Ultimate Guide to Guitar Practice
It’s often said that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything.
So, by that rule of thumb, if you practice guitar one hour a day, every day of the year, it’s going to take you 27 years to master the guitar. Too impatient to wait that long? Yep, so are we!
The reality is the best guitarists know how to make their practice time count. They don't waste their precious time practicing the wrong things.
This Ultimate Guide to Guitar Practice will give you everything you need to make sure you're practicing the right way.
(In case you were wondering, you’d need to practice 8 hours a day for 3 years straight to reach 10, 000 hours. As crazy as that sounds, we'll see some of the worlds most famous guitarists advocate a similar regimen!)
My advice...would be to sit on your bed for about thirty years practicing! No, really - you do need to practice for four or five hours a day, whether it’s broken up or continuous, you have to do it.
However many hours you can commit to guitar practice, the key is to optimize the time you do spend.
This article is divided into the following three sections:
- Setting Your Long Term Guitar Vision
- Top 10 Practice Tips
- The Best Guitar Practice Routines
For convenience you can jump to any of these sections below:
Ok let’s get started…
Setting Your Long Term Guitar Vision
Have you ever set off on a journey without deciding beforehand where you were headed? Of course you haven’t!
The same goes for learning the guitar.
If you have no destination in mind for where you’d like your guitar playing to take you, then you won’t put in place the necessary steps to get there. You’ll probably end up broken down somewhere along the way.
You need to create a vision for where you want to go.
To help you articulate your vision, answer this one question: what is your primary objective in learning or improving the guitar?
Have a think about how would you best summarise your own situation..
- Are you an absolute beginner? You've never played (or played very little) but you want to give it a try (if this is you I recommend starting with our 15 Slam dunk ways to learn guitar article followed by our how to play guitar ultimate guide)
- Have you tinkered around a bit and fancy learning a bit more stuff but have major aspirations other than a bit of a hobby?
- Do you play to a pretty good standard but you want to play open mic nights in your town as a recreational thing?
- Have you got massive aspirations to be a professional guitarist and make it your career?
- Is your situation different? How is it different? What do you want to achieve?
Once you're clear on your vision, here are 10 killer guitar practice tips to remember before we jump into guitar practice routines....
Top 10 Guitar Practice Tips
1. Practice with Purpose
Trying to practice too many things and swapping and changing from one thing to the next will be frustrating and won't help you progress. Create a list of things you want to improve and work through them methodically, step by step.
2. Start small and easy
Focus on smaller, easier things first. It's important to have 'quick wins' when we start out, so give yourself easy challenges to begin with and increase the difficulty level as you start to build confidence..
3. Don't let your mind (or your fingers) wander
Try to stay focused on the specific objective you are trying to achieve and avoid letting your mind or your fingers 'go on autopilot' while practicing.
4. Keep it fun
Another rule of thumb is to keep it fun! If your practice routine becomes the least favorite task of your day you'll quickly give up on it and go back to playing stuff you already know (because it's easier).
5. Mix it up
As you'll see later, there are a many, many practice routines you can do. Make sure you plan a really varied guitar practice routine that you're going to love doing. As you will see, practice isn't all about playing scales ad nauseum, playing songs can also count as practice so long as you do it in a structured, focused way.
6. Create a guitar practice log
Keeping a notepad (or using a note taking app) is a great way to document your progress. You could even record your progress on your phone or other recording device. Recording helps to focus and creates a great momento (and memory stimulus) for the future.
7. Establish a guitar practice schedule
You need to make your guitar practice a daily or weekly ritual. It needs to become a habit that is as commonplace in your week as your weekly shopping trip, or walking the dog. Commit to a schedule and stick with it as much as possible (life will often 'get in the way' but so long as you return to the schedule when things calm down, that's ok)
8. Guitar practice tools
The metronome is the most basic practice tool you need to acquire. It will feel rather restrictive at first but practicing with one will help you play in time. If you want to get serious, and for not much money at all these days, get yourself a guitar loop pedal - perfect for when you need accompaniment to play a guitar scale or solo over.
9. Have a comfortable guitar practice room
Make sure your guitar is easily accessible (I suggest hanging it on the wall for quick access) and ensure you have a quiet place to practice free of distractions. Be sure to mute any phone or device that could distract you during your practice period. Also consider getting something comfortable to sit on.
10. Take regular breaks
Concentration levels drop after even 20 minutes of focused practice. Giving yourself regular breaks (a 5 minute break every 25 minutes) will help with concentration. I'm a big fan of the Pomodoro technique.
So now let's move on to the main course, the best guitar practice routines...
The Best Guitar Practice Routines
Guitar Practice Routine #1: Warming up
Like stretching before a run, preparing for your guitar practice is no different.
