Guitar Practice Guide

Practicing is one of the most important aspects of progressing as a musician. It is essential if you want to get better. Learning how to practice is as important as learning songs, music theory, and other concepts. Knowing how to practice involves learning how to set goals, what to practice, and more.

How Long Should You Practice?

The length of time you spend practicing isn't as important as what and how you practice. Of course, there is such a thing as too little practice. If you are a beginner, 20-30 minutes per day is a good amount of practice. If you have played for 6-12 months, more time may be necessary to keep up a reasonable rate of progress. Over time, you will need to increase how much you practice to continue progressing. Most advanced players will practice anywhere from two to ten hours per day.

The purpose of your practice should be progression towards a goal. If you are working on learning how to switch between chords, setting a timer for 15 minutes and practicing switching between chords for that 15 minutes isn't necessarily beneficial. It could cause you to watch the clock and focus less on the results than on how much time you spend. It would be better to have a specific goal in mind, such as increasing the speed and accuracy of switching between C major and G major chords, and working on making some progress towards that goal during your practice session.

Work Towards a Specific Goal

Many musicians practice without a concrete goal in mind. Most of your practice time should be spent working towards a specific goal. Examples of specific goals are:

Some of these goals are more specific than others, but they are all things that you can work toward in your practicing.

Get tips on setting and achieving goals.

Warm Up

Warming up is as essential for a guitarist as it is for a runner. A runner wouldn't run a race without warming up with stretches and other exercises. You shouldn't practice without doing warm-ups on guitar. Warming up gets your hands and fingers ready for the practice you are about to do. It also helps you avoid injury.

The warm-ups you do will depend on your level and what you are currently practicing. Keep in mind that the warm-up doesn't have to be just a slower version of what you will be working on during your practice session. It can be anything that prepares you to play whatever you will be practicing. Here are a few ideas for various situations:

Alternate picking: If you are practicing exercises or music that involves a lot of alternate picking, your wrist needs to be relaxed and loose. A good way to achieve this is to strum chords for a few minutes. Below is a simple strum pattern on an E major chord:

Strumming warm up exercise

Left hand stretches. A good way to warm up for music that includes left hand stretches is to play chords that involve a wide stretch and hold them for several seconds. You need to relax when doing this. Below is a major add9 chord voicing that works well for this kind of warm-up. Play it high on the neck and gradually move down the neck to increase the stretch.

Major add9 voicing for warming up.

A good warm up should build in intensity somewhat during the warm up. This can be something as simple as moving a chord down the neck to increase the stretch required or slightly increasing the tempo of an exercise.

Use a Metronome

You should use a metronome for almost all of your practice session. It will help you develop speed and a sense of timing. However, don't rely on it exclusively. Try playing without it once you have learned something well. This will allow you to develop an internal sense of time. This is necessary for keeping a steady tempo when playing music with others or for performing music by yourself. Keeping a steady tempo isn't too hard when playing with the metronome, but it will be hard to do without it unless you spend time practicing this way. Try to be aware of when you are speeding up or slowing down. Recording yourself may help in this regard.

Take Breaks

Your body will get tired from sitting in the same position for extended periods of time. This can lead to the development of bad technique. If your practice session is longer than 30 minutes, take short breaks. Go take a five minute walk, grab something to drink (besides alcohol!), or do a load of laundry. A break doesn't need to be more than a few minutes to be beneficial.

Motivating Yourself to Practice

There will likely be many days where you don't feel like practicing. If this happens, make yourself sit down and practice for a few minutes. You will likely find that this puts you in the mood to do a full practice session.

Have a Dedicated Practice Area

Set up a space in your home with everything you need to practice. This space could be as small as a corner in a room or as big as an entire room. You need to have the following set up at all times:

The items below are optional depending on what style you play and what you are practicing. Any of these may be used in your practice at some time, so it is useful to have them on hand.

Having your practice area set up so that you can just sit down and practice will make it easier to practice. It takes time to constantly set up and break down a practice area, so having a permanent setup will give you one less excuse to not practice.

Get into a Routine

Unless you work a job where your schedule changes frequently, your daily schedule is likely fairly predictable, so you should be able to schedule your practice around school, your job, and other activities. Try to make a set schedule for practicing so that you are practicing the same time each day. This makes it easier to maintain a consistent level of practicing. You likely already have things that you do as part of a daily routine. Your mornings may consist of activities such as eating breakfast, showering, reading the newspaper, etc. Try to make practicing as much of a routine as those things.

