How To Practice Guitar Archives – Guitar Principles

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Jamie Andreas practicing guitar
Apr 23

What Does Practicing Guitar Really Mean?

By Jamie Andreas | How To Practice Guitar

You know, you can’t get someone to take their medicine if they don’t know they have the disease! So I wrote this essay, “What is Practicing?” to get players to begin to get an awareness of what real practicing is, and compare it to what they are presently doing.


There is a good reason many guitar players don’t get results from their practicing: they don’t know what practicing is! Many players think that opening up the guitar case, taking out the guitar, and playing through their lesson material is practicing. If you are one of these people, I want you to stand up, look in the mirror, and say, “Oh, what a fool I have been! No wonder I have these problems in my playing! I now make the solemn vow to finish reading Jamie’s essay, and finally understand what practicing really is.”

Okay, good. Now we can talk. Believe me, you will be a much happier guitar player when you outgrow the ignorance that so many players suffer from.

Building Your Ability

Here is a good analogy for you to think of, in order to understand what practicing the guitar really is. Think of it this way: your playing ability (what we usually call your technique) is like a vehicle you drive. In the beginning, when you first pick up the guitar, you have no ability. You have no vehicle to drive. You must start to build it right at that moment. Every time you pick up the guitar to practice, you are building your vehicle. After awhile, if you haven’t given up, you have a little something to drive. Maybe it’s not much at first, maybe it’s like a little tricycle. It only goes about 5 miles an hour, but you’re having fun, so you ride it around the block everyday.

Now, this level of technique is like being able to strum a few chords, and change them fast enough to make your way through a song. But you are not good enough yet to play scales fast, and know your way around the neck. Going to that level requires more than the little tricycle you have managed to put together. You must have a racing bike for that. So there is a lot more work to be done to upgrade your tricycle to a racing bike. But you would really like to do that, because you see all the big guys out there on their bikes going real fast, riding the trails in all those cool places, and you are starting to feel like a jerk on your little tricycle!

A Tricycle Or Race Car

The person who knows how to practice is the person who knows how to go to the store, buy the necessary parts, and then go home and work on his tricycle, turning it into (eventually) a racing bike.

The person who doesn’t know how to practice is the person who gets on his tricycle, and charges out in to the street, pedals real hard, and tries to catch up with the big guys on their racing bikes.

 It’s  impossible to get that kind of performance out of a tricycle, it’ s just not built for that kind of speed. Some of the guys on the racing bikes might see the tricycle rider and think “oh, isn’t that cute, maybe I’ll slow down and pat the little fellow on the head”, but that is about as good as it gets.

When you know how to use “The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar”, you are like a person with a magic toolkit: you can always reach in and pull out the tools to upgrade your vehicle in order to get increased performance out of it. If you have an old jalopy that has a top speed of 25 miles per hour, you know how to turn it into a racing car. Every time you practice, it is like putting the car up on the lift, and doing the necessary work to create a change for the better in your playing.

Without knowing how to practice, you are like the person who takes his old jalopy out on the highway, and tries to get it to perform like a racecar. The old clunker would start shaking at fast speeds, and then start falling apart, that is what happens to players who try to play things that are way beyond their actual technique (the level their technique really is, not what they imagine it to be, or wish it were). These players fall apart when the going gets tough, when the playing gets fast, for example.

Without Correct Practice, Playing Is A Nightmare!

Many guitar players hear someone play something amazing that they would like to play. They find the music or the tab, and they have a go at it. Whether they become able to play it well is a very hit or miss affair. This is because they have no idea of what level of technique may be actually  required to play the music they are trying to play, and also because they have no realistic idea of what level of technique they actually have achieved at the present time.

Most often, they are missing the foundational and fundamental skills that make easy finger movement on the strings possible (this training is found in "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar".)

