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July 09, 2009

How To Practice Guitar

As a guitar teacher, I have found that students are not sure how they should practice. As a result, they often don't improve as fast as they could, because they are not using their time playing guitar effectively. I think this applies to many players, regardless of ability. Many feel they are just not getting any better, and frustration comes easy as a result. I have to admit, it happens to me too!

So what can be done about this? Are there any "secrets to practicing guitar"? Not really, no. However, what we all need to do sometimes it to take a step back and take a look at where we are now, and where we want to be. This is different for everyone, depending on their level of skill, but what most of us have in common is the need for a practice plan. I believe that in order accomplish things effectively in life, regardless of what it is, having a plan in place is essential.

Are you noodling around for hours and hours, playing the same stuff you already know over and over? If so, why? Probably because you never stopped and thought about it for very long. There is a big difference between practicing and noodling. Practicing is learning new material, gaining new knowledge or skill, and refining and improving upon what you already know. Noodling is not necessarily bad, not at all, but we should look at developing a plan that also includes other essential parts of playing guitar.

So what does a practice plan look like then? The first thing I recommend is to work with a metronome. If you have access to a drum machine, even better. Metronomes can be quite boring to play, so playing to a drum track is way more fun. They both will do the job though, which is forcing you to play well by keeping good time. Whatever you are working on, play it slow with a metronome/drum machine first. Make sure it is accurate and clearly executed. For example, you may be playing 1/4 notes - one note per beat of the metronome - so play it over and over and make sure you are keeping time with the ticking of the metronome. Practicing with a metronome early on in your career is so important. Your timing will become great as a result, and you will sound great when you play. This is especially true when you play in a band. Just be patient, and practice at slow tempos at first, and only speed up the metronome when you are able to play it perfectly at the current tempo.

If you are having problems learning a particular part of a song or lick, etc - narrow down the problem area and tackle that problem separately. It might be a bend, a strumming pattern, a chord, etc. Play that part slowly until you are able to play it well. Then move on to the next parts. Some things take more time to get down, so be patient and repeatedly work on difficult parts - it will get easier over time, I promise.

Here's another thing to try. Use a timer and set it to 10 minutes per each subject of study. Keep practicing the same thing until the timer goes off. Good job! Feel free to noodle around for a few minutes, before you move on to the next subject of study.

Suggested Guitar Practice Schedule (80 minutes)

One Four Five

Here is recommended, basic theory course - OneFourFive. I-IV-V (that's 1, 4, 5 in English) refers to the root note (I), or tonic, and the two notes in perfect relation to it (IV and V). Because it is a numbering system, it is universal, and applies to every single key.

Other than #1, feel free to practice these things in any order! You don't have to do them all in one setting either. Do a few at a time, and next time you practice, do the other items in the list you didn't do the first time, etc. Also, feel free to change the number of minutes for each to suit your own needs. Maybe you want to practice for 2 hours, maybe just 50 minutes - it is completely up to you. You can view this schedule as a skeleton or blueprint which you can modify to fit into your own situation.