Reward Yourself

Reward yourself when you reach your goals. The reward can be small or large. Small rewards should be used for minor accomplishments. For example, if you achieved your goals in your practice session, reward yourself with a half hour of just playing for fun. This could be jamming with recordings or playing songs you have learned in the past.

Larger rewards should be reserved for bigger achievements. For example, if your child has just started lessons, promise her a better guitar if she sticks with the lessons and practices consistently for six months.

Avoid Distractions

Distractions should be avoided throughout your practice session. Here are some things you can do to avoid distractions:

Evaluating Your Progress

Part of practicing and working towards a goal is evaluating how well you are doing. Many players think they are doing better than they actually are because they don't have a good way to evaluate their progress. Below are some tips for checking your progress.

Record Yourself

Recording yourself playing is a great way to see and/or hear the same things that others do when you play. A video recording is better than an audio recording since you will also be able to see yourself. For the most part, you should record yourself only when you have learned something reasonably well. This allows you to separate actual problems from problems that come from inexperience with whatever you are working on.

Things to Listen for in the Recordings

If you have a camcorder and can record a video of yourself playing, you can also check things like your hand position, posture, and technique.

Playing while recording yourself also give you a sense of what it is like to perform live. While there may not be any audience, your anxiety is likely to be heightened due to worrying about making mistakes. This will also be a concern when playing live, so it may help you adjust to more stressful playing situations.

Use a Mirror

A full-length mirror allows you to see what others see when they watch you play. It is a good way to correct posture, hand position, and other problems you may not be aware of when you play.

Ask Others to Listen to You

If possible, have your musician friends listen to you play and give you feedback. People who aren't musicians may also be able to give constructive feedback, although this depends on the listener.

Get a Teacher

The best way to evaluate your progress is to have a teacher. If you don't have one already, get one. A teacher will be able to quickly point out any problem areas that you need to address. This can drastically speed up your progress.

What to Practice

Your practice time should include a variety of activities that help you reach your goals. This should include working on music that you want to play, technique, theory, and anything else that aids you in reaching your goals. Below is a list of items that you may want to include in your practice. If you are a beginner, it may take you several years before you are able to include all of these things. More advanced players should include most of these things in order to become well-rounded players.

Songs and Pieces

If you have the time, try working on more than one song at a time. One song should be beyond your current level. This allows you to learn new techniques and styles. You should also work on something that is easier to allow you to work on musicality (phrasing, dynamics, interpretation, etc.). This will also help you develop a repertoire of music that you can play from memory.


Work on technical exercises that help you with the music you are currently learning. For example, if you are learning music that contains a lot of alternate picking, focusing on fingerstyle technique doesn't help that much. You should be practicing alternate picking exercises that help with the music you are learning.

Music Theory

Analyze the music you are learning to expand your knowledge of music theory. Try to figure out the chords, structure, key, and other aspects of the pieces you learn. Do written exercises where you write intervals, chords, scales, and more to develop your knowledge of theory.


Work on sight reading by reading through music for the guitar or other instruments. This can include everything from fake books, music for violin, or playing a single line from an orchestral score.

Ear Training

Ear training improves your ability to understand what you are hearing. It is an essential skill for every musician. Work on exercises appropriate for your level. This may include sight singing, transcribing or other activities.


Practice rhythms by clapping them while counting. Any music can be used a source for the rhythms.

Getting the Most Out of a Practice Session

Note that many of these activities can be combined. For example, you could use the piece you are learning to create technical exercises, sing melodies from the music for ear training, and clap the rhythms while counting. This allows you to benefit in many different ways from a small amount of material and learn the music in a much more comprehensive way.

You don't need to devote a large amount of time to any of these activities to benefit from them. Devoting even an hour to practicing each day would still allow you to squeeze in some time for most or all of the items listed above. For example, your practice session might look like this:

Activity Time
warm up exercises 5 minutes
A minor pentatonic exercises 5 minutes
Stairway to Heaven solo 20 minutes
Bach Minuet 20 minutes
major scales in all keys 5 minutes
sight singing exercises 5 minutes

This session includes time for a guitar solo, a piece by Bach, sight singing, theory, and technique. Some of the items are only given five minutes, but this is plenty if you practice like this consistently over several years.