One of the most difficult parts of learning guitar is getting down a good guitar practice routine. It is THE most important part of becoming a great guitarist too.
The quickest most efficient path to guitar greatness (or even just guitar okay-ness) is a solid, consistent guitar practice routine. But there are so many things to learn, where do you start?
It sounds daunting, but setting up a routine isn't as scary as it sounds.
How To Make A Guitar Practice Routine
If there is one single key to excelling as a guitarist and creating a good routine, it is this:
Consistency is how you learn. It is how you progress. Consistency is how you train your mind, body, hands, and fingers to play the guitar effortlessly.
It is important to make sure that you play every day that you can. With most schedules it is probably impossible to play every single day. Just remember consistency is the key to excellence.
If you can only set aside 15-20 minutes a day for a short run of scales, that is better in the long run than a weekly 1 hour session.
What Makes A Good Practice Routine?
It's really frustrating to set aside time to practice and then feel like you are just spinning your wheels. You sit down and your mind blanks or you just end up surfing around on a guitar tab website strumming the same old songs before you give up and find something else to do.
So, what makes a good practice routine?
You want to have a focus and structure to maximize the impact of your practice time. If you go in knowing what you will practice, for how long, and how you will practice it, you will come out at the end feeling much more positive about the time spent.
So, How Do You Develop A Good Practice Sructure?
You want to first figure out how much time you have to set aside for practice. Once you know how much time you have available, you can start deciding what you will practice and when.
We'll go over a few examples and time scenarios. Most people can spare between 15 and 20 minutes a day. If you can commit to an hour a day, even better. But if you can only do 20 minutes, that's better than nothing at all.
Remember, short daily playing is better than one long session a week.
Creating Your Guitar Practice Routine
You want to focus on five key areas of playing when you practice. Ideally, you can set aside an hour a day and work on all of them. However, if you can only do 15 to 20 minutes, you can work on one each day and then pick one for the weekend (then take a day off because everyone needs a break).
The five key areas are:
- Song Catalog
- Ear Training
- Music Knowledge
- Improvisational Skills
Let's cover each area a little more in-depth. We will look at what each section means and a way to apply it to short practice sessions or longer practice sessions.
We will also include some tips for how to apply these sections as a beginner.
You hear the word technique thrown around a lot but you may not exactly understand what it means. Technique is simply anything that has to do with the way you play guitar. If it improves your playing ability, style, finger strength, or dexterity, it falls into the technique category.
Technique exercises are a great way to start your daily practice. Focus on a couple of scales and finger stretching exercises for the best results. This will not only improve your finger strength and dexterity, but it will also give you a good warm-up for your practice.
1-Hour Practice: Dedicate the first 10 minutes of your practice to technique.
20 Minute Practice: Start the week out with technique. Then each other day, play through a scale or two to start each practice the rest of the week.
Beginner: To start out, you are going to want to focus on strength building scale exercises and your chord formations. Put an emphasis on each string ringing out in scales (no muted strings) and smooth chord transitions.
Song catalog can consist of songs you want to learn, solos, riffs, etc. It can also apply to writing your own songs. The whole reason we play guitar is to play songs. This time is set aside to truly dig in deep and focus on perfecting whichever project you are working on at the moment.
It is important to think about this ahead of time and know what you want to work on going into your practice. If you have a printer, I even recommend printing the chords or tabs out ahead of time so you won't have the distraction of a computer/phone/tablet.
1-Hour Practice: Commit at least 15 minutes of your practice time to building your catalog. You can even dedicate half your practice time a day or two a week and drop one of the other areas (but not technique).
20 Minute Practice: Assuming you are practicing 6 days a week, you should set aside 2 days a week for this. Tuesdays and Thursday work well because you can apply what you are learning without having to wait an entire week.
Beginner: Pick songs you know well already. Stick to chord sheets at first and spend time working on smooth chord transitions (no muted strings), memorization, and learning the neck of the guitar (playing without watching your hands).