So what they do is try to play the new music with whatever level of technique they have, close their eyes, and hope for the best! Needless to say, this is not the best approach. Very often, the technique a player has is not up to a lot of the music they will try to play, and they claw their way through the music every time they sit down with it. They never know they are doing nothing but “locking in” more muscle tension, and keeping their playing ability stuck at it’s present level. They are keeping their tricycle a tricycle, and trying to ride with the big boys!

Learn “The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar”. Learn how to put your vehicle up on the lift and upgrade it to it’s next higher level of functioning. Turn your tricycle into a racing bike. Turn your racing bike into a car, and then in to a racing car, and then a rocket ship, and then an intergalactic space/time transporter, and then………..I think I’ll go now…………


What did you think? I'd love to know your thoughts on this article, please leave a comment.

Apr 01

The 3 Levels of Guitar Practice

By Jamie Andreas | How To Practice Guitar

There are 3 Levels of Practice that guitar players must know how to use in order to achieve their full potential on guitar. They are Microscopic Practice, Assimilating, and Shaping. I have covered in detail these 3 levels, or aspects of practice in Chapter 5 of “The Principles Of Correct Practice For Guitar”.

The first two levels are where we use specific procedures for teaching the fingers how to make the movements required to produce the notes we need. All technical problems are worked out in these two levels, and the music is “input” into the mind and body, at least as far as the mechanical process of playing the music goes.

However, the goal of all our practice is to go beyond the mechanical aspect of playing, and to put our mastery of the physical aspect of playing our music at the service of the ultimate goal: making music, real music. That is the purpose of the 3rd level of practice, Shaping.

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May 03

How To Touch A Guitar String – Playing From The String

By Jamie Andreas | How To Practice Guitar

Play from the string

 This is one of the secrets of the masters of guitar. All good players are doing this, even if they don't know what it means! Here's what it means.....

Ancient Wisdom On Guitar Playing

Throughout my life, I have always been on the lookout for nuggets of wisdom that would occasionally drop from the lips of great players. Unfortunately, I realized early on that most of the time, the nugget was all you got! There would usually be no explanation or elaboration of the meaning of the statement. Such statements tended to be obscure, and although I knew there was great meaning in them, the meaning was inaccessible.

One of the most inscrutable statements was the admonition to “play from the string”. I would run across this statement in different places, as various master players would use it in discussions of the way they approached playing the guitar, and wonder what it meant. It seemed to have something to do with the idea of “touching” the string before playing it. Okay, I can try working with that, but how is that possible if you are playing at super fast speeds? Are you telling me that a good player takes the time to touch the string and then play it-even if they are playing really fast? How is that possible? There doesn’t seem to be time for that. That was where my understanding began to break down.

Well, there’s nothing like decades of playing and teaching to help fill in the gaps in one’s understanding! I think I have a pretty good grasp of this now, and I will share it with you.

I was in a lesson a while ago that brought this subject to the forefront. The student had brought her scales (on electric with a pick) up to around 80 bmp in 16th notes. She had started from a basic inability to play scales smoothly and reliably at any speed, due to the usual fundamental flaws in technique and overall practice approach. But now, as we were hitting a wall at around 80bpm, it was starting to break down.

It was interesting because there were no visible signs of things being done wrong. The pick work was good, the left hand form and movement, which we had been working on for awhile, was also good-there was nothing obvious and visible to focus on as the source of the problem. Most students in this difficult position would be told to “practice more”. Indeed, it seemed like the kind of thing that “just needs more work”.

In my opinion and experience, that may or may not be true. This student, and others in her position, may, after months of dogged practice, begin to melt that obstruction and find their speed going up. But it is probably more likely that they would not. I have seen players who are stuck for years in this spot, and cannot seem to make that scale speed budge.

This is because the nature of the problem is very, very subtle. It cannot be seen, it must be sensed by the teacher, and the teacher must guide the student to inwardly “feel” it. And, it has everything to do with playing from the string.

Don’t “Bat” The Strings!

