatever they are doing with the guitar.
It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that ALL STUDENTS understand this concept.
If the depth of your practice is not sufficiently deep, you CANNOT
LEARN, and you certainly cannot change bad habits. When a student
comes in for a lesson, and tells me they are having trouble with
something, the first thing I say is "show me the bottom of
your practice". That means I want them to show me their most
focused execution of the movements involved in that particular music.
If I see signs of obvious tension, such as raised shoulders, or
even worse, wrong fingering, then I point out to them that they
are making no progress because the depth of their practice is about
as deep as a mudpuddle! They must realize they are simply not paying
attention. Then, they must begin to pay attention to everything,
including paying attention to not paying attention!
Yes, Adam, meditation is what it is all about. Meditation is simply
the intense focusing of your attention. The Buddhists call it "mindfulness".
We must all be Buddhas when we practice, we must all be Yogis, we
must all be intensely aware, in the moment, of what we are doing,
and what is really going on, in our minds, our emotions and our
Remember this: the deeper the "bottom" of your practice
is, the higher the "top" of your playing, which means
simply the highest level of playing ability you are capable of.
If you are not happy with the "top" of your playing, then
examine the "bottom" of your practice!
Trouble with Fingers 3 & 4? You are Not Alone!
I just wanted to update you on how things are going. I've been working
with Principles of Practice for about a month now, and already I'm
seeing a noticeable improvement in my playing. I have been taking
guitar lessons for about 4 years and have had nothing but problems
coordinating my left and right hand when playing at faster tempos.
Though I practice 3 hours day, I feel I have made very little progress.
I have a big problem with my left hand and getting the fingers to
work independently of each other. Especially when fingering with
the middle and ring finger. The reaction of my pinky finger to the
actions of my middle and ring finger is so outrageous. This has
been an issue since day one. It is particularly frustrating to be
told often by my instructor that I need to get control over my fingers
and I need to practice. Until I found your website I felt I was
pretty much alone in dealing with this problem.
Since I've started working with your book, I am beginning to gain
control of my fingers and yes they are starting to work independently.
This is very encouraging to me and I'm actually starting to gain
more confidence in my playing. I will continue my growth and discovery
with your book. I sing lead vocals in a rock/blues cover band and
would also like to play in the band. Also, I'm going to be attending
the National Guitar Workshop in CT for a week in August. I've been
wanting to take the workshop for several years now, but never felt
confident enough to enroll.
I have a very short pinky in relation to my other fingers, it is
shorter than the joint at the tip of my finger, and I find when
fingering at the top of the fretboard I barely get that first joint
to bend and I'm actually pivoting my hand out away from the fretboard
in order to bend the finger at the joint. I find without the bend
in the finger my fingering is weak and the straight pinky pulls
down on the string. Any suggestions?
Thanks for all your wisdom.
You're welcome Cathy, and I want to make a couple of comments. First,
it is an absolute crime for anyone to be putting in 3 hours a day
and not seeing progress. It is your teacher's fault, plain and simple,
he, like thousands upon thousands of "teachers" out there,
simply has no clue as to how to guide you past your obstacles. Saying
idiotic and useless things like "you need to get control of
your fingers" is like the basketball coach telling the players
he thinks the reason they are losing (after careful analysis) is
because they are not getting the ball through the hoop, so all they
need to do is get it through the hoop to win. Duh!)
Personally, I would hit him with my guitar if he told me I needed
to practice, and I was already practicing 3 hours a day! Does he
think you are lying to him about your 3 hours? Is he not listening?
(I'm not saying leave the guy, but you will have to make up for
his deficiencies). He should be showing you exactly what to do in
those 3 hours in order to get results from your practice.
But okay, enough negativity and violence. At least you have The
Principles now to help you. So, here is my advice:
For now, organize your practice time so that at least an hour is
devoted to nothing but my book. Make sure you master every concept,
and most especially, use the Basic Practice Approach. That trouble
with 3 and 4 is EVERYBODY'S problem, that is why I focused on it
like I did, and designed techniques and exercises just to build
independence and control.
- Use the Play 2-3-Touch and String Push downs (no tempo) to deal
with 3 & 4
- Check out the video clips of the walking exercises on the site,
and be focused on the goal of getting your fingers to look like
- Make sure you read ALL the essays I have made available on the
site, especially in the Getting Better section. I consider them
an an essential aid in helping students use my teaching approaches
to the fullest.
The specific answer to your question about the pinky is to do the
All Aboard exercises. That is why I put them there, to deal with
the problem of the "straight pinky". If you carefully
follow the directions, and study the pictures, (in the book and
on the site), your problem will be solved. If you find you are absolutely
unable to get your hand to look like my hand, then it is most likely
some more fundamental problem like your sitting, or unknown tension
being held in the larger muscles (shoulder, upper back and chest).