It can not be expressed enough how important it is for a guitarist to train their ears. What this means is that you focus on transcribing how to play a song instead of finding the chords/tab online.
The reason this is so important is it will help you better understand how songs are written. You will also find a better understanding of how different chords and notes work together. It will become one of the most valuable tools you will possess as a guitarist.
Like song catalog building, you will want to pick out the song/solo/riff you want to transcribe prior to your practice time. It's easier if you pick a song you are already familiar with.
1-Hour Practice: Set aside 15 minutes for ear training.
20 Minute Practice: This will be less intensive than song catalog days so you can skip technique if you want more time to work on this (but if you can spare the extra 5 minutes of technique, do it).
Beginner: An easy way to start figuring songs out is to listen for the bass line and pick it out on the low E string. Once you have that, you can usually start working on the chords. It may not be a perfect match, but it will put you on the right path.
This part of your practice is dedicated to expanding your musical knowledge to give you more things to practice in the future. Musical knowledge can include theory, new chord forms, more complicated chord structures, new scales, etc.
Anything that is going to broaden your musical horizons is fair game.
1-Hour Practice: Give this a good 10 to 15 minutes depending on the subject your are working on.
20 Minute Practice: Depending on what you are learning, you may not need a technique starter.
Beginner: I know it is a drag, but try to use this time to work on music theory and guitar fretboard theory. There are a ton of books and apps that can make things easier to understand. Theory is the foundation of music. It will only help you make better music in the future.
Depending on how much time each other section took, you should have a bit of time left over at the end for improvisational skills. Improv is not only fun, but it's a good tool to help you really cement what you have been learning.
When working on improvisational skills, you are forced to think on the fly and react to sudden changes. This helps your brain transition your knowledge from conceptual to practical.
1-Hour Practice: Use the remaining time you have left over to focus on improvisation.
20 Minute Practice: This may end up being your favorite practice day of the week. Start with a technique workout or two and then start. You can find a ton of chord progression backing tracks on YouTube that you can practice along with.
Beginner: This is the time where you can just have fun. Play around with your scales, put some chord progressions together. Just discover the joy that is a good jam session.
Tips For Improving
Now that you know how to structure a guitar practice routine, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your practice time.
Set A Timer
Set a timer for each section of practice time. Make a promise to yourself that while that timer is running you will ONLY focus on the task at hand.
The worst thing you can do is start practicing aimlessly. You will quickly get bored and run out of steam. Set realistic goals for what you want to accomplish for each practice session.
- learn an easy guitar solo
- play the C Major Pentatonic flawlessly 5 times at 120 BPM
- write a 4 chord progression that is fun and sounds interesting
Use A Metronome
Timing is everything in music. Some people have better timing than others but NO ONE has perfect rhythm without A LOT of practice. Get used to using a metronome right away and rhythm will become second nature.
I have a penchant for wanting to play something at the right speed immediately. And I almost always fail at it. Guitar is all about training your hands to respond in certain ways.
If you start out learning a riff or chord progression very slowly, you are working on your muscle memory. Your hands will know where to be and when. Once you have the forms and positioning down, it is only a matter of repeating those motions more quickly.
Use A Practice Amp
If you are playing an electric guitar you will want to use a practice amp. Playing an electric guitar without an amp can lead to poor technique and overcompensation just to hear your instrument. Adding an amp will help you correct those bad habits before they start.
If you don't have the space for an amp or you live somewhere that is not amp friendly (like an apartment or dorm) try out a good set of guitar headphones. You will hear every note, missed note, muted string, and wrong chord clear as a whistle.
You can also practice and sharpen your skills with unprecedented focus.
Record yourself playing and listen back to it later. You can listen with a critical ear and hone in on the areas that need improvement. You don't need a complicated setup. Using the voice memo app on your phone is good enough. You just want to be able to hear your playing when you are not having to focus on actually playing.
Congratulations! You are well on your way to improving your skills as a guitarist. Whether you're a grizzled old vet or don't even have callouses on your fingers, we can always improve.