The Principles E-Book

I teach electric and acoustic guitar professionally, and all my students are required to have a copy of this book. The book is now in its second edition, having been completely re-designed with new photographs and artwork. The text and typographical problems of the first edition have been eliminated.

I like this book because it produces measurably better results for my students. Many of my students consider themselves "hard to teach" because they have non-standard cognition, unusually large or small hands, or physical injuries that make it hard for them to play. Since I offer a money-back guarantee to all my private students and don't reject a student simply for having a condition that makes learning the guitar difficult, my financial interests depend on me finding and using the best possible techniques to ensure my students make measurable, predictable, and repeatable progress. I truly can't afford to rely on the talent of my students and to let the students with less natural aptitude fall through the cracks. So far, this book and other books by Jamie Andreas have been my ace in the hole.

Using the techniques and exercises in this book, particularly the Foundation Exercises and the Basic Practice Approach, I've been consistently getting results no matter how "hard to teach" or "untalented" a student may appear to be. Each student still learns at his or her own pace and there's a relationship between the amount of effort a student puts in and the results she (or he) achieves, but based on my teaching experience the methods in the book do yield measurable, predictable progress for everybody. This is what makes the Principles approach a reliable pedagogy: it provides a conceptual framework for instruction and doesn't rely solely on the natural aptitude of the individual learner.

The book discusses how the human body learns and remembers physical movement, and it shows how to exploit the body's own learning process ("muscle memory") in order to train new movements quickly and efficiently. Everything is presented in the context of the body and on maintaining as much relaxation as possible. Written from a very analytical perspective, the book is well received by people with a math, science, or engineering background.

Trying to learn guitar solely from books isn't something I recommend, however my students who are highly verbal, syntactic learners tend to do well when reading the instructions for an exercise and then doing it. The more visual learners benefit from doing it the other way around: demonstration, then explanation as to "why" something works. They generally use the instructions in the book as a memory aid when practicing at home, because otherwise they tend to skip steps. Even the students who truly don't learn well from books (due to diagnosed dyslexia, ADD, etc.) benefit from the pictures and the step-by-step Basic Practice Approach chart.

To someone who has had the benefit of competent instruction, a few of the concepts and exercises in the book may appear to be "common sense" because they will be taught by any competent teacher. Examples include the necessity of sitting up straight and maintaining as much relaxation as possible. However, the book is marketed to beginners, and nothing about playing the guitar is natural or obvious to someone who is completely self-taught and who doesn't have the benefit of a teacher or another guitarist in the family. Were these "obvious" and "common sense" elements to be skipped or glossed over, as they are in many method books, the book would not be suitable for beginners.

The exercises in the book focus on rudimentary foundations that are even more basic than the chord and arpeggio exercises found in most method books. This means that the book is not style-specific. It is just as useful for a rock guitarist as it is for a finger-style folk player. The book does contain both finger-style and pick-style development exercises, although most of the pictures are of acoustic guitar players.

The average ten-year-old is capable of reading and understanding the book, assuming a certain level of proactivity. However the book is very dense content-wise and there's a lot of information in it. So I generally assign just a few pages at a time and introduce no more than one or two exercises per lesson. I then immediately show the student how the exercise applies in a playing situation.

I use the book for three reasons:

- to provide a basic technical foundation suitable for any style of guitar,
- to show how the body learns, so as to better exploit the body's natural tendencies, and
- to present a series of exercises designed to take advantage of how the body learns, thereby producing consistent and reliable results

Each exercise is illustrated and described in minute detail.

To work through the entire book, doing all the exercises and discussing each tool, technique, and concept, takes the average beginner student four to six months assuming half her (or his) time is spent on repertoire and half is spent on technique. A more advanced student who perhaps has experience on a different instrument may progress through the exercises more quickly.

R. A. Williams, 11/15/2008
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