The Best Guitar Practice Routines for Each Skill Level


  • April 4, 2018
  • 35 

Updated: February 20, 2021

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 answer?

Your practice routine needs to be structured and you need to stick to it consistently. This guitar practice guide will help you develop the best practice routine for your skill level.

Updated: 2/20/21

guitar practice schedule

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:

  • Warm-Up
  • Ear Training
  • Music Theory
  • Skills/Technique
  • Having Some Damn Fun!!!

Let's Begin!


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. 

guitar practice routine

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.”

Wrong!

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.

Main Guitar Chords Beginners Need to Practice

How to Easily Transition Between Chords


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:

About.com Ear Training/Transcribing Lesson

JamPlay Ear Training Tools (Paid)


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.

Learn the notes on the fretboard, practice with a metronome, learn how to build guitar chords, practice scales and formulas, know what a half step vs whole step is, etc. 

All of it is invaluable for any musician.

More on music theory and applying it to guitar:

Circle of 5ths

Intervals, Musical Alphabet and Scales

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.

However, skills are an important part of any practice routine. I recommend you practice and hone your skills for 20-50% of your practice time, depending on skill level.

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 10%
Warm-Up 5%
Skills 45%
Fun 35%

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

Warm Up

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.

Skills

When you first start learning guitar, chords and scales should be your primary skills focus.

Practice the main guitar chords and get good at transitioning between them.

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.

Fun Time!

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

Ear Training/Music Theory 15%
Warm-Up 10%
Skills 40%
Fun 35%

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

Ear Training/Theory 30%
Warm-Up 10%
Skills 35%
Fun 25%

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

Bonus Lesson!

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:

  • Warm-Up
  • Ear Training
  • Music Theory
  • Skills/Technique
  • 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.

posted April 4, 2018

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  1. I completely agree with this. As a guitar player of many years, I’ve found it crucial to add structure to my practice. I used to get lost playing aimlessly on my own (and often still do), and while I enjoyed it I was almost always frustrated by the lack of improvement in my playing. Adding a warmup helped with dexterity and synchronization, and ear training helps much more than I ever thought it could. By focusing on a specific skill or technique (I change them from day to day) I can directly assess my progress and what weaknesses I need to improve on. I have developed more speed, and more freedom on the fretboard. Great post.

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m so happy to hear this has helped your playing. Whether you use a different practice routine or the one outlined above, the elements should remain the same: warm up, ear training, skills work, etc. I do agree, though, sometimes it really is nice to just pick up the guitar and play without worrying about any sort of practice structure. Thanks again for the comment, hope to see you back soon!

  2. I think that playing a musical instrument is much like dancing. You need to do your warmups at the bar to warm up and stretch your body before doing the faster stuff in the center.

    I remember when I learned the piano I used to hate all the scales, but now as I am older, I realize that they are necessary so that you are able to warm up your fingers and let them move easily over the keyboard.

    I am sure the same goes for guitar. There is never reward without putting the work in first, and everything we learn has its boring side that we need to just do to get better in the long run. I was surprised to see you talking about muscle memory here too. I thought this term only existed for dancers.

    1. Hi Michel,

      Thanks for the comment! You are correct, a good warmup is an essential part of all guitarist’s practice sessions. Though I would counter that scales should be more applied to the theory or even skills part of a players practice routine as scales are important to pay attention to and not just mindlessly go through the motions to get the blood flowing. For more on this, check out my lesson: How to Learn Guitar Scales. As for muscle memory, that applies to almost everything we physically do. You typing your comment, was muscle memory from your fingers to the keys, for example. Thanks again for the comment!

  3. Hi. I’m starting to learn how to play the guitar and I’m glad I stumbled upon your site. I know how important practice is. I really liked your meme about “the more you practice…” But I didn’t know this about the need to stick to structured routines. And I didn’t know that we had to include ear training in each session.

    Thank you very much for your helpful guidance. I’ll follow your advice.

    1. Hi Paolo,

      Thanks for the comment. Ear training is essential and believe me, you aren’t the first to overlook it. Just a little bit of time out of each practice session and you’ll be amazed at the progress you see. And routines are the key to the whole thing. Having structure will keep you progressing and prevent you from getting bored. Thanks again for the comment!

