5 Important Steps For Effective Guitar Practice
by Tomas Andrijauskas
Have you ever noticed that some guitar players, who practice only 1 or two 2 hours per day, reach high levels of guitar playing in shorter time compared to others who spend 3 or even more hours per day and still struggle to play the guitar? Usually, players belonging to the latter group blame the lack of “natural talent” or think that they just haven’t found right guitar exercises.
The truth is that the so called “natural talent” – how people usually view it – has almost nothing to do with guitar practicing results. Anyone who has a physical ability (meaning: have hands and can control them) and can enjoy listening to their favorite artists can learn guitar and reach high levels of guitar playing no matter if they think they have “natural talent” or not.
Specific guitar playing exercises are also not the most important thing. Of course, there are good and bad exercises depending on what playing concept or area you want to practice. However, even with the best guitar playing exercises you may not reach a desired guitar playing level. The very best guitar exercises will have zero value if you don’t know how to practice guitar effectively.
Yes! One of the most important things is your guitar practice effectiveness.
This is the main difference between players who practice less and get more results in shorter time and players who practice a lot and still struggle to play guitar well.
The 5 Steps
In this article I’ll present a list of 5 steps to make your guitar practice more effective. It doesn’t matter if you are playing acoustic or electric guitar. It doesn’t matter if you are a pop player, a rock player, a blues player, a metal player, a jazz player or any other style player. These ways are highly effective for any style player. Moreover, the steps are not specific only to guitar and apply to other instruments too!
Before going to the steps I want to be sure that you understand the difference between practicing and playing. Guitar practice is a process of learning some new concept or master something you already know. Guitar practice is also a problem solving process where you look for your weaknesses and remove them, or look for playing mistakes and correct them. Guitar playing is an activity when you freely use and apply what you already learned. It is the result of your guitar practice. You play your guitar when you perform, JAM with friends or record your guitar playing in a studio. In short, the process of practicing guitar is the cause and the result is your guitar playing. This means that you can’t expect great progress if you only play your guitar and never actually practice it.
Here are the steps:
1. Have the right mindset for effective guitar practice
Before starting practicing it’s best to prepare yourself mentally for a success. You must believe in yourself that you’ll reach your desired guitar playing level. This includes having positive attitude and being excited for a guitar practice. If you feel negative, it will be better to spend some time to calm down before a practice session. Even 10 minutes of practicing with good attitude is way better than 1 hour of practicing with negative dis-empowering beliefs.
Think about your future guitar practice results before each practice session. Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ll learn some new song or improve some guitar playing skill. This will help you to prepare for the practice.
2. Have long-term and short-term goals
Blind practice without any goals to reach will not be effective.
For a practice to be very effective you must have a general direction where you want to go.
Start by setting long term goals (several years to the future).
They can be for example: to learn some favorite complex and difficult songs, reach very high level of guitar playing technique, have very tight rhythm playing or be able to play anything you hear or imagine in your head.
After you set your long-term goals, continue with short term goals (2-3 months). They can be for example: learn several easier songs (that are at your current playing level), increase playing speed by 10-20 bpm with some specific guitar playing exercise, learn to improvise in a new scale, write 10 or more songs (if you want to learn songwriting).
Check if your short-term goals help you to go in a general direction, which is described by your long-term goals.
3. Plan your practice sessions in advance
In order to not waste your guitar practice time, prepare in advance.
Plan your practice time and make a schedule for each session for the whole week. Make sure that your practice plans and schedules are created according to your short-term goals. Each time you practice you guitar playing, you should have some small goal in mind, which will help to reach some of your short-term goals that in themselves will help to reach your-long term goals.
For example, your practice session can consist of several parts:
learning a part of a new song, practicing a difficult part of another song that you already know how to play, practicing scales, chord changes, learning music theory. Make a list of things you can practice and insert them into your plan according to your short-term goals.
4. Practice with a maximum focus
When you actually practice, engage your brain and work with a maximum focus. 10-15 minutes of fully focused practice produces better results than 1 hour of “practice” when your mind is wandering and dreaming about something else.
One way to help you to concentrate is to remove all distractions from your practice place: turn off your phone, turn off your internet access, turn off your TV and tell to others that your practice time is very important to you and you don’t want to be distracted in any way (unless there is an emergency situation).
Of course, if you are practicing your performance, you can turn the previous advice around and create as many distractions around you as possible – in this way you prepare yourself for the actual performance. However, keep in mind that it doesn’t mean that you should not be focused.
5. Track your progress
In order to know whether your practicing is effective you should track your guitar playing progress. This will also help you to plan further practice sessions so you’ll know that you are practicing important things.
You can track various aspects of your guitar playing. For example:
- You can track your maximum guitar playing speed using various exercises, scales, arpeggios, licks, riffs and etudes.
- You can track your chord changing speed.
- You can track your knowledge of chords and scales by creating a list of how many different chords and scales you can recall and play quickly in a random order. You can track your music theory knowledge in a similar way.
- You can track your rhythm playing by measuring how fast and for how long you can maintain tight rhythm before the first mistake appears. Alternatively, you can count your rhythm mistakes when you play some riff over and over for a specific time interval.
- You can track your aural skills by measuring how many different scales, chords or short melodies you can accurately sing. Another way to track aural skills is to measure how fast you can transcribe short melodies or how fast you find correct notes on a guitar of a melody you
improvise with your voice.
- You can even track your creativity, improvisation and songwriting skills. These things may not be measured using numbers, but you can always write your own comments on each piece you create or improvise and check how they evolve over the time. You can periodically record your improvisation and check how quality changes over the time.
As you can see, the possibilities are endless.
Try to find more ways to track your guitar playing skills!
When you have the big picture of your guitar playing progress, you can alter your practice sessions in order to address your strong and weak areas of guitar playing.
If you want to reach high levels of guitar playing and/or be a professional musician, the information I presented here is crucial for your success.
If you just want to play guitar for yourself and don’t plan to reach high levels playing, the information is still useful for you – it will reduce your wasted time of ineffective practice and you’ll start to enjoy your guitar playing much sooner.
About the author:
Tomas Andrijauskas is a professional guitar teacher in a city of Vilnius in Lithuania with a passion for neoclassical metal, black metal and various acoustic projects. If you are local to the area and want to learn to play guitar or improve you current playing level, you can contact Tomas by looking
for Guitar Lessons in Vilnius.