  1. Warm-up - 5 minutes. First of all - tune your guitar! Then, play anything you like, but don't do anything that is really hard on the muscles in your hands. Let them get warmed up first.
  2. Scales - 10 minutes . Work on scales you don't yet know well. You probably have scales tabbed out and printed. Take your time and play these slowly with the metronome. Play the notes of the scale in question in any order, random, sequential, etc. As you do this, try to visualize in your head the patterns this scale creates on the fretboard. Over time, you will be able to "see" the scale on the fretboard without thinking much about it.
  3. Arpeggios - 10 minutes. Do the same as with the scales mentioned above. An arpeggio is a group of notes which are played one after the other, either going up or going down, where the notes belong to one chord. Again, visualize and try to remember the patterns you play.
  4. Chords - 10 minutes. Learn new voicings of chords. Learn new chords. Practice chord progressions with some of the new chords you are learning.
  5. Theory - 5 minutes. Get a good book about music theory. There are many out there. This one is great - Alfred Essentials of Music Theory: Complete Self-Study Course (Book/2-CD)
  6. Technique - 10 minutes. Work on things that need improvement or that may be new to you, for example - hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, strumming, alternate picking, sweep technique, tapping, etc.
  7. Fretboard training - 10 minutes. Set the metronome at a low BPM. Start with any note you want. Find and play that note for every click of the metronome on every string, but start with 2 strings at a time. Once you have that down, move to 2 more strings, then practice finding that note on those 4 strings. Continue with the last 2 strings and finally do all 6 strings. Play the notes in any order and direction. The purpose here is to find the note in question as quickly as you can. It will become "transparent" with enough training - you will be able to find any note anywhere on the fretboard without having to think
  8. Work on a song - 10 minutes. Work on a song which has something challenging in it, something that gives you an opportunity to practice something new.
  9. Reading music - 10 minutes. Work on reading TAB and music notation. Practice reading rhythms, notes and sight reading.
  10. Transcribe something - ANY minutes. This is the best way to teach yourself, and it's fantastic ear training. Listen to a few seconds of a song, over and over. Imitate best you can, try to figure out one note at a time. This means replaying the same sequence many times. After a while, you will be able to do this quicker, as well as picking out more than one note at a time.
  11. Play anything - ANY minutes. Noodle around and play whatever you want - playing should first and foremost be FUN!

Important things to remember

  • Always tap your foot with the metronome and the rhythm you are playing. That way, you will lock your body into the meter, and you will become good at playing tight. Good timing is soooo important! I cannot stress this enough.
  • Use that metronome/drum machine! Any time you are working on something with a beat to it, get that metronome/drum machine going. You get two benefits at one time - you may be working on scales, chords, etc, but at the same time, you will also improve your timing when you practice this to the metronome.
  • Visualize the notes you are about to play. Practicing enough will get you to the point where, for example, you can see the note "A" on the B string before you actually play it.
  • Record yourself regularly, and then listen back to it with critical ears. What problems do you notice? Timing issues? Are notes played cleanly and accurately? Determine what the weaknesses are, and focus on correcting them.
  • Sing the notes - as you are playing through, for example, a scale or an arpeggio, sing the notes as you are playing them. This will train your ear and will also help you learn where the notes are on the fretboard.
  • Play with others - jam with friends, your teacher, anyone. Play something for your friends and family. Get a little gig somewhere - it will help you stay motivated. Playing with people with improve your ear and you will develop your musicianship further and quicker.

Hope you find these tips useful. Remember, a focused practice routine will lead to improvements faster.

Last thing - don't forget to the most important part - to have fun!

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By Robert Renman -

Comment on this?


Posted by Robert Renman on July 09, 2009

Comments on this blog entry

Ryan said...

Great post. I really need to get into the habit of structuring my practice sessions. I think it would help me improve faster. I found some interesting info here as well

Comment added on August 25, 2012
Alexis said...

Thanks for this advice Robert which I will try to follow as good as I can. I'm actually learning to play guitar all by myself with books,internet and of course your help which is very helpfull. However, I decided to follow lessons in a few weeks with a teacher as well because I think a teacher can tell me immediately what I'm doing wrong when I'm playing my instrument. I hope that will be helpfull to avoid wrong habits I'm maybe already have...

Comment added on July 14, 2012
Alex said...

Hi Robert. Thank You for the guide how to practice guitar. Alex

Comment added on May 28, 2012
prajwol joshi said...

i love it

Comment added on May 28, 2012
Perry Rease said...

As always,excellent advice, Robert! I have come to appreciate the importance of using a metronome. However, most 'nomes only go up to 250-270 bpm, and many of us have learned to play at a much faster pace. So I've found an online 'nome that plays far faster. It's at,
and it's called advanced best metronome. Its bpm goes up to over 900! And it can be customized to one's own parameters. This 'nome can also beat as a drum track and many other types of instruments. And it's all free! Check it out!
Thanks again for your great insights and encouragement, Robert!

