Having structure is the single most important aspect to an effective guitar practice routine. My students often ask me why they aren't progressing as fast as they'd like.
The best guitar practice routine for beginners and advanced guitarists alike is a carefully structured one. All practice sessions should include a quick warm up, ear training, theory, skills work and most importantly- fun! Keep reading to learn how to best tailor your practice routine for your skill level and free cheat sheets.
If you want to develop into a great guitar player, you will need to add structure to your routine.
A practice routine should be almost like a daily schedule: broken into blocks, with prescribed times for each section.
The amount of time you give each section of your guitar practice schedule largely depends on your skill level and goals.
For example, a new guitar player should be spending much less time on his warm up than an experienced player.
However, a guitar practice routine for beginners should spend significantly more time on skills training than an experienced guitarist's routine.
Everything is relative and if you have any confusion on this, please let me know and ask in the comments sections at the end of this lesson. Alright, let’s get into it!
The ideal guitar practice routine includes:
1. Warm Up
What is a warm up, really? What should an effective warm up accomplish? Think about those questions for a moment.
Imagine: You’re learning a song, you’re playing along with it, everything is going well- then suddenly the tempo picks up.
You know what’s coming next but your fingers just can’t seem to make the next transition quickly or cleanly enough. You almost nail it, but you’re just a fraction of a second off from perfection.
This annoying little problem is easily fixed with a proper warm up. While the amount of time varies by skill, every guitar player should have the following included in their warm-up routine; regardless of experience:
A. Chords & Transitioning
As a beginner you learn the open, “cowboy” chords. Transitioning within these chords is critical to your development as a player. Don’t neglect these, get them down!
For all you veterans muttering “Bah! I’ve been playing chords for 20 years, I don’t need to practice them.”
How smoothly can you transition from an open C to G, 7th position then back down to A 2nd position while keeping in time?
Find some new chords, practice them. Keep building your arsenal, cuz you’re never too good for more chords. Trust me.
B. Dexterity Exercises
This is the “big secret” to fixing that annoying problem I mentioned before. Remember when I told you to think about those questions? Come up with a reasonable answer?
An effective warm up should really accomplish only two things: get the blood flowing in your hands, and loosen up your fingers.
You will be activating whatever muscle memory you have built up during this time, as well. Making it easier for you to play without staring at your hands when the real practicing begins.
Dexterity exercises build strength and coordination in your fingers making it easier to play longer and faster.
See My Lesson On: Building Dexterity In Your Warm Ups for TABs, techniques and more
C. Right Hand/Left Hand Synchronizing Exercises
These exercises will get you from playing “All the Small Things” to playing “Eruption” faster than anything. By adding synchronization exercises to your guitar practice sessions you will be improving your overall accuracy and speed every day.
Within just a couple weeks you will eliminate that annoying “Pick before you fret” problem, causing all those ugly dead notes in your songs.
Additionally, if you want to get better guitar tone, having your two hands working in unison while you play will help you step your tone up to the next level, as well.
Add these exercises to your practice sessions now, and thank me later.
2. Don’t Let Your Ear Go to Waste
The best guitar practice routines always.. always, always, always include ear training. Did I drive that point home well enough? Some of us are lucky enough to have an inherently good ear for music.
My friend Steve never practices theory or ear training and has just been lucky enough to have the blessing of a good ear. He can hear a song and just figure it out in a matter of hours.
Do you see how he is still held back, though? If you train your ear daily, you will quickly get to the point where you can hear and learn a song in an hour.
Additionally, by developing your ear, you will play with other musicians much better. No more asking what key or listening to the song, looking constipated. Just train your ear daily and you won’t regret it.
Companies like JamPlay and EarMaster both offer paid solutions to ear training. I have recommended both products to many of my students. Training your ear should not be neglected. Trust me.
More on ear training:
3. Understanding and Breaking Music Theory
Theory is another component that simply makes you a much better musician. By understanding how the music you create actually works, you empower yourself to create crazy amounts of creative works.
Very different from your countries laws, once you learn the laws of music theory- you are free to break any of them! It is called theory for a reason.
You’re meant to build an understanding and then explore what you’ve learned. Push the boundaries, try something that seems crazy.
All of it is invaluable for any musician.
More on music theory and applying it to guitar:
4. Hone Your Skills
This is the section most guitarists fall under when they claim to “practice 2 hours a day”. What I often find my students are doing when they tell me this is just working on particular skills such as alternate picking, hammer-ons, two-hand tapping, sweep picking, etc. for hours on end.