Spending a couple of minutes at the beginning of every practice session warming up your hands. It will improve blood flow, dexterity and hand strength.
Try these three techniques...
1. Stretch your fingers then create a fist - do this repeatably on both hands.
2. Now rather than just extending and contracting your fingers, bring each finger in one by one in a uniform way. This exercise will help to get the blood rushing through your fingers.
3. Spread out each finger as far as you can and try to expand the distance between index finger and middle finger, middle finger and ring finger, and finally ring finger and little finger.
Guitar Practice Routine #2: Building core finger strength
There is plenty of skill involved in playing the guitar, that’s for sure, but you also need to be ‘match fit’ i.e. you need to build core finger strength and dexterity.
It’s important in the same way that the gymnast needs to tone their muscles. If they don’t they won’t be able to compete.
Try this exercise for a couple of minutes at the beginning of each practice.
- Lay your fingers across the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth frets
- Lift one finger off one at a time while keeping the others in place
Guitar Practice Routine #3: Building dexterity
Building dexterity in your fingers is equally important. Try this technique:
- Keeping your fingers where they are, arch them
- Lift each finger off sequentially.
- Do this for all the strings
Our friends at http://www.Jamplay.com put together this great video demonstrating both these techniques...
Guitar Practice Routine #4: The ‘slinky technique'
Remember those slinkys that walked their way down your stairs?
Well this technique feels a lot like that and is awesome for practicing your vertical picking (working your way up and down the fretboard).
It’s also great for classical guitarists as it stretches your hand.
- Start at the 9th fret on the top four strings
- Work your way down the fretboard using a sweep picking technique (6 notes - 4 down and 2 up)
Check out this video which covers this technique:
Guitar Practice Routine #5: Improving your speed
The trick to playing fast is to play slow and build up your speed. Remember, while blitzing up and down the fretboard may look cool being a great guitarist does not in any shape or form mean being able to play fast. It never held back the great David Gilmour...
I can rehearse and I can practice for months, but I don't get any quicker. I've given that up years ago...
Playing fast is also much more than moving your fingers quickly, as explained by our friends at Guitarnoise.com
The concept of moving your fingers faster is a tiny, insignificant part of the big picture of what it takes to improve in order to build guitar speed. There is a large number of different elements that require attention and training in order to learn to play guitar fast, including: two-hand synchronization, picking articulation, tension control, mental processing speed, hand endurance at fast tempos, guitar speed with a single technique vs. guitar speed with integrating a variety of guitar techniques and many more.
You will naturally get faster if you follow a good practice regimen, but there are some general rules of thumb for improving your speed:
- Keep finger movement to a minimum at all times.
- Keep your fingers as close to the fingerboard as possible.
- Encourage your third and fourth fingers to be independent
Check out this video which covers these techniques:
Guitar Practice Routine #6: Practicing chords
For most beginners, chords are the first thing they learn. We recommend these 8 Awesome Guitar Chords For Beginners.
Learning the chords is one thing (and can take some time) but a far greater challenge for many players is changing between the chords smoothly.
You get your fingers comfortable on E then you’re expected to move to D and your fingers just aren’t with the plot - we’ve all been there!
Here’s a great video of 22 chord transitions you need to learn.
Check out this video for some great chord transition practice...
Guitar Practice Routine #7: Practicing scales
Practicing scales can be hard work but it’s a must for any aspiring guitarist.
There are a ton of different scales you can play, with different genres using different scales sometimes, but for the purposes of this article I suggest you focus on the 6 most common guitar scales..
You ultimate aim is to learn each of these scales in all keys in all positions.
Guitar Practice Routine #8: Practicing songs
Practicing doesn’t all need to be about chords, scales and technique. Practicing songs can be just as valid as a practice routine. For beginners see our 37 Easy Guitar Songs You Can Learn In 5 Mins to give you some inspiration.
The key is to take a focused approach to practicing songs. Don’t just bash away at them and hope they sound decent. Break them down and practice:
Alternating the strumming pattern
Trying different chord voicing (playing the G chord further up the neck for example)
Divide the song into sections and work on each independently
Practice the beginning and ending of the song
Playing the song in different keys
- Record yourself and play it back It will probably have various issues. Analyse what is wrong, work out how to improve it, and re-record until you get it down.
- Consider joining an online guitar school such as Guitar Tricks which has apps (such as the Fretboard Trainer) to help you practice
- If you're using an electric guitar, check out mini (or micro) guitar amps that are superb for practice.
So there you have it, our Ultimate Guide to Guitar Practice! We hope you’ve got a ton of value out of it. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Be sure to check out our free mini-ebook ‘famous guitarists practice routines’ for more ideas of how to rock your guitar world!