Lots of guitar players try to (or at least want to) get better as fast as possible. But what’s the best way to really get better? The one answer you’re likely to hear is this: create a guitar practice routine and stick with it. But how do you create a routine in the first place? And how do you use that practice routine to improve your playing?
Here’s our advice for creating (and sticking to!) the best guitar practice routine for you.
How to Create the Ideal Guitar Practice Routine
1. Set A Realistic Practice Schedule
When you’re drawing up a new practice routine, it’s important to first be realistic about the time you can commit to playing guitar. It’s ideal to be able to practice every day. That doesn’t have to mean practicing for hours on end; most experts will tell you that even practicing for 15 minutes a day will help you make progress. And it’s certainly better than nothing.
Be sure to set a realistic timeframe for each practice session. Depending on your day-to-day schedule, you may not have as much time to practice on certain days as you would like.
In some ways, it’s ideal to try to treat guitar practice like work. Don’t just schedule how many minutes you want to play each day; try to select a certain time window you can use to play. For example, if you get home from work at 5 p.m., you might decide that 5:30-6:30 p.m. is a doable practice time, at least on weekdays.
The bottom line is to (1) set a time goal you can reach and (2) make sure you allocate that time to guitar practice each day. If you don’t plan out when exactly you want to practice, it’s easy to accidentally let the day slip away. For some guidelines on setting a practice schedule, check out this helpful video.
2. Take Your Goals And Genre Into Account
The right practice schedule for each guitar player will look a little different. For instance, if you’re a folk player, you may not want to work on sweep-picking exercises.
If you’re very new to playing guitar, use your guitar practice time to focus more on basic skills. Most structured learning programs will take you through basic chords and scales before asking you to branch out and pick a genre.
Before you plan out each session, make sure the new techniques you’re practicing support your goals. Prioritize important techniques and skills that will help you get better. Of course, if you’re new to guitar, you may not know where to proceed after you start planning. Consulting a guitar instructor or online learning program can give you some ideas on how to progress. This video offers some additional tips on how to see better daily progress.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working on new skills usually associated with different genres. If you want to be a more versatile guitarist or just want to practice outside your wheelhouse a bit, learning riffs or songs from other genres can help.
If you’re a performer, make sure you set aside time to run through every new song until depending on your time constraints, you might consider this type of rehearsal to be different from your guitar practice time.
3. Practice With Purpose
When you set out to practice guitar, make sure you don’t only intend to practice what you like to do. It’s all too easy to just learn a song or two each week, always keeping your practice routine well within your comfort zone.
Don’t do this! If you want to build your skill, learn new things, and reach your goals, working on different and challenging things is a must.
Practicing with purpose boils down to being able to use every part of your practice routine to better yourself as a player. You may sometimes see articles on practicing mention “focused practice.” The focused practice essentially means keeping yourself engaged in whatever you’re doing. For instance, mindlessly drilling through your scales isn’t what most people would consider being focused practice.
However, if you’re practicing scales and really focusing on how different scale “boxes” fit together, that means you’re doing focused practice.
Especially if you get distracted easily, you may find that keeping your guitar practice focused is difficult. But if you make the effort, you’ll almost certainly see your playing improve! If you want to learn more about focused practice, check out this useful video.
4. Include Music Theory
For nearly every one of us, playing guitar is preferable to studying music theory. Many musicians don’t especially like theory, calling it boring, dry, or tedious. But whether you enjoy learning theory or not, knowing at least some basic guitar theory will help you make connections and truly understand how music works.
If you’re an analytical person, the theory will also help you understand why music sounds the way it does. For instance, you will understand why major and minor chords seem to convey very different moods, or why different major and minor scales contain different notes. But how do you go about learning theory? Plenty of free websites offer in-depth theory lessons. If you prefer videos, there are seemingly endless high-quality videos on guitar theory (like this one).
The key to making basic music theory work for you is learning how to apply it directly to guitar playing. Lesson programs or structured guitar books can often show you how to use music theory as soon as you learn it, but the videos and sites mentioned above are often a good choice, too.
You may not need or want to work on theory every single time, but as you plan your practice routine, make sure that you include it regularly. You can also try things that make theory more fun (like analyzing the chord progressions in your favorite songs).
5. Scales, Chords, And Exercises
Knowing at least some scales and chords is essential for any guitar player. And to reach your goals in any genre, you should have at least some basic proficiency in both.
Regardless of what you plan to cover in your practice routine, it’s a good idea to start with a scale or exercise. This first step can help you warm up; when you start playing, you may find moving from note to note is a little slow at first.
And if you’re a beginner trying to learn your first scale, the minor pentatonic scale is a great choice. From there, the major pentatonic scale, the blues scale (essentially the pentatonic scale with an additional note), and the various modes of the major scale. You’ve probably heard it before, but emphasize technique over speed!