As I watched my student’s right arm while she played, I was aware that there was a “tightness” to it, even though her form was good. Yes, the hand itself did not look tense, and the pick was staying close to the strings, but still there was a subtle tension present that seemed to be going throughout the arm, and into the shoulder and beyond, during the playing. Although she started very relaxed, this tension was there after the first note was struck, and not only remained, but got worse as the 2 octave scale progressed. The faster the speed, of course, the worse it got.

So, I began to explain a bit about some of the subtle dynamics of the physical act of touching a string with the pick, applying force, and repeating that process.

The first fact to appreciate is that as soon as we play a note, the hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder region tense up. They must tense up to a degree, in reaction to the force the string applies back to the pick. Most players tense too much during this reaction and most importantly, do not release the tension reaction before the next note is played. This single dynamic, by itself, is responsible for preventing a great number of players from advancing to their next level, and also prevents a great many beginners from being successful in their efforts to learn guitar, causing them to give up.

So, if we keep tension in the arm between the notes, while the arm/hand are moving to the next note, what do we have? We have a tense arm swinging through the air, like a plank of wood batting at the strings! Can you appreciate how destructive that is of the act of smooth playing? Can you imagine performing other physical actions requiring great coordination and control – especially actions where the body must come into forcible contact with an object – and keeping the body tense throughout the action? Can you imagine running while keeping the legs tense? Or boxing and throwing punches with a tense arm? How about falling and tensing the body as you hit the ground? Ouch! Crack!

Now, most students are suffering from some degree of this situation, and this student has attained a relatively high degree of smooth functioning already, especially compared to where we started. But, these are the kind of things that come up for all of us when we hit what for us is our current playing limit, and when we do hit our limit, subtleties such as this is one of the primary places we want to look.

I realized that I needed to deepen my students understandings of these dynamics in a way that would translate into real results and real progress.

The Necessary Conversation Between Player and String

First, some imagery and metaphors.

One of the best ways of becoming sensitive to the realities of playing with a pick (or fingers) upon a string is to think of a tightrope walker. Imagine yourself on a highwire, 100 feet up in the air. Where we are on the highwire is our first concern. Think of how different it would feel to have to step on to the wire at one end, with one foot, as opposed to being on the middle of the string. This is how different it is, from the perspective of the hand and arm, to play near the bridge with its much higher tension, or to play at the middle of the string. For our highwire analogy, let’s assume we are lucky enough to start with both feet placed on the wire, near the middle.

Let’s imagine we are balanced with both feet on the wire, and are going to take a step over to one side, and commence walking along the wire. As soon as we lift a foot in the air, everything changes! All of our weight goes on to one foot, and our center of gravity is drastically different, requiring an immediate re-adjustment of all our muscles as they seamlessly adapt to the new situation, this new set of dynamics. People who can do this with some facility are said to have a good “sense of balance”, and while that is true, they are obviously doing a few things, and not doing some other things.

Imagine if, as we lifted one foot and thereby created this different set of dynamics, we kept all of our muscles tense, so that when the need for an entirely new set of dynamics instantly appears with the lifting of the foot, we are unable to make that adjustment because all our muscles are tensed. This tension kept in the muscles would compel our body to meet the new set of dynamics caused by lifting our foot with the same adjustment with which we met the entirely different dynamics of being on two feet. We would be in trouble. We would be in for a fall.

What should happen?

Get the knowledge  & training that will get YOU "playing from the string"!

the-principles-play-from-the-string

"The Principles Of Correct Practice For Guitar"

yoga of guitar by Jamie Andreas

"The Yoga of Guitar" by Jamie Andreas


1st: Study "The Principles"


2nd: Study "The Yoga of Guitar"

Learn the deepest secrets of great guitar playing. These 2 works will reveal a new level of understanding guitar technique that will revolutionize your playing.

Well, obviously as soon as we begin to lessen pressure with our foot, we should be in intimate contact with the string, its changing state of tension, and how that feels to our body. If we have a sense of balance, that means that our marvelous computer brain is able to calculate all the intricate muscle adjustments we must make in order to keep our body upright on the wire.

