Practicing Playing Guitar: A Guide


  • Published August 21, 2012

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 with a metronome
Now there’s no excuse for you to not have some kind of metronome. Image courtesy of DrumChattr.com

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.

 

practicing playing guitar picking hand
Image courtesy of http://www.bloguez.com

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.

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practicing playing guitar note names
Practicing playing guitar note names is equally as important as any scale you could learn.

(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!

 

posted August 21, 2012

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  1. I’ve been playing guitar for about 15 years; I am an autodidactic guitarist: I never had a lesson (I studied various books and whatnot). Unfortunately, for the last year or so I have just been playing the same stuff redundantly. Attending college while raising a child put somewhat of a damper on my practicing. Nevertheless, I still play about 30 minutes to an hour a day; I mostly improv with various scales and chords, yet recently I’ve have decided delve deeper into uncharted territory. I know from experience that having a schedule is the key to playing any instrument; that is how got to where I am now (advanced level). I’ve decided to begin a practice regiment. I happen to run across your your blog, and I am going incorporate your ideas into my schedule. Indubitably, your “guide to practicing guitar” illustrates a very sound practicing guide. I thank you, sir, for your contributions . To the beginners out there: havering a sound, practical schedule is essential to the leaning process. And the one thing I’ve always tried to instill into my students —when I taught— avoid bad habits, especially when it comes to technique. It is much easier to avoid a bad habit that it is to break one. Once again, Thank you, Sir. Great Blog!

    1. Hey Matthew,

      Thank you very much for the kind words! It makes me very happy to hear my readers are satisfied with the content I’m putting out there. It’s funny, your story is very similar to my own. While I don’t have any children, school and work also got in the way of my own practicing and resulted in the same repetitious rut, playing the same licks & scales over and over whenever I did find the time. It’s good to just have 30min-1hr a day that the house recognizes as “you time” where you can go and just work on what you want without any distractions. I’ve made that one clear with my roommate and he’s been luckily very understanding. I know that can’t always be the case, especially having children.

      Again, I’m very glad you found this post helpful. Have you had a chance to check out my post on forming a Guitar Practice Schedule based on skill level? It’s somewhat based off of this lesson but much more in-depth.

      Good luck with learning guitar and please don’t hesitate to drop a comment or eMail should you have any questions.

      All the best,
      Dev

  2. Hey Dev!. Im glad to see you have the most important aspects of guitar practising here on this blog!. Great information and motivational message at the top.

    1. Hey Lawrance,
      Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you found the lesson helpful! Please feel free to let me know if you’ve got any questions!

      Best,
      Dev

  3. I really really liked your guide here and by any chance is it possible to learn the different notes in different keys on your own? I’d love if you could provide any material on that 🙂

    1. Hey, whats up dude? Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you found the lessons useful. If I’m understanding your question correctly, I believe you may have some things confused. Notes will always remain the same throughout the guitar neck. The “key” refers to the reference note of a song, basically. For example, if a song is in the key of A, certainly many other notes will be played, however the guitarist, bassist, etc will return back to that A note frequently to establish that the song is in the key of A. 

      As for learning these notes on your own, that is very possible and I’m actually working on that lesson right now. As a little preview though, you want to find patterns in the notes on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets. The note order will always be EADGB in these patterns. However the order in which they appear from 6th to 1st string will obviously change. For example, the 3rd fret, low E string is a G, 5th fret a. Just fill in the blanks and drill it in. For more on aids and tools to help you in this process while I finish up the lesson on it, check out my blog post on the Top Apps for Learning Guitar: http://thebestguitarlessons.com/top-3-apps-learning-guitar/

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