By Jason Wilford
One of the first questions I often get asked by someone who’s just starting to play the guitar is ‘how much do I need to practice?’. Sometimes they will even ask deeper questions like ‘how many months until I can play like (insert favourite artist here)?’. I wish those questions were easy to answer, but the truth is that the answer will be different for every single person asking the question. To help you understand why there is no single answer to the ‘How much do I need to practice?’ question, we should take a look at a few determining factors that will shape how much you should practice. Before we get started, let’s clarify that more practice time is definitely better provided you’re focusing on the right things and not wasting time, but there are many factors involved that will shape your personal answer, such as how much time you can devote to practicing, what your goals are, how often you are able to practice, and how focused you will be during your practice sessions.
What are your goals, and how ambitious are they?
Someone who has a goal of performing at their son or daughters wedding six months from now will have to practice much differently than someone who is just playing for fun. The same goes if you are in a band and have to record an album in 3 months. The time constraint and the impending deadline of when you need to be prepared can drastically alter how much you feel you need (and want) to practice. Without a deadline or something to work towards, you won’t need to practice any specific amount since there is no goal, but without practice you will just stagnate. If you want to improve your skills faster, try to set yourself some time-based goals so that you push yourself a bit harder, practice more, and benefit from that added motivation!
How much time can you realistically fit in your schedule for practice?
Some people have lots of free time and can easily dedicate an hour or two a night to practice the guitar, whereas others will find it hard to fit in 5 minutes. It’s all about balance, and in the end your guitar practice will take time that you used to dedicate elsewhere. Don’t feel bad if you hear stories of people practicing 1 or 2 hours a night, and you can only find 15 minutes. That’s totally ok! We’re all different, and any time spent practicing is better than no time at all. You don’t want to feel overwhelmed with the thought of practicing, so take it slowly at first. If you’re wondering how to fit guitar practice into your life, check out how to easily form new practice habits here
Will you be practicing every day?
Practicing for 15 minutes a day, 5 times a week, is much more effective than practicing once a week for 75 minutes. When you add it up, they both equal the same amount of time, but a big lapse of time in between practice sessions will mean it takes much more practice to get back to where you left off. If you practice every day, your gains will be compounded and you will notice consistent improvement in your playing, whereas practicing once a week will lead to slower results with more time spent trying to remember what you were doing. In the end, practicing more often will be much more effective, even if it means practicing for a shorter duration.
How focused will you be with your practice sessions?
Sometimes it’s easy to get sidetracked with your practice and not follow a specific plan, but this is where it’s really easy to get off track with what you’re looking to accomplish. You can practice all you want, but if you’re not working on the right things, in the right order, you simply won’t get the same results compared to sticking to a structured and regimented practice plan. Simply put, knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time will ensure you stay focused when you practice. Lay out a plan for what you’re going to be practicing before you actually do, and if you have trouble with this, seek out a qualified guitar teacher near you to help you with this.
How often do you take guitar lessons, and how long are they?
You may not think of this, but every time you have a guitar lesson, you’re also getting high-quality practice. When immersed in a lesson, all of your energy is devoted to what you’re working on in that particular moment, so you will be much more focused than when you’re at home. You can also get feedback on whether you’re doing things right or wrong, and it’s easy to know what you should be working since that will be laid out for you in the lesson. Because of this, it makes sense that students who attend guitar lessons more often will progress faster because they are getting highly focused practice time while they’re at their lesson. If you’re the type of person who has trouble finding the time to practice at home, you may want to think of increasing the frequency of your guitar lessons. Contrary to what you may think, a student who takes two hours of lessons a week will need less practice at home to accomplish the same thing as someone who just takes one hour of lessons a week.
In the end, there are many factors to consider when trying to answer the ‘How much no I need to practice?’ question, and it’s nearly impossible to tell you in advance how fast someone may or may not progress with a specific amount of practice time. The answer to this question for you should strike a balance between everything else you have going on in your life, your guitar goals, and how committed you are to achieving them. At minimum, you will want to practice at least 15-20 minutes, 5 times a week, to gain the momentum needed to see consistent results. Consistency is key here, and look at learning the guitar as a long term process where results are measured in years, and not days/months. Keeping it fresh and fun should be a priority, so that you’re able to continue practicing without feeling like it’s a chore.
Bonus: I have observed that students who actively listen to a lot of music tend to pick things up much more quickly than those who don’t. I don’t just mean listening to music in the car while driving, but listening to music and paying attention to what’s happening. Music listening can be a very important part of your learning process, so seek out, listen to and enjoy as much music as you can!
To find out more about how I can help you figure the answer to this question out, contact me here.
About the Author:
Jason Wilford is a rock/blues guitar player and teaches Mississauga Guitar Lessons.