Principles of Practice
Based on "The Principles of Correct
Practice for Guitar"
by Jamie Andreas
8, 2001 Volume 51
A Day in the Life: Your Alone Place
I am sitting in the forest right now, having the exquisite pleasure
of listening to music that is in many ways more divine than the
music I make. It's Thursday, somewhere late in the afternoon. I'm
not sure exactly what time it is, and I don't really want to know.
I don't want to experience time right now, I want to experience
only movement and change, and the stillness that lies beneath them
I am listening to the beautiful songs of some of my favorite birds,
and new ones are coming to join in as time goes by. They are all
so different, some are like liquid whistling, some are like sighing
breathing, some are just kind of chirpy. Some are actually funny,
but they are all incredibly enjoyable, incredibly delightful.
I love listening to these musicians of nature, because they sing
for the best reason there is; because they must. They are pure,
and I come here to soak in their purity. It wasn't long before I
had to unzip my guitar from my new "go to the woods to practice
bag", and offer some sounds from the human world to my bird
friends. I must say that even though I felt absolutely inspired
as I played, I doubted my bird friends really enjoyed my music as
much as I enjoyed theirs. I thought to myself "I doubt they
are having a spiritual experience, but I hope at least they find
these strange sounds coming from this strange box at least as interesting
as I find their sounds."
And, I pretended they did.
I thank God and everybody else that I get to spend every day doing
what I love the best, doing what I would be doing if I died and
went to heaven, which I often feel I have. But it wasn't always
so, and no matter how demanding life became, I never forgot to go
back to the place I am in right now. I call it my "alone place".
Everyone has an alone place. It's where you really are, all the
time, whether you know it or not. Usually, we can't feel this place,
because we are too distracted by the world, which has us convinced
that IT is reality.
When you are in your alone place, there is no other voice in your
head except your own true voice. It is always a voice of love and
encouragement, it is always telling you what you need to hear. If
you hear other voices, voices you have acquired over the years,
voices that say hurtful things to you, then you are not in your
alone place. You have become trapped in someone else's "outland".
You have become trapped in someone else's prison. If you hear hurtful
voices criticizing and demeaning you when you practice and things
are not going well, telling you that you don't measure up, and worse,
never will, realize that this is someone else's voice. You have
accepted it and made it your own, but it is not yours really. It
is not the voice you followed when you first picked up the guitar.
Find that voice again, and purify yourself.
When you are in your alone place, you play for the same reason the
birds sing. And it is pure, un-self-conscious joy. The birds really
don't care what I or the other birds think about their singing,
their music. They are simply in their bliss, being their nature.
Make sure you go to your alone place, especially, and if at no other
time, when you play the guitar. Because you play the guitar, or
want to, you have a special entrance pass. When you are in your
alone place, you will be playing for no other reason than to play,
the same as those birds up in the trees. You will not be practicing
or playing because you want to be somebody or something. If that
is your motivation, you will be nothing and nobody.
Rather, when you are in your alone place, you will be practicing
and playing because you want to practice and play, because you want
to be the instrument that plays the instrument that makes the beautiful
sounds. Of course, you will be somebody and something, but that
takes care of itself. "Who" you are may be mildly interesting
and enjoyable, but it can't compare to "what" you are
when you are playing the guitar and making music.
It's always open and admission is free. Right now, I got here by
going into the forest, one of the best and most powerful ways. But
sometimes I go there by going into a room, closing the door, lighting
some candles, and playing. When I play for other people, my goal
is to be entirely alone, so that, through the music, I can meet
everyone else in their alone place.
If you stay in your alone place, you will be pure, and your relationship
to what you are doing will be pure, and because it is pure, it will
grow. If you can be in your alone place when you practice and play,
you will connect with your own power and inspiration, and what you
need you will find.
Galileo on Guitar
I was reading an interesting book on physics the other day, and
the author was explaining a basic scientific principle that Galileo
used in his work (Galileo is the guy who almost got killed for teaching
the totally ridiculous idea that the earth moved around the sun,
and not the other way around). Galileo is called the "father
of modern physics", and considered one of the worlds greatest
geniuses, so I thought I would give this principle some thought.
It says "when attempting to solve a problem, before doing anything
else, ABSTRACT OUT ALL IRRELEVANT DATA". He gave this example
of Galileo's reasoning which led to discovering the basic principles
People at that time knew that the same thing moved differently when
under different conditions. If a marble egg and a hen's egg were
both dropped in water, the marble egg fell much faster. However,
if both were dropped from a tower and fell through the air, they
fell at almost the same rate. The only difference was the MEDIUM
through which they were falling.
Galileo's genius lay in the fact that he recognized that this strange
occurrence might be very interesting, but when it came to understanding
the ESSENCE of motion, the MEDIUM through which it was taking place
was IRRELEVANT, so he ignored it. Doing so led to the discovery
of the first principles of motion.