Of course, this intimate contact with the string is there continuously for the skilled tightrope walker. The wire is always “talking” to them, always communicating its condition to the tightrope walker, and the tightrope walker is always listening. This is what the skillful guitar player is doing when they play. They are continuously in intimate contact with the ever-changing state of the strings, as the fingers of both hands, or the pick, works upon them. The skillful guitarist is always “listening” to the strings. (This is one reason why slow practice is so necessary, so that the “listening” can take place on a most intimate level.)

When we are playing skillfully, we are also doing something else. We are also talking to the strings, and telling them what we want. Every time we touch the string with finger or pick, we are talking to the string, and telling it what we want. The string then talks back to us, and tells us what we must do to get what we want. When this conversation is taking place intensely and unhindered, so that there is an intimate communion between finger and string, and a feeling of oneness between ourselves and the guitar, we are playing from the string.

Communing With The String

How do we begin to commune with the string, and engage in this necessary conversation between our body and mind and the string? Especially after a long time, perhaps our whole playing life, of being deaf to the string, and unknowingly using a too tensed limb, hand, and fingers to play upon the strings? Well, as the wicked witch said to Dorothy when it came to removing the Ruby Slippers, “These things must be done d-e-l-i-c-a-t-e-l-y!”

The situation is this: the arm, and indeed the musculature of the entire upper body, is entirely habituated to this level of chronic tension while playing. The player cannot become directly aware of this excessive tension, it feels normal and necessary. We need a process of intervention.

Here is how I began to intervene in this process with my student, and began to coax the muscles to a new experience and a new functioning.

First, I had her do an awareness exercise with the pick. We called it “Hello, Goodbye”. Following a principle I often employ in pedagogical diagnoses, I removed one of the dynamics from the playing process, in this case, the dynamic of applying pressure to the string. I began by removing this dynamic because it is this dynamic that causes the tension reaction in the arm. I had her simply bring the pick to the string, slowly and lightly, and merely touch the string, apply no pressure, and take the pick quickly away.

I had her play the whole scale slowly like this, with no pressure and no sound. Very simple, and very effective in teaching the arm to perform the action of bringing the pick to the string and not going into the automatic tension reaction it had become habituated to.

Second, we performed the same action, except this time we brought the pick to the string, and then applied a very small amount of pressure with the pick, paying attention to the small rise of tension in the arm that must accompany this action, and then removing the pick, paying attention to, and enforcing the release of that previous small rise in tension. (Principled Players will recognize this as a version of the gradual pressure technique, a practice tool used frequently throughout the Foundation Exercises from “The Principles”).

The mind must do its part here, it must be investing these movements with conscious awareness, or there is no benefit. The physical actions are merely providing the mind with the opportunity to perform its necessary function in the practice process, to “infuse conscious awareness into the body through the mechanism of attention”.

Finally, we brought the pick to the string, applied a small amount of pressure to the string, and instead of taking the pick away and relaxing, we pushed through, and “relaxed through” the string. When doing this, we think of, feel, and re-create the same feeling of relaxation in the hand and arm that we had when we merely took the pick away from the string without playing.

This is the essential procedure for undoing the condition we have been examining, and for beginning to learn how to “play from the string”. Using this procedure, we simply work with it daily, using the Basic Practice Approach (Chapter 5 in “The Principles Of Correct Practice”, the summary approach of all the Principles as applied to a working practice procedure). By doing this exercise, we are disrupting the habitual action of the arm as it goes to the string, which is the action of bringing an already tense arm to the string, and smashing at the string with this unresponsive arm, instead of bringing an arm to the string that is able to interact with the string upon contact.

These exercises must be done daily, with great focus, over an extended period of time. It will take weeks to months to undo the previous habits and functioning of the arm and hands. However, an entirely new level of playing will now be possible for the student who wants this higher level of playing ability enough to pay this price.

