Developing a Practice Routine

A balanced practice routine should consist of three basic types of practice.

  1. Technique 30% (minimum of 1 LH, 1 RH, 1 scale)
  2. Etudes 30%
  3. Repertoire 40%

Technique

Seated Guitar PlayerAsk any guitar player what they would change about their playing and most will answer: Speed. Along with speed, technique is that part of studying that involves dexterity, accuracy, proper-placement, etc. The key to developing technique is correct repetition. Whatever you practice, you learn. So if you sit in front of the TV, play a scale incorrectly four times, and finally get it on the fifth, guess what? You just learned how to do it wrong. Slow down, play it correctly over and over and slowly speed up the tempo. Choose a minimum of 3 exercises: One for the right hand, one for the left hand, and one for synchronization (usually a scale) Our online practice schedule has two great tools for this, a metronome and a counter to keep of correct repetitions.

Some Suggestions:

  1. Pumping Nylon - (A great book on technique with lots of exercises).
  2. Guitar Aerobics: A 52-Week, One-lick-per-day Workout Program for Developing, Improving and Maintaining Guitar Technique
  3. Kitharologus: The Path to Virtuosity - (Classical Oriented)
  4. Mel Bay Guitar Warm-Ups & Solos QWIKGUIDE (Quick Guide)

Etudes

Guitar Player StandingAn Etude is a study. It doesn't have to be called an Etude to be one, and it doesn't have to be classical. Rock and Jazz players can benefit from studies too. With an Etude you want to choose a piece that works on your weaknesses. A player who is bad at pull offs could play Barrios Estudio por Ligado, a rock player who can only solo using the pentatonic scale might study a Jazz tune to learn to switch arpeggios. All guitar players know their weaknesses, so start working on them. This area also includes scales and arpeggios used for soloing as well as the CAGED system.

Places to start:

  1. Andres Segovia - 20 Studies for the Guitar: Book/CD Pack
  2. Play Along with Bach (Barry Galbrath Jazz Guitar study series Series)
  3. A Modern Method for Guitar - Volume 1: Book/DVD-ROM Pack (Method (Berklee Press))

Repertoire

Secrets of Successful PracticeYour repertoire is the pieces you want to be able to play for people. These will take several months to learn well. Three pieces of advice here. One, Memorize them well. That means learning them with more than muscle memory (See our Secrets to Successful Practice for more on this). Two, work with goals not time. In other words don't say I'll practice this ten minutes, say I'll practice this until I get it right ten times. You'll get more done in less time. Three, don't eat the elephant. What does that mean? Have you ever tried to eat an elephant? Wouldn't suggest you do it in one sitting. Start with a little trunk, work your way to the ears, and in a years time your done. (How big is your refrigerator?) The point is this, work on small sections (usually the toughest first) and master them before trying to play the whole piece.

What should you play? Don't ask me! Play what you love, or play what your significant other loves.

Final Thoughts

Online Practice ScheduleKeep a practice schedule. Sure it sounds anal, but it works. Divide up your guitar practice routine and make sure you give each section of practice its fair shake. Our online practice has lots of tools to help you accomplish your practice goals. A complete schedule with timers and checklists, see our online practice schedule for more.

Don't neglect mental practice. This site is devoted to developing your mental guitar chops. Often more can be accomplished in practicing for 5 minutes mentally than 50 on the guitar without concentration. Learn notes, music theory, scale patterns, etc. Practicing without the guitar is as important as practicing with it and is too often neglected. Try this: Sing the melody to a guitar song and visualize your left hand as you do it. Can you make it all the way through? No, then open up the music and check it, this is a spot were you had a high probabilit of making a mistake.

How much should you practice? As much as possible. Aiming to be a professional? No less than 3 hrs a day. Just want to impress the neighbors? How about one hour. If you practice several hours make sure to take breaks. Both your hands and your brain need a break from time to time.

Practice Ideas

Looking for specific things to do. Try these...

  1. Learn all the notes on the fret board. (try our Learn the Guitar Neck in 10 Easy Lessons).
  2. Learn the CAGED system. (See our blog from a good free CAGED primer).
  3. Play some Bach. The inventions are great on the guitar
  4. Train your ear to hear intervals. (Check out Ear Tester)
  5. Transcribe something. (Or play the Melody Game)
  6. Play the chromatic scale with patterns to develop speed. (Our Super Scale Trainer is great for this)
  7. Learn to read music notation (Check out our free mini-course on guitar notes.)
  8. Learn to play finger style.
  9. Learn to play with a pick.