Learning guitar is work. There are rare cases out there where someone is a “natural” and the instrument comes quite easily to them, sure. However, in my opinion that’s more of a hand-eye coordination feat than the early signs of a virtuoso. It is also out of the norm. I have people come up and ask me all the time, how do I get good? How can I become as good a guitarist as [insert guitarist name]? In my last lesson, I discussed the different types of guitar lessons available to students as well as a beginning guitar guide. That is the beginning. To get to play like your favorite guitar player, it takes practice. Time, dedication, plain and simple work ethic. There is a fair amount of disagreement over what a guitar player of a certain level should be practicing and/or for how long. This lesson is going to solve that problem. I will explain how, what and how long you should be practicing playing guitar.
Practicing Playing Guitar – The Warm Up:
The purpose of the warm-up is not to rip up and down the neck super fast or to get fancy. You want to pace yourself. When you are warming up don’t play fast or shred. The warm up is the time where you stretch out your fingers and get the blood moving. It is much better for your dexterity to warm up slowly then to just go balls to the wall from the start.
Start off by warming up your fretting hand. Do this by doing “starbursts” with your fingers to start blood flow. To perform a starburst, hole your arms out in front of you, clinch your fist, then think of exploding your hand open to perform one rep. Just repeat this motion over and over, once your hands start to feel warmed up you’re done. Follow this with chromatic runs along the neck of the guitar. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to put your hand in the first position on the low e string and come up with any random combination of 0-4 (think TAB) and play that along the neck… For example: 0-2-1-3-2-4-3, or 0-2-4-1-3, or 0-1-3-2-4, etc. Etc. Then you would pick one of these patterns and play them in the same finger order down to the 5th fret. Do this on all 6 strings. The goal over time will be to do this all the way to the 12th fret on all 6 strings. Try these techniques, strumming chords and other fret-hand exercises to warm her up first. This all may sound like a lot but you shouldn’t be spending more than 5 minutes here.
Next you want to warm up your picking hand. Practicing playing guitar with different strumming patterns using chords you know is a great place to start. Then continue to work on the above runs you came up with and alternate strings and picking techniques. For example, you could play 0-2-4-1-3 down the High E alternate picking the whole way down to the 12th fret and back up, then skip down to the G string and repeat. Focus on keeping a consistent tempo and accuracy. If you have a metronome- use it. If not, download one, there are millions out there that are just a google search away. This again should take no more than 5, maybe 10, minutes tops.
To recap, when warming up your fretting hand, you want to be focusing on loosening up your hands, getting the blood flowing and pure accuracy. When warming up your picking hand you want to focus on rhythm, slowly building speed while maintaining very tight form.
(OPTIONAL) After this I like to move on to strictly theory. If you have not learned the notes on the fretboard, that is step 1 for you. This should only take you a couple weeks, at most. If you’ve done this spend time (only about 15 minutes) with any theory you need work with: key sigs, time sigs, rhythm, scales, building chords- you name it. Many people dread theory as it’s probably the least fun thing you’ll learn on the guitar, but believe you me, it’s also one of the most beneficial. This holds especially true if you want to start a band, write your own songs or improvise solo’s. Theory makes these actions almost effortless with a solid understanding.
Now is when what to practice starts to vary a little more based on skill level. Next you should spend a good 30 minutes to an hour practicing playing guitar techniques you’re learning or working to improve. Anything from chords to pinch harmonics to finger tapping people, it all counts. Also, a tip I have found from my experience- spend more time building your strengths than improving your weaknesses. You’ll have way more fun playing this way. Don’t neglect your suck completely, but remember it’s there and slowly work away at it. I recommend a 70/30 or so split between strengths/weaknesses. I also recommend breaking things up if you’re learning multiple techniques. So let’s say Monday you spend some time on trills, Tuesday finger tapping, Wednesday more trills, etc. Get the idea? That was obviously just an example but you can substitute any technique in there.
Finally, the fun part. The next hour or so of your time practicing playing guitar should be spent doing whatever you want! Learn or master a song you love, work your ass off for an hour, write a song if that’s what you’re feelin’. It often gets forgotten that we are making music for fun and entertainment. You’ve got to be having fun doing this, or you’ll eventually resent the instrument. Never forget to enjoy yourself because it’s not a competition. In fact, I’m always willing to answer any questions you may have along the way, so feel free to leave any comments or questions for me below. Hope this lesson was helpful!