One last suggestion, if you want to take a more aggressive approach.
If your teacher can play the guitar well (and I'll assume he can),
then, he, at least, must know himself how to practice effectively,
at least effectively for him. You could sit in front of him and
say, "I'm going to show you how I practice this at home, and
could you please tell me what is wrong in my practice approach."
Also, you could show him the actual exercises from my book, and
ask him to watch you practice them. After he gets done making fun
of my book, and the exercises which he will probably tell you are
stupid and useless, you might get him to make some useful comments
about your practice of them, if you are persistent. Try to undermine
the usual power tripping ego crap that underlies so many guitar
lessons (I am the all knowing teacher, you are here to listen to
and admire me) , and try to create the atmosphere of a MUTUAL adventure
and experiment to discover YOUR answers. I call this "pulling
the best out of your teacher". There is no guarantee, but if
you can keep yourself from feeling intimidated (even when he tries
to intimidate you), you may be surprised at the results.
Good luck Cathy, keep on working toward your goals, you will be
successful. If you want, you can e-mail me a picture of your left
hand and I will tell you exactly what is going on.
Brick Builder Builds Himself into Guitar Player!
Dear Jamie, love your book..I am a beginner in flamenco..many difficult
passages to master..but when posing, and stopping and just being patient
with my 42 year old fingers that have been laying brick for 21 years,
I find great pleasure in seeing what these stiff sticks can accomplish
with some guidance from someone like me.
I hesitated for too many years to pick up the guitar again after being
wasted by a mean German music theory teacher at age 8......all I can
say is..thank you for putting into words and action what really needs
to happen......patience,practice (correctly),and pat those fingers
on the back when they obey Dad.
Excellent Brian, that's what I love to hear! You know what I say "your
fingers can be your best friends, or your worst enemies, it's up to
you and how you treat them. Sounds like you and your fingers are getting
along just fine! Thanks for letting me know.
Is it necessary always to place the thumb behind a neck, in a middle
of it? Sometimes, e.g. during bending, it seems to be easier to do
so "blocking" your palm with a thumb sticking over the neck.
Besides that many guitarists keep their thumb this way all the time
while playing (e.g. Jeff Beck, SRV, ... myself). Should I:
- kick the habit no matter what?
- keep it for "special occasions" (like bending)?
- keep it "for all occasions" if I am sure it would help?
(actually I am not).
I am going to clear up all your confusion on this subject. I have
made a new page in the "Guitar Technique section of the site
to answer this question in detail. This question of the "correct"
left hand position comes up all the time, so I recommend checking
out this page for a full understanding. There are some video clips
of me demonstrating the "classical" position, and why
you need it even for rock (I am playing the intro lick to Ozzy Ozbourne's
Another clip demonstrates the correct position for string bending
and vibrato. I have seen hundreds of players over the years doing
these techniques wrong, and sounding bad! So, you electric guitar
players can read about the correct technical approach to these most
fundamental aspects of electric guitar technique. You only sound
as good as your vibrato when it comes to electric, you know.
Here's the link.
I have been playing for 4 years and I am what you would describe as
an average student: average talent, practicing 45 minutes to an hour
a day without fail.
What is a realistic number of songs that I should know how to play
"well" at this stage of my development? Let's define "well"
as: beginning to end, in tempo and with enough flair to play it in
front of other people.
While this may sound like an odd question, it speaks to the issue
of concentrated practice. I have done myself a disservice by developing
breadth but very little depth in my repertoire. I'd like to focus
a little more tightly. Can you give me any guidance. Is 3-4 songs
a year about right?
Thanks in advance for any advice.
Good question. Your definition of "well" is very good also.
If you can't deliver the whole musical statement to other people you
don't really know it, so that should be the test (however, a first
goal should be to deliver it to your tape recorder, if it is a lead
solo it should be recorded perfectly playing along with the background
It's hard to give a number, because that depends on exactly what you
are doing. It' s a lot easier to get a couple of songs down that just
involve strumming and singing, than it is to get down complicated
hard rock tunes with leads included. You must be the judge of that,
and if 3 -4 sounds right, try that. The most important thing is to
Target one song, work on it, and plan on playing it for friends (after
making a simple, but complete recording). Record yourself playing
it for your friends. Take the tape back to the practice room. Put
on your "maturity helmet", the one that makes you not take
personally all the mistakes you are about to hear, but rather, makes
you say "I am about to learn where to put my attention while
practicing. I am about to learn what problems I need to solve by closely
examining every aspect of the movements involved in that music. By
doing this I will improve this music, and the next time I perform
it, it will be, perhaps, 40% improved. I will keep doing this, over
and over, recording, listening, critiquing, analyzing practicing,
until it is sounding DAMN GOOD!
THAT is the attitude we professionals have.
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com