by Jamie Andreas
I want to address an issue that seems to keep
coming up for people who are familiar with my work, and beginning
to use my methods. People are reading my essays, and it seems
a new awareness is beginning to dawn for them, which is good,
that's the whole point. But for many people, it is a very disconcerting
experience. I have gotten letters from people who have read
some things I have written, and become afraid to practice! They
are so aware of, and on their guard against, excess muscle tension,
and the devastating effects for the developing player, they
are afraid to touch a string!
They start to feel like that song by Al Yankovich,
"Everything You Know Is Wrong". They realize that even though
they may have been playing for 25 years, there are certain really
fundamental things they have never known, and if they did know
them from the beginning, everything would have gone differently
for them in their growth as guitarists.
Well, that IS the truth. That is the message I
am always trying to get across. I am always trying to convey
to people that if you have tried to learn the guitar and failed,
it is not you, it is the approach to it all that is at fault.
If you are stuck at a certain level of development, it is not
you, it is your approach that is keeping you there. Change the
approach, and you will create different results. I know this
is a fact, because I do it every day, for myself, and for others.
Knowing the fact that the approach you use to
learn the guitar is THE key-determining factor in your success
or failure to actually learn, these three conclusions follow:
So, even though it is a shock to find out that you have had
a bad or insufficient approach for years, you must get over
that shock right away. In fact, get used to it, it's only the
beginning! Get used to feeling like an idiot, get used to feeling
like a beginner. Staying with that feeling positions you in
the best possible way for being able to see what YOUR obstacles
to growth really are. As soon as you think you are "complete"
in some way as a guitarist, you will be unable to see your own
Now that we have the proper attitude in focus, let's talk about
how to go about "managing" the process of changing bad playing
habits. How do we actually conduct ourselves, and our practicing
and playing? As I have said, some people become paralyzed, afraid
to play, afraid of undoing work done in practice sessions by
what they do when they play. And for those who play professionally,
it is of course, absolutely necessary that they continue to
play, even if they are doing "remedial" work on their technique.
People ask, "should I stop playing everything I am used to
playing, until I get rid of all my bad habits"? Well, if you
have a lot more discipline than I have, go ahead and do that!
If you can stand not making music for months, go ahead, but
I don't recommend it.
An extreme example of this would be to entirely stop playing
any of our usual music, where all the bad habits show themselves,
and buckle down to things like the Foundation Exercises in my
book, or the ones I have written about in my essays. You could
work on those for months and months until you felt you had overcome
your bad habits, and then go back to playing music. I'd have
to love self-punishment a whole lot more than I do (which is
not at all!) to take that route. I need fun and enjoyment in
my life on a daily basis, so I can't go with that one!
Take the Middle Path
I prefer to be wise like the Buddha, and take
the Middle Path. This is the one I have chosen, and I will describe
it for you.
First, if you are using my book, begin to do all
the Foundation Exercises, because they will start to undo the
foundation of ALL your bad habits. Do them every day for perhaps
ten minutes. If you are not using my book, get all you can from
my essays, and apply those approaches, experiment with them,
and elaborate upon them, and adapt them to new situations.
Second, after coming to an awareness of the existence
of a "bad habit", develop an understanding of HOW it got there.
What WEREN'T you doing that allowed that situation to develop.
Of course, it always reduces down to something you weren't aware
of that you should have been paying attention to, been more
INTENSE about during your practice.
Third, absolutely spend a good amount of time
in practicing REVERSING that habit. Practice in a new way, where
you make sure you DO what you weren't doing before. Analyze
the essence of that bad habit, extract it from it's musical
context, and perhaps make up "auxillary exercises" based on
the essence of it. Use all the practice techniques that I teach
to effectively begin this process of reversal.
Fourth, make sure the reversal of the habit is
actually beginning to take place. This means we make sure that
our practice is effective. If it's not, go back to steps One
and Two and Three!
Fifth, take up one of your usual pieces of music
where that habit has been showing itself by producing UNWANTED
RESULTS, and we begin to practice IT in the same careful way
that you did the exercises you were using to change the essence
of the bad habit.
As weeks and months go by, your old "bad habit"
will begin to weaken, it will change. It will be replaced by
the new finger action you are training into the fingers. The
important point to realize is that the new habit WILL take over,
if you are doing the proper proportion of CORRECT PRACTICE on
the bad habit. Merely playing the music where the bad habit
displays itself will not disturb the changes you are building
into the fingers by your powerful, correct practice. As time
goes by, the new habit will begin to show itself IN your playing,
and become stronger and stronger.
For instance, the process may go like this:
I notice I have trouble with a fast scale passage
in a piece I am playing.
I notice a particular note starts disappearing
when I reach a certain speed. The note is being missed.
I notice the finger responsible for playing that
note is the third finger. It is not getting to the note because
it is going up in the air in reaction to the second finger being
used right before it in that particular scale passage. In other
words, it is tensing in reaction to the movement of it's neighboring
finger, and I have not been paying attention to it. I realize
this is a bad habit that pervades my playing, a third finger
that tenses up in reaction to the use of the second finger.
Now I know I have to work on something very fundamental.
I have to work on the behavior of my third finger, and change
the way it reacts to it's neighbor being used, the second finger.
If I can get down to the matter with that degree of specificity,
that degree of clarity and focus, I am in a position to cause
major Vertical Growth. If I can change the way that finger is
behaving in that situation, I will see many playing problems
I am having in other pieces of music begin to "melt", and eventually
I must find a way of practicing that movement
that DOES NOT ALLOW the bad action to occur. Principled Players
know that means using Posing, No Tempo Practice, and the Basic
Practice Approach, all done with the proper intense focus.
Here is a simpler scenario for beginning players.
Perhaps you suffer from the common complaint of not being able
to change chords smoothly so you can sing that old favorite
of yours without feeling like a new driver learning to drive
a stick shift (go, stall, go, stall, etc.)
Well, that is very simple. You are simply suffering
from shoulder tension while making the moves (also, tension
in the muscles of the upper back and chest, they all move the
arm). Because of this, you must address the fundamental aspects
mentioned before. You cannot control your fingers, or even train
them, because control is being choked off higher up, in the
Now, the challenge will be to be able to use the
practice approaches that CAN actually change something like
that. Users of "The Principles" know that this means Posing,
and No Tempo practice, and the use of The Basic Practice Approach.
Again, unfortunately, too often I meet readers of my book who
are NOT really using these practice approaches. They bought
the tool, but they don't use it! Those that do, see the results.