The “Rubber Effect”

Over time, the entire feeling of playing will change as the arm and indeed the entire upper body learns to react in a completely new way to the experience of interacting with the string. When I was in the early stages of this conversion process myself, I began to notice an entirely new sensation in playing. It was this: the strings began to feel like rubber bands! Yes, they began to have an entirely elastic quality to my touch, as my touch became refined. I called it “the rubber effect”, and began to look for it and explore it. At the time, I did not understand what was happening and had no knowledge of all the theoretical background I have given you here, I just knew that all of a sudden, playing the guitar was beginning to feel radically different. I discovered the sensation first by following my intuitions in practice, discovering these sensations, observing them and finally, analyzing them.

In comparing these sensations to the sensations they were replacing, I realized that this “elastic” quality was so noticeable because it was replacing a very “hard” unyielding, and inelastic sensation that my hands and body had previously experienced while playing. Of course, I did not think of it as a “hard” sensation because I had nothing to compare it to, it was simply “normal”, and this is precisely the fate of so many players- playing feels “hard” to them, it is often uncomfortable, and they think that this is just the way it is, and good players are somehow dealing with it. No, they are not; good players are having a different experience altogether.

The important thing to realize is that the sensation of the strings as “hard” or as “rubbery” is not actually a reflection of the state of the strings; it is a reflection of the state of our body as we play. As we do with every self-generated reality, we project it outward, and believe that it is “the way things are”. This is a great deception and a great illusion. The “hardness” of the strings prior to my discovery was the result of the fact that my relatively hard musculature was coming into contact with the strings with every note I played. I was experiencing my own state, not the state of the strings. When I changed the state of my body as I played by changing the way I was interacting with the strings, I experienced that was a change in the feeling of the strings.

Well, there you have it, one of the most important and subtle insights you can have into the process of playing the guitar. Take a while to wrap your brain around it. These kind of things usually take months to years to fully germinate and bear fruit, so think about it, re-read this many times, make your own observations and draw your own conclusions as you practice and play (from the string, of course!).

Mar 28

Practicing One Thing Is Practicing Everything!

By Jamie Andreas | How To Practice Guitar

If you know how to learn one thing really well on guitar, you know how to learn anything. If you cannot learn one thing well, you cannot learn anything well. Correct practice for guitar changes everything!

 Anyone who knows how to get really good on guitar knows that the most important thing is to practice new movements SLOWLY. Whatever you think this means, and however slow you think slow practice is, make it ten times slower!

 "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar" teaches you what slow practice really means, and how to use it to achieve excellence on guitar. As we begin to practice correctly, we soon realize that every time we practice something, we are not just learning that particular set of movements, we are actually improving all our playing. The essence of the movements of the particular passage of music we are working will show up in other music we are playing.

 If you work correctly on that scale passage from one song or piece you are working on, you will see all your scale work improve. You will find yourself playing an old song that you haven't even practiced for awhile, and discover that it has improved, even though you have not played or practiced it for a year. 

Yes, it improved because of the correct practice you did on the other song. That is one of the magical benefits of correct practice on guitar. 

When we practice correctly, we are not just improving our fingers, we are improving our entire playing mechanism, arms, shoulders, in fact, our control over our whole body while playing. 

 Please realize this. If you can’t play one scale correctly and cleanly, then, you can’t play ANY scale correctly and cleanly. So, if this is the way it is for you, there isn’t much use, from the point of view of technique, to practicing a ton of scales. It would be a much better use of your time to pick one scale and examine it minutely, and practice it correctly and intensely until you begin to get it clean. Then, you will see ALL your scales improve.

This is the meaning of “practicing one thing is practicing everything”. Correct practice opens the door, slowly, one inch at a time to the world of music you want to play. Please realize that the opposite is true as well. Bad practice closes the door, slowly, one inch at a time, to the world of music you want to play.

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