Quality Control In Guitar Practice

 "When you practice guitar - you are your own teacher. Be a good one!" ...Jamie Andreas

The 2 Conditions Of Correct Practice

Correct Practice must fulfill two conditions:

1) Knowing the right thing to do

2) Making sure you do the right thing.

 The first part, providing the correct knowledge, is my (and every teachers) responsibility. The second part, making sure the correct things are actually being done, time after time, repetition after repetition, speed after speed when using The Basic Practice Approach, this is the job of the student when practicing alone.  

However, it is very important for teachers to realize that they cannot take for granted that a student will be capable of having the intense kind of focus necessary to insure that the correct thing is actually being done time after time. This is especially true if a new and unfamiliar skill is being learned, and even more especially true if a new way of doing something is replacing an old way. Because of this, the teacher must make the student practice in front of them, at the lesson. 

Physical Tension Lessens Attention 

While training the fingers in guitar practice, physical tension will inevitably be produced. It is very important to realize that physical tension  creates mental confusion and causes us to withdraw attention from our body. The clouds of confusion will be part of the usual climate conditions surrounding the student's head. In guitar practice we are constantly challenged to adapt to higher levels of physical demand in the process of developing guitar technique. The teacher (you, when you are practicing)  must be there to dispel those clouds, and bring the light of awareness and understanding to the student. In "The Principles", I have called this "inserting awareness points into stress points".

When I am teaching someone, the only way I can make sure that their practice will be effective is for me to sit there with the student, metronome in hand, and conduct the Basic Practice Approach. From no tempo to their present speed limit, I watch how their fingers perform. I carefully observe the student, and catch every detail of incorrect action that may arise, and make sure it is corrected before the next speed is attempted. In this way, we make sure we "bring up the ease", and not the "disease" as we make each new attempt at a higher speed (and so, make a greater demand on the body/mind playing mechanism).


Understand Your Mistakes

 I must also make sure that the student understands what went wrong, why it went wrong, when it went wrong, and how it went wrong. Both teacher and student must be satisfied that the ability to be aware of, and to fix, wrong actions has been achieved. Then, and only then, can teacher or student expect that correct practice can take place during the week.

 This is what I mean by "Quality Control" during practice. Our ability to conduct our practice with a high degree of Quality Control is essential. It is the teacher's job, at each lesson, to discover what is most likely to go wrong during the process of skill building in which the student will be engaged all week.


I Make The Student Practice In Front Of Me 

As a teacher, I cannot assume that by merely carefully explaining the correct action, and by going over it a few times, the student will be equipped to conduct correct and powerful practice over the week. This is manifestly not true, and there are a few reasons why.

 First, the student, almost by definition, is still developing the ability for powerful focus and awareness of the tension in their own body during practice. This means it is extremely easy for there to be tension the student does not feel. 

Secondly, we cannot assume that just because a student can perform an action correctly at a slow tempo, they will be able to maintain correct action as the tempo increases.  There is a good reason for this, and it is a critical understanding: there are conditions that present themselves at higher speeds that are not present at lower speeds.

 Like a car that is out of alignment and starts to shake to 60 mph, but is fine at 30 mph, the imperfection will not show itself until sufficient stress is placed on the system. The imperfection is there no matter what the speed, but it does not create effects. One of the primary benefits of the Basic Practice Approach is that it allows us to observe the gradual emergence of the effects of imperfections as the speed goes up. 

 When I am teaching someone a new skill, I want to know every error which is going to occur when they are practicing alone. I have to make sure the student understands each error, and knows how to fix it.    

3 Areas Of Awareness

 In order to observe the imperfections we must correct during practice, we must be aware in 3 areas: 

1). Visual (Seeing): the student must see what is going wrong. 

2). Aural (Hearing): the student must hear what is wrong

3). Kinesthetic (Feeling): The student must feel what is happening in their body. 

The teacher must train the student to see what is wrong, hear the effects of the wrong action in the sound itself (missing or damaged notes), and, most importantly, to feel the uncomfortable physical tension that precedes and accompanies the wrong action. The student must be trained, over time, to distinguish between the appropriate and necessary effort that accompanies normal and natural development of the playing mechanism from the pathological conditions that accompany all the effects of incorrect practice.

The Necessity Of Precise Rhythm 

Special attention must be given to precision of rhythm. Distortion of rhythm is the first effect, in the sound, of physical tension. Constant recording and playback during lessons will be found to be an extremely powerful training tool.

 As with everything else concerning our development as guitarists, our ability to conduct powerful Quality Control is an ever evolving ability; it increases in proportion to the microscopic awareness that correct practice continually engenders. This is the primary reason we practice Beginners Mind, and visit the bottom of our practice with a given piece of music, no matter how many years we have played it. In every practice session, our ability to see something new should be greater than it has ever been. In reality, we are never practicing the same music twice.  

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About the author 

Jamie Andreas

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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