The Perfect Practice Sandwich

Let’s face it, practicing guitar can be a pain sometimes. Why can’t you just play songs you enjoy when you feel like it and not worry about making time for it, doing exercises, or going over the harder parts?

The short answer is: Because as annoying as those things may seem, they are the key to improving quickly, and motivating your guitar playing. The good news is that practice doesn’t have to be such a chore, and can help keep you motivated as you notice your skills improving and your playing becoming more effortless.

How much do I need to practice?

Not as much as you might think to get good results. If you want to get good ASAP, you can spend an hour on a certain skill at a time, then move on to something unrelated. For most of us, however, this is a tough time commitment and might not be worth it to you. For consistent progress, frequency is more important than total time. Try practicing just 10 minutes a day to start—everyone can find an extra 10 minutes a day.

When should I practice?

Each person will have their favorite times to practice. Studies have shown that human coordination is best around 6-8 hours after waking (early afternoon for most people). On the other hand, subconscious learning is most effective right before and after sleeping. In reality, any time is a good time. The key is to build a habit. Try scheduling your 10 minutes of practice right before or after an activity that is already part of your routine—going to or coming home from school or work, before or after a meal, etc. This will make it easier to do automatically, and therefore harder to forget/skip practicing.

What should I practice?

Depending on what you’ve been working on, the content of your guitar practice will be vary, but here are some general tips for a good 10-minute practice.

1. Warm up. Make sure your hands are warm, and pick a warmup exercise or two to get your body and brain ready to play.

2. Exercises to strengthen the techniques you’d most like to work on, or are necessary for the songs you’re currently learning. This may include chords and chord changes, scales, musicality, rhythm, or any of several other skills. If you’re not sure which skills to work on, think of the parts you’re having the most trouble with, and make yourself work on those. Be patient—you’ll get there. And your playing will go up an entire level. Make sure to go slowly and to simplify, until you can play the exercise or passage correctly and evenly. It’s easy to add speed later.

3. Reward yourself by playing something fun. It’s important to reward yourself for hard work. Whatever you most enjoy playing, go for it!

Final Tips

It’s good to have a game plan before you start practicing, so that you can stick to it and stay productive. You can get ideas for what will be in your practice regimen through online searches, or very quickly with a lesson with an instructor.

Goals are also a great motivator and measurement of progress. An example of a goal might be: “I’m going to play this exercise correctly and evenly with my metronome at 120 beats per minute” or “I’m going to play along with this song at full speed without mistakes”. Remember, if you attempt to make your goal and aren’t quite there yet, don’t get discouraged. Go easy on yourself, and persevere. You will get there.