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.
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!
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.
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.
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").