Like many people, I found myself, while a young teenager, with a great desire to play the guitar. As a few years went by, I found myself with an intense desire to play the classical guitar, and to play it well. And again, like many people in that situation, I found myself greatly frustrated by the difficulty of actually playing as well as I heard so many people play on recordings.
No matter how much I practiced, so many things seemed difficult or impossible. I often felt like I didn't have the talent, the gift that made other people able to do it, but not me. In my teaching experience later on, I learned that my experiences and feelings were not unique, but were shared by many people wanting to play the guitar.
The most frustrating memories were with a well-known teacher in New York City. After practicing a piece for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours a day, his reaction to my problems playing it would be an authoritative "PRACTICE"! Well, damn it. I was practicing.
This book is a result of my feelings of frustration about the problems of learning to play the guitar, and the gradual discovery of the answers to those problems. I have called these answers the Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar.
As I began teaching, I taught the way I had been taught, and the first thing I noticed was the amazing lack of results I was getting from my students. Things that I had been able to do easily and intuitively seemed impossible for so many students to grasp. Of course there was the occasional talented individual, but it was no fun to be so ineffective with the majority of people desiring to play.
The normal scenario in such a situation would be that the teacher feels inwardly "there must be something wrong with this student, after all, I can do it, and I’ve shown him how". And the student feels inwardly "there must be something wrong with me, after all, he can do it, and he’s shown me how".
But does the teacher really show "how" just by demonstrating? The answer depends entirely on the student. It depends on whether or not they can "get it" by the way they are being shown "how". My experience is that once in a while, what we call a "naturally gifted student" will get it by just seeing someone do something, but the great majority of students will not.
Of course, I am assuming the student really desires to play well, and is willing to work at it (which is why the first chapter is about Desire). I have found that almost always this is the case. Students just need to see results so they will have the confidence to believe they can do it, and then they will do the necessary work.
In my efforts to get results with students, I would break things down into smaller and smaller pieces, and put it back together again, taking nothing for granted. Students of every age and level of natural talent presented different problems in learning (I have learned the most from meeting the challenges of the least skilled). I began to uncover a number of fundamental reasons why students had difficulty with developing the skills necessary to play well, and I began to be effective in the results I was getting. I began to get results from all types of students, even the ones who had tried to play and failed, or got stuck along the way. This was the greatest satisfaction.
There are two fundamental reasons people have trouble learning to play the guitar:
They don’t know exactly what the playing mechanism (that is, all the parts of the body actively involved in playing) should be doing at any given time, and how it should be doing it.
The intention of this book is to give that understanding, and that approach. This book is unlike most books available in that it is not full of exercises, scales, chords, etc. That is, it does not stress content (learn these thousand scales), but approach (here’s how to learn whatever you want). Books of content are available in great abundance. This book will give students what they need in order to benefit from all those other books. I believe this book will be a great benefit when used along with the usual method books, or books full of musical content.
It should be stated that I am only talking about technique here, that is, the physical ability to play the notes. Being a good musician in a musical sense is another matter. But you can’t begin to be musical until you can actually play the notes, and play them with ease. You cannot express your musicality when you’re struggling just to get the notes out. The physical problems in learning to play are the first ones encountered, and once dealt with, the musical part is allowed to develop naturally.
Also, this book is by no means a complete treatment of all the various techniques used by fingerstyle or pick style players. Rather, in covering some of the most basic areas, the areas where most people go wrong, I hope to give the student a way of thinking about the problems they encounter in practicing and playing, so these approaches can be applied to an infinite number of actual playing techniques. In short, I am not giving the hungry person a fish, I’d rather teach them how to fish!
I was always fascinated by the details of the life of the great classical guitarist John Williams. He is known for his outstanding and "perfect" technique, and I was astounded when I learned that he practiced very little. Later, I learned other details of his early training that I believe are extremely revealing if properly appreciated. He was taught by his father, who was reputed to be a great teacher. He started at four, and although he only practiced about a half-hour a day, he was not allowed to practice unsupervised for a number of years.
This means, he was not allowed to do anything wrong while practicing. He was not allowed to practice on his own until he could be responsible for perfect practice. This is similar to how singers were traditionally trained, when they lived with their teachers, and were not allowed to sing a note unless the teacher was there.
So the fundamental reasons for problems in learning were not present in his case. He always knew the right thing to do, and great pains were taken to make sure that he did do the right thing. In fact, when asked the reason for his great talent, all he said was "I was extremely well trained".
This is the foundation of my entire book. How you practice is everything when it comes to being successful at learning to play. Your understanding of how to practice is everything when it comes to your ability to do this.
Having the personal attention of a great teacher is always the best situation. I had many teachers, some good and some great. I learned valuable things from each one, and those things became the starting point of my own investigations. But there were also many necessary things they either didn’t teach or didn’t stress, and these are the things I have written about.
These Principles of Correct Practice have worked for me, and for the hundreds of students I have taught over the years. Whatever your level of aspiration may be as a player, I believe anyone who studies and uses the understandings and tools in this book will be able to fulfill their desires, eliminate the frustration that accompanies practicing for so many people, and have the means for ever-growing ability and satisfaction in playing the guitar.