  4. I’ve been trying to learn the guitar now for about 12 months on a relatively cheap acoustic – I get around to it every night but the height of the strings hurts my wrist and fingers. 

    My question is this – how long do I need to practice for each night to see a significant improvement in my playing styles? I feel I am limited before the pain starts creeping in! 

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for the comment! It is important to stay consistent but also not overdo it. If you’ve been playing daily (or as close to daily as possible) for the last 12 months you should be able to comfortably practice for an hour or so, unless you have a medical condition restricting that – in which case, definitely consult your doctor. However at a year of playing, you should be able to practice for about an hour. I want to stress though, it is far more important to be consistent and spend 30 min every single night than it is to spend an hour one night, then 10 min 3 days later, then 20 min a few days later. I hope this helps to answer your question. Thanks again for the comment!

  5. I started learning guitar about three months ago although I’m very good at keyboard. In my course of learning guitar I haven’t come across something comprehensive as this.This is really interesting,educative and informative . This is a must read for everyone who wishes to be good in playing guitar. I must appreciate you for posting this because it will really help me improve.

    1. Hi Lok, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Please feel free to reach out should you have any questions along your journey!

  6. Hey this is a great article. The part about tracking your progress is something that really resonates with me. I found that as soon as I started organizing and tracking my practice sessions, I was able to learn techniques quicker and became a much better guitarist.

    That knowledge is what led me to create Keeping Tabs (http://keeping-tabs.io), a free guitar practice tracking website. Its purpose is to replace excel spreadsheets and loose leaf paper and allow guitar players to upload their lessons and practice routines, run through practice sessions and track their progress over time all online.

    The interface is extremely easy to use and the interface provides a metronome and timer when running through practice sessions so guitar players don’t have to fumble around for different tools and can focus solely on practicing.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about the site and think it goes hand-in-hand with everything you talked about!

  7. Thanks man, great article. A perfect combination of statistics and methodology. Pretty much outlines long-term development for guitarists.

  8. You have the best Practice Schedule lesson that I have seen so far. I have been playing for a long time, i’m self taught I never really got into practice routine I used to just do it. I have fallen out a little bit with my improvement so I am so happy with this, it is giving me inspiration again. Thanks.

    1. Thank you very much for the great comment! I’m glad you found this guide helpful. I’m glad you found inspiration in this because your story happens to the best of us, myself included. One of the easiest ways to get caught in a rut is to just fiddle around aimlessly on the guitar. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do that. However playing without a purpose or a goal even can get a guitar player very discouraged very fast. Good luck with your playing and feel free to drop by if you need any help or just want to share progress!

      1. I agree thank you very much. I decided to adopt this practice routine today. This practice routine was very well explained and easy to comprehend, I will come back and ask for help if i’m confused. I appreciate the invitation, and I can’;t wait to try this out. Thanks.

      2. I actually do have a question if you have any time. In this guide you say for intermediate to devote 6 minutes to warm up, and you list three things to focus on in that warm up time, I looked at the Dexterity lesson, and i’m wondering of all those things in the Dexterity lesson should I only focus one aspect per practice session or try to do them all. An example it says to practice each picking pattern should I only focus on one picking pattern per session or all of them. This is my problem I have with practicing is that I always try to do everything and I end up just doing something else because it confuses me. I want to make sure i’m getting the most out of each practice session. If you can help me let me know. Thanks.

        1. Hey Astrophel,

          Thank you for reaching out. It really depends on how well you can execute the picking patterns. Have you watched the video lesson at the beginning of the post? There are exceptions to every rule and in this case you could study that video as an entire practice session if needed. While it is important to get the most out of every practice session, you’ll find some techniques or songs much harder to master than others and will need to devote more time to those. When you are first beginning to learn guitar it’s perfectly alright to spend a whole day on one technique. It’s just important to recognize when you truly have it down to move on and keep learning new things.

          So to answer your question as to whether you should practice just one picking pattern or all of them? Yes. If your alternate picking needs work, practice a little more on that. If your gallop picking is bad – practice that.