It struck me that intelligent musicians who know how to practice
use this concept all the time. Here are some examples:
When learning to play a song with a series of chord changes to be
played and sung to, it is of course necessary to do them smoothly
and in time, without losing time because of difficulty in making
the changes. Usually, a student will play through the song, strum
through each beat in every measure, come to the chord change, stumble,
struggle through the change (losing the beat of course), get to
the new chord, and continue on until the next chord change comes
along. Of course, at this point he will repeat the process, stumbling,
losing time, etc.
If we follow the principle stated above, we will "abstract
out (or take away) all irrelevant data". In this case, since
the problem is the change itself, we will take away all those strums
in between the changes. We will only practice the changes. If the
song has 12 strums of C, then 4 of F, we will sit there and only
do one strum of C to one strum of F, over and over. We will do this
with all the changes. We won't waste time doing every strum of the
song, since THEY are not the problem, only the change is.
Another example occurred to me the other day in teaching a student.
She was having trouble playing a melody, but it was clear that the
rhythm, not the notes were the main problem (it was a highly syncopated
melody). So, we abstracted out all irrelevant data, in this case,
the pitches. I wrote the rhythm out using only notes, no staff,
and we practiced tapping the foot and counting the rhythm. After
doing this, we added the pitches back in.
Knowing how and when to use this principle is essential to getting
results from your practicing. Of course, as always in problem solving,
the first step is to RECOGNIZE, IDENTIFY, AND CLARIFY the problem.
Then, use the method described above. The more you do, the better
you will get at it.
This concept reminded me of an essay I had written about a year
ago, which I know helped many people, so I am reprinting it here.
It's called "When You Can't Put It Together, It's Time to Take
When You Can't Put It Together, It's Time To Take It Apart!
I am going to give you some very practical, and fundamental advice,
to add to your store of knowledge about how to solve problems when
you practice, and remember, solving problems is what practice is
about, not repeating problems. We must have working methods that
we can apply to situations that come up, as we try to learn new
things, and improve on what we know.
I often tell students that if you are a player, you should be more
interested in how a great player thinks, than in how they play.
The reason I say this is because how one plays is a result of how
one thinks. Of course, often the way we play is a result of how
we don't think!
Now, there is a mental process that all great players are good at,
even though some may not know it. It is the process of analysis.
Analysis is an aggressive probing with the mind, taking something
and breaking it down in to smaller parts, and then breaking those
parts down still smaller. And then, coming to an understanding of
how the parts are related to each other, and the role each part
plays when put back together in to the whole.
Players who do this consistently in their practicing, develop over
time what I call Microscopic Awareness. There are so many things
I have had problems with over the years, so many things I had trouble
getting my fingers to do, until I turned up the power of my microscope,
meaning my powers of analysis. Some problems have required an electron
If you are having trouble with something, a scale, an arpeggio,
a chord change, you must do a few things. First, STOP! Stop and
think. Stop and look, study, observe. Watch your fingers or your
pick in motion. See what they are doing. Watch them as they mess
up that passage. Ask yourself: what do I want my fingers to do?
Ask yourself: what are my fingers doing. Ask yourself: why are my
fingers doing that?
You will be amazed at the progress you can make just by doing that
Now, second, after you have made some observations and drawn some
conclusions, start experimenting. Try some new fingering. Try a
different thumb placement, finger placement, elbow placement. Observe
results again. For myself, I write things down. I keep a practice
journal, and have signs all over my walls reminding me of my latest
discoveries. If nothing else, it sure makes practicing interesting
as you follow a particular line of study.
I often break things down to the playing of one or two notes, and
study everything about the playing of each, and getting from one
to another. As I achieve clarity about what is going on, and do
some correct practicing to reinforce what I want, I begin to add
other notes until the whole passage starts to take shape.
Now it must be said that your ability to do this analysis effectively
is going to depend on your overall understanding of guitar technique,
the basic do's and don'ts and how to's. And you should always be
increasing your store of knowledge and understanding in this area.
You should constantly be reading books, magazines, thoughts of other
players to do this. I do this all the time. You should not be satisfied
unless you learn at least one new thing a day.
I recently received some letters from people just discovering the
Jamie, your site is the most thorough, knowledge based site I
have found on the web (and I have been to many). I learned more
from your articles in 2 hours than I learned from a teacher in 2
months. I didn't know I was learning from a travel brochure but
sure enough, every point you mentioned was there. I almost gave
up the guitar because of that experience, instead I quit him. He
was at one time, back up for a major blues player and lived in Paradise
as mentioned in your article. I wanted paradise but always got off
at the wrong exit.
Thanks again for your many words of encouragement and the true wisdom
You're welcome, Kendall. He is referring to my essay "Teaching
By Travel Brochure".
I had to send a message just to let you know (though you probably
get this 100 times/day) how inspired I have become to learn more
about my playing....due in large part to your article on True Teaching.
I wish to express my utmost respect for the position that you maintain
regarding the art of Teaching, and agree whole-heartedly that: "Teacher
is the name of God on the lips of the student".......
Dean A. DeCarlo
Staff II, Associate Engineer
Thank you, Dean, I appreciate that. Dean is referring to my essay
material copyright © 2003 by Jamie Andreas, GuitarPrinciples.com