This is not practicing, as I hope you can see by now. If not, go back and start reading this article over again- from the beginning. Cuz you’ve clearly missed some things.
5. Have Fun!
Finally, the best part! You may be surprised to learn this- but this part I actually believe to be the most important part of any practice routine. After all, you are learning guitar because one day you heard one and said “Hey, that’s cool.” Guitar is a hobby because it is fun. Remember that.
Yes, excellence always requires hard work- but without fun you will never really achieve excellence. 99% of the people who just sit like drones and practice exercise after exercise, never really get the full experience. They also quit more often than not.
You need to be enjoying yourself- guitar is not a chore. Keep songs and learning them at top priority for all practice sessions, but always do it last.
What do I mean by this? If you’ve only got 20 minutes or so to practice- just warm up and work on a song. However, if you’ve got 45 minutes, warm up real quick, spend 15 minutes on ear training, skills, whatever, and spend your last 20 or so minutes on learning a song.
Guitar Practice Routine Templates:
Beginner Guitar Practice Routine
Ear Training & Theory
As a beginner it is far more important to focus on theory basics at the beginning of your session than warming up. Once you get closer to the intermediate level warm ups will become more important.
Examples of theory/ear training topics to work on:
- Memorizing the fretboard notes
- Memorizing the notes of the musical alphabet
- Learn basic guitar scale formulas and how to play them on your guitar
- Find the C major scale in multiple positions on the neck
Often times if you are working on topics like guitar scales, this can double as your warm up before getting into playing.
If not, simply run through a C major scale in the 1st position a few times. Start with all down strokes, then alternate pick the scale. Be sure to complete the scale forwards and backwards.
When you first start learning guitar, chords and scales should be your primary skills focus.
Once you get comfortable with the basic guitar chords, continue to practice them as well as learn new chords.
You'll find as you begin to learn new songs, the list of chords you have to work on will naturally grow so don't worry about having to research any chords you should be learning after the basics.
After not much time you'll find yourself learning some more difficult songs that require specific techniques you'll need to learn, such as hammer ons, pulls offs, palm muting, etc.
This is where you play whatever it is you want. If you want to keep working on skills, go for it. Though I encourage you to work on learning songs you enjoy listening to during this time.
Learning songs is a great way to keep you motivated to play. Playing guitar can start to feel like a chore and get stale if all you ever do is focus on technique and scales. That is also why it's important you are spending almost an equal amount of time on fun as you are on technique work.
Think of it this way: If you were at a party and handed a guitar - someone asks you to play a song. What song are you going to play?
Build that arsenal of songs so you can play whatever you're feeling. Over time you'll get the riffs of those songs under your fingers and start to develop similar riffs of your own.
1 Hour Total
10 Minutes Ear Training/Theory
5 Minute Warm Up
25 Minutes Skills Training
20 Minutes Fun
Intermediate Guitar Practice Routine
As an intermediate guitarist, it becomes more important to focus on theory concepts now that you are more comfortable with the instrument.
These more advanced concepts take a little more time to digest, and in turn take a little more practice time.
However the basic practice routine formula remains the same: Spend the majority of your time on skills work and fun time, and be sure to keep those two sections of your practice sessions close to equal in time.
1 Hour Total
10 Minutes Ear Training/Theory
5 Minutes Warm Up
25 Minutes Skills Training
20 Minutes Fun
Advanced Guitar Practice Routine
When you get to a more advanced level of playing it can be very beneficial to really dive head first into theory concepts.
By this point your technique is very well developed and you have a large arsenal of songs you know how to play. Technique work becomes more maintenance than anything else.
That's not to say your technique won't improve. You should always look to improve. However, as an advanced guitarist, those improvements won't be as monumental compared to a beginner or intermediate.
Other than the increased theory focus, the above is really just a loose guide. Once you get to the advanced level, you know what you need to be practicing and working on.
With that said, make sure you always stick to a guitar practice routine. It can be easy to lose sight of when you start to really pick up steam.
1 Hour Total
20 Minutes Ear Training/Theory
5 Minutes Warm Up
20 Minutes Skills Training
15 Minutes Fun
Check out this Jamplay Lesson on “5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About How To Practice Guitar”
Wrapping Things Up
If you’re taking notes or something and need a reminder, the 5 things your guitar practice routine needs are:
- Ear Training
- Music Theory
- Having Some Damn Fun!!!
I hope this lesson has helped you develop a solid practice routine. Remember, a structured practice routine is the key to becoming a great guitar player quickly.
If you have any questions or if I skipped over something please let me know in the comments box below. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours, usually much quicker.