          What I did when I was learning was practice one picking style at a time until each was (mostly) mastered. Starting with just down strokes. Then alternate picking. Then gallop picking. Then tremolo picking. That’s just the order I learned in. What’s easiest for me may not be easiest for you. However that progression is generally what works with most of my students.

          As for the fretting patterns, start from the beginning. Master 1-2-3-4 on all strings before moving to the funky stuff like in Exercise 3.

          Does that help answer your question?

  9. Thank you first of all for the excellent guidance.
    Question: Part 4. Honing your skills isn’t clear to me. What are you actually recommending we practice in that section of our practice schedule?
    For example…as a relatively new beginnner…?

    1. Hi Angus, thank you very much for the comment!

      Honing your skills is where you practice the technical stuff. So you’ve warmed up, practiced your theory/ear training then you work on whatever techniques you’ve been learning or practicing. For example hammer-ons & pull-offs, bends, trills, etc. Does that make sense?

      Thanks again for the comment. Great question!

  10. You have a beautiful site Deven! Guitar is actually one of those things that I’ve always longed to learn, but have not put the time or effort into it. I have a guitar that my friends bought me for my 25th birthday knowing that I wanted to learn to play. I’m almost 34 now and have not learned to play! 🙁 If I ever find the drive and time I’ll most definitely be visiting your site first!! Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Tiffany! Thank you so much for the kind words. The gift of a guitar is an amazing gesture, in my opinion. My first guitar was a hand-me-down gift from my step-father. An old Les Paul knock off.. Man I wish I kept that thing.. Anyway, I hope some day you’ll get to dust her off and see what you both can do!

  11. Hey Dev, Just to let you know that i’ve been following this structured guitar routine and its working wonders for my guitar practice 🙂

    1. Hey Lawrence, thanks for commenting! I’m happy to hear structuring your practice routine has helped you out! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions down the road.

  12. great info here. My son has been expressing interest in learning how to play and I have passed your site along to him now that he is actually working on it. This is also an item on my bucket list and with info like this I just might actually get around to it.

    1. Hi James, thanks for the comment and the kind words. I’m glad you liked the lesson and I hope your son finds it helpful. Let him know if he has any questions he can post it here or use the contact page to reach me directly.

      Best of luck to both of you! (And I do hope you get around to learning as well :D)

  13. Hey Dev,

    That is quite a comprehensive practice regiment. I love it. I have been playing guitar for some time now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen something as complete as this. I also like how you specified about what is and isn’t practice. Nice job!

    Best Regards,
    Jim

    1. Hey Jim! I appreciate your feedback and I’m glad you liked the lesson. I am also VERY happy to see that you picked up on that. One of the main points I wanted to drive home with this lesson is the difference between practicing and something that should be a PART of a practice routine. It is very rewarding for me to see that this lesson accomplished that. Thanks again for your feedback and good luck!

      1. Hey Dev,

        I used to teach both piano and guitar. I would always encourage my students (especially newer ones) to practice just fifteen minutes a day but do it consistently rather than try to crank out two hours one or two days and get tired and frustrated trying to keep up with that schedule. But I would also try to make those fifteen minutes worthwhile as far as what they practiced within that fifteen minute time span. And in many ways that is what you bring to the table with this post.

        But you also pointed out to have fun in that time too. And by no means do I want to imply that I’m against that because if you are not having fun while playing music, what’s the point? But it’s a delicate balance in that as people start to get better at their music craft, they tend to keep repeating the new techniques that they just broke through on learning. Music is often a series of plateaus where you can stuck on that achievement for way too long than they wanted to.

        Best Regards,

        Jim

        1. Hey Jim,

          Excellent comment! I’m right there with you. You’re absolutely right, if you keep practicing the same thing you will get nowhere fast. Keeping a planned, structured practice schedule is the most effective way I have found to avoid plateaus and progress fastest. This lesson is structured around that finding.

          Being a musician is supposed to be a hobby, even if you play in bands. So why take it as seriously as you would a career? Sure, you want to be skilled and good at what you do, but having fun is a massive part of that. It is what motivates you to WANT to play again. It keeps guitar practice from every becoming a chore. Thanks again for the comment/feedback.

          Keep Jammin’,
          Dev

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