If we are dedicated to our growth as artists who play the guitar, we
must be very smart to get the best out of ourselves. Part of the
difficulty in doing so lies in combating the forces and conditioning of
the world around us. The world around us tends very strongly to
condition us in ways that will lead us far from our goals as artists, as
people who have the power to express a deeper level of reality and
convey that to other people through their art, in our case, music and
One of the most destructive mindsets we can have is a hurried and
worried attitude about our daily work, our daily practice. We are
conditioned in our schooling, and later in our life in the working world,
to a fearful attitude which tells us we need to perform to a certain
standard, or else! We need to get those high marks, or else we fail
our class. We need to finish that project, finish that report, or else the
ax will fall!
This is why we have the word "deadline". It means "if you do not finish
this required work on time, you're dead!"
Some people become so used to this feeling that they begin to
believe they "work best under pressure". They need to feel they have
a gun pointed at their head, so they believe, to even get any work
Well, I want to tell you that if you wish to develop as an artist, you
must get very far away from this belief system. You must discover a
whole new way of motivating yourself to perform that does not depend
on the fear of some terrible thing happening to you.You must find a
way to give yourself completely to your daily work, your daily practice,
that is motivated onlyby the pleasure you are getting from every
moment of every day's practice.
I have often had a student tell me that the reason why they did so
poorly on the 4 different things I gave them to practice was
becausethey were worried about"getting everything done perfectly
in time for the lesson", so they rushed through the material, hurried
and worried. Of course, rushing through the material meant they
missed just about everything that was important, like the fingering,
and whether or not they were actually able to play to a steady beat, or
even whether or not they were playing the correct notes! And as far
as being aware of all body tensions, forget it!
So, I have to break the news to them that their entire week of practice
was worthless, and must be done over. I also have to explain that the
very attempt to "get it perfect" is what lead them to "get it very
Understand this: there is no such thing as perfect. "Perfect" by itself,
is not a goal that your mind can grab hold of and set itself to
accomplish. The word "perfect" must be used in connection with a
given, knowable, and obtainable goal in order to do us any good.
Otherwise,"perfect" is a big fat scary word that can only be used to
intimidate and rattle you so much that you will probably accomplish
We must learn to think in terms of goalines, not deadlines, when we
practice. Week by week, you or your teacher must set out the proper
"next goal" for you to accomplish with any given piece of music you
are working on. For instance, if I am working on a scale with a
student, I will say something like "next week, I want to hear this scale
at 60 to the quarter note, withyour fingers working exactly the way I
have shown you. I want you to work it up every day using the Basic
Practice Approach, to that speed throughout the course of the week.
Don't worry about any faster speeds, just get it as perfect as you can
at that speed".
If it is a song, or a solo that needs to go at 120 bpm, I might set out
the goals this way:
1st week: get the notes and the fingers right. Start to walk through the
notes no tempo, and discover the most challenging parts, and start to
analyze why they are difficult, and what you are going to do about it.
2nd week: test yourself by playing small sections of the music at
60bpms, taking 4 clicks for each note. Make sure all the movements
can be done smoothly at this speed. If they can't, there is no chance
of being able to do it any faster. Then, start to work those sections up
in speed using the Basic Practice Approach.
3rd week: begin to play to the actual rhythm of the music, giving all
the notes their true rhythmic value, not all equal time as before.
Discover where the problems are now. Start to work on them, and find
what tempo you can play everything at with no mistakes, section by
4th week: here, I will begin to assign specific tempo goals for different
sections, as I see the student is ready to accomplish those goals.
All along the way, I am giving out other goals as appropriate. "Your
pick is going too far out from the string on your up-pick on that scale.
Fix it this week with correct practice." The next week, when that
student walks in, I look at the notebook to see what goals I have
given, and I'd better see at least some movement toward that
goal.(The worst thing a student can do is not look at their notebook,
not look at the goals I have set forth.)
This constant process of setting the nextappropriate goal, and setting
it out clearly along with making sure themeans to accomplish itare
understood, is what brings constantprogress in our study ofthe
guitar. The lack of doing so is why there is so little progress for so
People often go for avery inappropriate goal. If they are working on a
fast solo or piece, they try to play it almost right away just like the guy
on the record, whoprobably spent ten years practicing it before
recording it! By reaching for this very advanced goal right away, we
usually guarantee failure and frustration. Progress as a guitarist, as
Segovia said, is a step by step process, and no step can be missed. If
I am standing on the ground looking at a staircase going up, and I try
to jump up to the 10th step instead of walking up the first nine, what
do you think will happen? I will fall flat on my face or fanny, and may
be too black and blue to make another attempt.
And yet, that is what many people do when practicing guitar. They do
it because of two reasons, the same two reasons responsible for most
of what is wrong with the world: ego and ignorance. Don't be this way.
As far as ego, remember this: be humble, don't stumble. Don't try to
play that solo at 120bpm right away. Spend a monthgetting it perfect
at 60. That way, thepath to getting it at 80 is simple. Then 100 and
120 will follow, and be solid, not shaky.
As far as ignorance, I often tell students "the only reason you are
practicing badly is because you actually think, deep inside, that you
WILL learn this music successfully doing it your way, and skipping so
many steps. You are wrong, you won't. And your faulty playing, when
put to the test, is the proof. When you become wise enough (and
honest enough) to see the truth of this, you will practice correctly."
When attempting to set the next best goal for yourself in any situation,
ask yourself this question: "if I apply everything I know, up to this
moment, about guitar and how to practice, and I apply it to this music I
am working on, AND I give it my very best effort, what level of
improvement can I reasonably expect?" Ask yourself this question,
and pick short term goals, ones that can be obtained in a week to a
If you are practicing your lesson material during the week and you
start to feel pressured to "get it right" in time for the lesson, don't start
hurrying through things and getting sloppy just to cover everything.
Adjust your goals. Forget that scale for this week, and just work on
those chord changes. Re-focus your goals and re-focus your efforts.
That way, at least you will accomplish something instead of nothing.
Better to juggle 3 balls in the air successfully than to drop 5!
Remember, the achievement of each goal IS the way to reach your
final goal, just as taking each step up the stairs is the way to the top.
Have fun, and don't make yourself crazy. Even if you do progress
correctly, as you should, people move at different speeds. I tend to
work hard and move fast, but I like to sit on the steps every once in a
while, and just play my guitar while I look around!
To learn more about Jamey's book, "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar", visit www.guitarprinciples.com