(NOTE: Want to get better at guitar with 7 minutes per day? Check this out!)
This is important. According to Fender, 90% of new guitar players quit within the first year. I’ve taught hundreds of people of all ages and one thing is disturbingly common: They come to me not knowing a thing about effective guitar practice.
No wonder so many don’t see progress, lose motivation and quit! What you are about to read is how to consistently learn guitar and always improve.
There is so much bad info about practicing guitar online. And worse, no one ever seems to explain how to practice guitar on a daily basis.
Or how important it is to get right.
If what I’m about to lay out is new to you… don’t beat yourself up. My guitar teacher didn’t explain this to me when I first started either. After this article, you’ll have a crystal-clear understanding of what a successful guitar practice routine looks like.
You see, how you practice guitar is the difference between good guitar players and crappy ones.
The difference between the ones who sound like beginners after 10+ years of playing…
…and the ones who sound like wizards in less than a year.
Nothing has more influence on your guitar playing abilities than what and how you practice. Nothing. No amount of talent can make up for lazy practicing. No amount of time can make up for garbage practice methods.
It’s been said “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes PERMANENT”.
When I first started learning guitar, I struggled with consistent practice. I didn’t even know what good guitar practice even was. I usually tried to learn a new song. But ended up playing the same old crap I already knew.
Or I’d go on YouTube and bounce around, watching videos for hours without actually practicing. And for years I sounded like a beginner. I got so frustrated with myself that I almost gave up on playing.
My guitar started to sit in the corner. Dust started to settle. Weeks would pass without me touching it.
What Turned My Playing Around…
One day I read an article on effective guitar practice or something along those lines. The article wasn’t that good. But it got me interested enough to start researching. And research I did. I read books. I watched videos. I read blogs. I read scientific studies on the subject.
And I’ve taken all that information and boiled it down to 6 core practice principles. Do these 6 things when you practice guitar, and your playing can only improve. And improve much faster than you thought possible.
Guitar Practice Principle #1 – Set Guitar Goals.
Setting a goal is extremely important for effective guitar practice. It all hinges on this. You see, you have a very limited amount of time to practice guitar each day. And there are tons of exercises, techniques, and songs you could potentially learn and work on.
But you can’t. You can’t do it all. Not at first anyway.
So you have to define what makes you happy to play guitar. Is it neo-classical shredding ala Yngwie Malmsteen? 10 finger, tapped fingerstyle ala Erik Mongrain? Or maybe it’s just sitting on the porch and playing some soothing tunes.
Whatever it is… figure out what you are passionate about first. Then pick a few songs from that style and focus only on the techniques needed to play those songs. Everything else is a distraction.
Success on guitar comes down to focus. Spread yourself too thin, learn a bunch of random things, and you’ll end up being mediocre at all of them.
Goals also help with motivation. When you have a clearly defined goal that you are aiming for, you have a purpose. A purpose for daily practice. And nothing will motivate you more.
Spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve with your guitar playing. Maybe it’s playing a “concert” for friends and family. Maybe it’s stepping up at a jam sessions with some musician buddies.
Whatever it is, make it a real thing. Make it your official goal.
(NOTE: You can and should have other goals eventually. But this is your first goal.)
Congratulations! You just took the first and most important step to becoming the guitar player you want to be. You’re now part of an elite group.
Guitar Success Strategy #2 – Practice Deliberately
Ok so now how do you actually achieve your goal? The best guitar players have all mastered 1 simple skill. They’ve mastered the skill of solving problems.
Let me explain…
When you learn a new song, some parts are going to be harder to play than others. (If the entire song is just too hard, pick another song.)
Ok so what do you do when you encounter a tricky passage? Do you:
- A: Try to play it as best you can in time with the rest of the song?
- B: Play the entire song over and over hoping the tricky parts improve?
- C: Single out the tricky parts and practice them slowly?
If you picked C you are right! That is deliberate practice. Working on what needs work, in a focused and deliberate way.
The first step of problem-solving your guitar playing is to ask yourself: why does a part sound bad? What do I need to do in order to make it sound good? Then figure out how to play it correctly and make it into a repeatable exercise. Then start slowly and work your way up to the goal tempo using a metronome or backing track.
You can read more about this in a study called:
Start practicing like this today and never stop. Give yourself time to “noodle” and jam, but consider that play time and not actual practice.
Pro Guitar Practicing Rule #3 – Don’t Make Practicing Optional
Make daily deliberate guitar practice a habit. It takes about 30 days to do so. Before that happens, you need to make it as effortless as possible. You’re going to subconsciously be looking for reasons not to practice.
Do these excuses sound familiar?
- I don’t have time today to practice.
- I don’t know what to work on.
- Just getting my guitar out seems like too much of a chore today.
- I’m always getting interrupted or have too many distractions.
So the answer is to eliminate decisions related to practicing guitar. This phenomenon is called Decision Fatigue.
Smart guitar players guard against decision fatigue. Here’s how:
- Have a quiet practice spot with no distractions.
- Experiment and determine your optimal guitar practice time during the day.
- Leave your guitar on a stand and ready to go. If you practice with an electric, leave it plugged in.
- If you use a practice journal or a spreadsheet, make sure it’s easy to get to.
- Have a plan so you don’t have to think about what you’re going to practice (do the planning on the weekend when you have more time).
Success at this point should just be practicing every day for 30 days. Once you do this, you’ll have developed a crucial habit for long-term success on guitar.
Smart Practice Hack #4 – Plan And Track Your Progress
This is HUGE.
Plan your next 7 days of guitar practice. What are you going to work on? Write it down, or use a spreadsheet. Then each time you practice, fill out the sheet.
Track what exercises you are working on. Know how many repetitions you need to play it at what tempo in order to move on. Then write this down or update your spreadsheet each time you practice. Here’s the spreadsheet I use every day:
It’s a Google spreadsheet you can download or save to your Google Drive and edit. It automatically tracks your minutes practiced as well.
Make this a habit. It may seem optional but it’s not. It’s crucial!
Practice Principle #5 – Practice Guitar Consistently
Let’s face it, there’s more time on the weekends than during the week. And it’s tempting to skip guitar practice Monday-Friday and “cram” on Saturday and Sunday.
Don’t do it.
Consistent, daily guitar practice for just 10 minutes per day is worth more than 2 hours on the weekend. Here’s why:
- You build and keep calluses with daily playing. Fingertip pain is a real demotivator.
- You build finger dexterity much faster with consistent, daily practice.
- When you commit to even 10 minutes per day, you end up playing more in aggregate.
The important thing to remember is that 10 or even 5 minutes of actual practice each day is so much better than 2 hours on the weekend.
When you look at practicing this way, it’s not that crazy is it?
I know we’ve covered a lot of ground. So you might want to bookmark this page.
My final tip is this:
Consistent practice is much easier when you have a plan. When you sit down to practice and everything is already thought out and ready to go.
If you are interested in learning guitar with a structured plan to guide you, and if you have limited time to practice, check this out.