Guitarists tend to be creative types. The thought of following a practice routine makes them shudder. However, if I was to tell you that a solid practice routine is transformative for your playing and takes you from a noodler who picks up their guitar ‘now and again’, to an accomplished player I’d have your attention right?
Well, it’s true: a solid practice routine is transformative for your playing.
Are there any routines which are better than others, that can really help to boost your playing to the next level more than, say, going over the same passage again, and again, and again? Yes, there are. And because we give two hoots about your playing, we’ve created an awesome one for you. Here it is, the daily 60-minute routine that will help you to develop all aspects of your playing.
I can hear you thinking…do I really need to do this daily?
Yes, if you can. You manage to watch an episode of Game of Thrones daily, so why not do something that is infinitely more productive? I’m not hating on Game of Thrones (I happen to like it) but developing your guitar playing is way more important than the plights of the Ned Stark.
The 60 Minute Guitar Practice Routine
Ok ready? Let’s do it…
- The 60 Minute Guitar Practice Routine
- Warm Up (0 – 5 mins)
- Memorize Scales (5 – 10 mins)
- Play Slow But Consistent Lead Guitar (10 – 20 mins)
- Hide The Music (20 – 30 mins)
- Memorize Chords (30 – 35 mins)
- Play Slow But Consistent Rhythm Guitar (35 – 45 mins)
- Play Along In Parts (45 – 50 mins)
- Improvise By Ear (50 – 55 mins)
- Cool Down (55 – 60 mins)
- Gear for Practising
Warm Up (0 – 5 mins)
Like doing light stretches before exercising, warming up is an essential part of any practice routine. It helps to ensure that you don’t get injured, gives you a higher level of control over your fingers and prepares you for more efficient and effective practicing.
A combination of physical stretches, technical exercises and massaging your musical muscles will prepare you for the practice session ahead.
Memorize Scales (5 – 10 mins)
During your warm-up, you probably played a couple of scales.
Scales are some of your most important tools, especially if you’re a lead guitarist. A chunk of your practice session would be very well spent memorizing a new one.
It might take more than one session to completely memorize a scale, but making a conscious effort to play a shape without reading it from a TAB will pay off.
Why not try transposing it to a different key, while you’re at it?
Play Slow But Consistent Lead Guitar (10 – 20 mins)
Maintaining a consistent speed when you’re practicing some tricky lead guitar parts can feel frustrating, but it’s worth it.
Keeping your notes evenly spaced will sound more musical than if you play some parts faster than others. This leads to a more rewarding practice session.
If you set a metronome to a speed at which you can play your piece comfortably, then slowly increase the speed, you’ll soon be playing it at top speed. And perfectly in time.
The trick here is patience. If you need to increase your current speed by 20bpm, why not take on 2bpm a day, and nail it in 10 days? This is far more likely to work than if you play the bits you’ve nailed fast, and the rest slow, over and over, sloppily. Things don’t fall into place like that.
Hide The Music (20 – 30 mins)
As well as memorizing scales, playing by heart the pieces that you’re practicing can really give you an edge.
Nobody plays at their most expressive and musical when they’re still deciphering what it is that’s going on on the page. It’s even more tricky when navigating page turns.
Try sticking post-it notes, one at a time over your piece of music, until you find yourself playing the notes without reading them.
Why not try it with your eyes closed next, for extra fun?
Memorize Chords (30 – 35 mins)
If reading TABs of single notes can slow you down, reading the TABs of chords can be even slower.
Up to 6 numbers on top of each other can be how your chord is conveyed in TAB. Chord diagrams are a little quicker, but they still involve a level of interpretation.
However, reading the letter ‘D’ is pretty easy to take in, and if you know the chord shape by heart, you’ll be able to respond in an instant.
No matter what level you’re at on the guitar, you’re always going to come across chords which are unfamiliar. Part of your practice session should be spent making the unfamiliar familiar.
Play Slow But Consistent Rhythm Guitar (35 – 45 mins)
Slow but consistent chord strumming patterns and changes are just as important as slow but consistent lead passages.
Again, you can use a metronome to gradually build your speed when necessary.
Bear in mind that it’s far more of an impressive and important skill to be able to play in time with a metronome, whatever the speed, than it is to be able to play something quickly.
Play Along In Parts (45 – 50 mins)
Now you’ve practiced some scales and started tackling some tricky sections of your songs/pieces, it’s time to be a part of the music.
If you’re struggling with speedy changes, it’s OK. You can give yourself a part as small as one chord per progression, or one note per bar. Play nothing but your chosen part, along with the backing track or full song.
Each time you practice, you can gradually increase the length of your part.
Improvise By Ear (50 – 55 mins)
With any backing track or song that you love, this exercise, which combines aural training with improvisation, is a wonderful way to approach the end of any practice session.
Preferably blind as to what key the piece is in, put on a piece of music. Any piece of music will do, though we’d recommend something rock/pop based as there are unlikely to be any or many key changes.
As the music is playing, find one note which goes well with it. Play it, play with it, have fun, until you feel ready to progress.
When you’re ready, add another note and play with both of them. You can have fun playing and experimenting with just two notes throughout a piece, but it’s likely that your confidence and curiosity both will grow and you’ll want to add more.
Hit a note that doesn’t sound right with the song? Don’t worry, just don’t play it again. Try another 🙂
“You’re never more than a half step away from a ‘right’ note.
Victor Wooten, The Music Lesson
Cool Down (55 – 60 mins)
So, you know how important warming up is, now it’s time to think about cooling down.
This can also help to relieve muscle tension and to protect you from potential injury.
Stretching your fingers, and playing some slow scales to take yourself back to ‘normal’ after a guitar practice session will be beneficial to your playing and to your body.
Also, if your fingers are hurting, drink some water as it can alleviate joint pain. If they’re stinging, try to be happy about it as it means your calluses are developing!
Gear for Practising
So other than a guitar, what other bits of gear will help you? Well, for a start we recommend using a metronome to help your timing and build up your speed for playing fast lead parts.
An often overlooked bit of gear which will help prolong your practice time is an ergonomically designed guitar chair – these clever seats are super comfortable and get your back and spine in the right position for long periods of playing.
Consider also the type of amplifier you use. As much as you love your amplifier, you might be better off getting an amp that’s designed specifically for guitar practice, with features like a headphone socket so you can plug in a set of guitar headphones and play in the early hours, amp modeling functionality so you can play different styles, plus handy stuff like an onboard tuner. The best practice amps tend to be lightweight and easy to transport too, so you can noodle around wherever you fancy.
Now you know the routine, it’s important to plan in when you’re going to do them. We recommend daily of course, or at the very least every other day if you really can’t commit to daily. There is evidence to show that practicing regularly, for small amounts of time is more effective than long bursts, infrequently.
There is no fast-track way to learn an instrument. And, it doesn’t all happen in your practice sessions: some of it will sink in between. Some of it will happen in your sleep, between practices, as songs merge into your subconsciousness and lessons sink in on deeper levels.
As a rule of thumb, when you’re practicing pieces, play the whole thing slowly but consistently will be more rewarding than playing at fluctuating speeds. This can then be followed by listening to the songs and playing along with them, one chunk at a time. If you have the time to spend, you can play along, again and again, increasing the amount you join in with each time. If not, you can save that until the following day.
The most important thing to remember on your learning journey is to enjoy yourself. Practicing can be and should be fun, though for many people it can become a chore. If this happens, it’s up to you to make it fun again.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.