Learning individual chords is of course important, but knowing how to structure a chord progression is a crucial skill. Once you have some familiarity with chords and chord progressions, you might find a more in-depth chord study to be helpful.
A chord wheel is an important tool if you’re diving into a chord study. With a chord wheel, you turn a transparent wheel into a given key. The clear overlay will show you which chords can be used for progressions in that key.
You might also find it helpful to get a guitar book of exercises. Try to choose one geared toward beginner players if you’re newer to guitar. Exercises can be a fun way to learn new riffs and techniques. This video will introduce you to some practice exercises to help you get started!
6. Improvisation And Songwriting
Practicing doesn’t have to only include different scales and exercises. After all, most of us learn scales in order to be able to play solos (and even to make them up on the spot).
When you practice improvisation, you’ll have an opportunity to apply your knowledge of scales and modes. Try using a scale in the correct key to play along to a song you like. If you’re a beginner, you might not sound good at first! But don’t worry; improvisation takes some time to get the hang of. This video offers some advice to help you practice improvisation.
Ear training is a somewhat related skill that will also go a long way toward making you a better guitarist. Training your ear will help you identify notes as they are played. It’s a good skill to have when playing with a group and you may find that it also makes a major difference in your songwriting.
With a trained ear, you’ll be able to play the riffs and melodies you hear in your head. This article will take you through some key ear training exercises designed especially for guitarists.
If you like to make your own music, improvisation is an important technique when it comes to songwriting. After all, the process of improvising on the spot is somewhat like that of writing a song. Both require you to draw on your musical knowledge base in creative and original ways.
7. Don’t Do Everything At Once!
Though you want to make sure you practice the techniques and skills mentioned above, practicing all of these things in one day isn’t practical. After all, you would only have a few minutes to use on each topic.
Instead, map out your practice routine at least a week at a time. On each day that you practice, choose two or three areas to cover. For example, on Mondays, you might work on scales and improvisation. On Tuesday you may work on chords and the theory behind chord progressions. And on Wednesday, you may focus on exercises that develop speed and dexterity.
Don’t think your guitar practice needs to include equal time for every practice area covered above. The idea is to use these areas as a starting point to build a customized practice routine. As a side note, you may find it helpful to take the time to write down what you covered each day. Doing this will help you see how you’ve gotten better over time. It also can give you a sense of when it may be time to tweak your practice routine a bit.
8. A Sample Routine
If you’re planning a practice routine for the first time, you probably now have a good general idea of what you need to include. But sometimes it can help to simply look at an example schedule. Here’s one designed to last two hours:
- Warm-up (5 min) – Do some hand stretches and warm up with a couple of picking exercises.
- Scale practice (10 min) – Pick a scale and practice it ascending and descending.
- Chord practice (15 min) – Focus on practicing challenging chords or those giving you trouble. This is also a good time to practice troublesome chord changes!
- Improvisation practice (20 min) – This is a great way to practice using your scales. First, pick the scale you want to use. Then find a song or backing track, determine the key, and improvise over it.
- Freestyle practice (30 min) – Pick something new to learn and practice.
- Theory and application (20 min) – Pick a video or article on guitar theory. Carefully read (or watch)and study it.
- Song practice (20 min) – Whether you’re practicing songs you like, songs you’ve written, or both, use this last 20 minutes to run through them and work on any trouble spots.
If you have less time to practice, you can adapt this sample schedule. You can cut down on some of the 20-minute and 30-minute sections.
Alternatively, you may want to take out a larger section entirely and just save it for the next day’s practice. Don’t feel as though you must stick to the above schedule, either — it’s simply to give you a sense of how you might want to map out your practice routine. Check out this helpful video for some tips on setting up your practice routine.
9. Make Time For What You Love
Not all of your practice time needs to be this structured. After all, most of us use guitar playing as a fun, creative outlet — we didn’t start playing music just to practice different exercises every day.
So when it starts to feel like work all the time, step back and play a song you love or just improvise a bit on the fretboard. After all, a guitar practice routine’s whole point is to help you improve at making and/or playing music. Sticking to a routine takes focus and discipline, but you will be rewarded with ever-improving guitar skills. Check out this video.
Need Some More Help?
Creating a practice schedule for learning to play guitar is one thing, but making sure you know what to practice is another. That’s where an online learning program for guitar comes in. Whether you have several techniques in mind you’d like to learn or just want to ensure you know what to work on next, taking an online guitar course can make a major difference in your progress.
When you want to make the most out of each practice session, letting a structured online course guide your guitar practice is the next best step to take!
Many experienced guitarists will tell you that creating and sticking to an effective guitar practice routine is one of the hardest things about learning the instrument. And whether you’re trying to move from the beginner to intermediate level or you’re already an advanced player who just wants to improve your technique even further, making your practice time count is one of the best ways to do so.
Do you have any additional tips for guitar players creating a practice routine? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to like and share if you found this list useful!