Comment added on August 05, 2011
Brendan Leahy. said...

Thanks for your time & effort.
By the way - I'm a lefty using a lefthanded guitar,
Cheers - keep up the great work !

Comment added on July 10, 2011
Jon Bowerman said...

the one thing I would add to this list is to try and sing the notes of the scale as you play them - it helps with ear training and identifying intervals

Comment added on May 06, 2011
Robert said...

Hi Rich, I don't have experience with that unit, but you can get the manual here:

Comment added on November 19, 2010
Rich said...


Thanks for the nudge. I always get hung up on things I'm not comfortable with and end up noodling far more than I should. I need to create a checklist to make sure I stay on track.

On another note (no pun intended), my metronome is impossibly boring and the tick it makes is irritating. That said, I have a BOSS DR-660, but I'll be darned if I can figure out how to make it work effectively. Do you have a training guide for this thing or do you know where I might find something useful? I have the manual, but it doesn't really help.

Comment added on November 19, 2010
Robert said...

Morgan, try singing along to, for example, C-E-G (a C triad) as you play these notes. Sing along to single note practices, as it helps develop your ear and musicality.
Singing complete chords won't work really - I'm just referring to one note at a time. As mentioned, you could sing the chord notes one at a time if you want (C-E-G) for C major triad.

Comment added on August 23, 2010
Morgan Peline said...

Thank you so much for your advice - very useful! I have one question. How do you: 'Sing the notes'?

One person in the past has suggested using 'Fixed Do': singing Do, Re, Mi etc. for C, D, E etc. - I don't know how to sing/name chords....

Another person has suggested singing 1, 2, 3 etc. for various scales. Again I don't know what to name/sing chords?

Any suggestions?

Thank you!!

Comment added on August 22, 2010
rick said...

I think that everything you said is great no arguments whatsoever. Brilliantly put on all levels. Adding upon this I would say that you should think of what Mark says just as any other person invests time into something.

The 3 bucket rule: many successful people visualize this way. One day you may be playing all scales and put more in one bucket. That is fine but remember not to make the bucket overflow and waste your efforts. Take what new things you learn and then fill up your other buckets.. Like learn scales 1 play songs 2 learn note reading 3... like the old saying dont put all your eggs in one basket or in this case bucket..

Comment added on June 12, 2010
Robert said...

Mark, I think it depends on how you define "basics". Playing a open D chord over and over once you know isn't helping you improve much as a player. Practicing the "basic" D major scale all over the neck, however, now that's something that is useful and more challenging. You get a lot of finger stretches included in this exercise, and you start to learn the fretboard more. It also much more useful as a developing musician, than to strum an open D chord, or playing Knocking On Heaven's Door over and over, if you already know the tune. Just as an example. :)

Comment added on April 27, 2010
Mark said...

Unfortunately studies of the "best" in all areas from music to sport and onwards show that the best practice the basics 70% and new things only 30% of their time. This ensures that they never lose touch with the fundamentals of their art and instead build upon them to acheive new skills.

Comment added on April 27, 2010
Lan said...

thank you very much, this article is very good for guitarist

Comment added on January 19, 2010
Gustavo Heras Martini said...

This article on how guitrra practice is very good, helped me a lot, I hope you send me more information thanks

Comment added on September 04, 2009
Lisa said...

I play Jazz piano and guitar. But recently I started playing jazz on my guitar. I have exclusively played country blues guitar. Its so damn fun to play, for instance, a charlie parker tune!!! Thanx Robert for the practice schedule and lessons. Namaste!

Comment added on August 16, 2009
NeverTooLateGuitar said...

This is a great post. As someone just starting out I need all the pointers I can get. My practice sessions are not this well thought out and now I think they should be.


Comment added on July 31, 2009
John Donaldson said...

Good piece, thanks Robert. Always need to be reminded to practice better...

Comment added on July 13, 2009