The Primacy of The Mind In Guitar Practice

By Jamie Andreas | Uncategorized

Apr 25

The title says it all. If you don’t realize that we use the mind to train the body when we practice guitar, you will have very little power to achieve results from your practice.

All of your power to teach yourself to become a guitar player and musician begins with your mind. And you also need to understand that even if you have a teacher, you are still teaching yourself every time you sit down to practice. If you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know how to do it, you will wander aimlessly.

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So the first job of the mind is to acquire this knowledge, the knowledge of what needs to be done. Perhaps I am playing a rock lick and trying to bend a string and get a good vibrato, but I don’t know that I must keep the base of my index finger in contact with the guitar neck, while using downward thumb pressure and forearm rotation. I will have trouble with that rock lick as well as all bends and vibrato (which means 90% of the time for a rock/blues player!) So the mind must acquire the knowledge of “what” to do for all the various and complex techniques on guitar.

When it comes to the “how” to do, it is the mind again that holds the power and the key to success. The mind has two functions here, and they both involve the use of intense and even profound attention.

After we know what to do, it is imperative that we make certain we are actually doing the right things in practice. I can assure you, having guided the practice of thousands of guitar students that this is often not the case. Guitar students will sit for hours doing something wrong and thinking they are doing it right! Only by paying great attention can we even know for certain that we are doing all the things that need to be done as we practice a particular skill. Only by paying great attention can we be sure that fingers are doing all the right things, over and over each time, as we work on a difficult passage. The mind must supervise the practice and this is no easy task. If you need to be convinced of this, record yourself and listen back ( recording is an attention/awareness building discipline and is done by any serious player or student).

The final job of the mind is to monitor the entire body during practice. Just as a dog trainer knows how to teach an animal by understanding and working with its animal nature, we must understand and work with the animal nature of the body in relation to its powers of learning and performing movements.

Only if your whole body, especially the upper body is in a state of comfort and relaxation can you control your fingers. However, when we are in the process of turning ordinary fingers into guitar fingers, we will often generate great stress throughout the body which manifests as chronic and largely unnoticed and unfelt muscle tension. If we do not pay attention and reduce and control this tension, and have the discipline to practice our movements as slowly as a tai chi master, constantly monitoring body and breath during movements, we will progress slowly and meet with many failures.

So, the mind is our most powerful practice tool. It must acquire knowledge, it must supervise our practice, and it must monitor the body for tension during the process of practicing. It has been said "Virtuosity is in the mind". It certainly begins there.

About the Author

Jamie Andreas has one goal: to make sure that everyone who wants to learn guitar is successful. After her first 25 years of teaching, she wrote the world acclaimed method for guitar "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". She put everything into this method that was essential for success on guitar. Called "The Holy Grail" of guitar books, the Principles has enabled thousands of students who tried and failed to play guitar for years or even decades, to become real guitar players. In 2012 Jamie was profiled in "Guitar Zero" (Penguin Press 2012), a study of how adults learn to play guitar. Jamie was interviewed along with some of the worlds leading guitarist/teachers, including jazz legend Pat Martino and Tom Morello ("Rage Against The Machine").

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