“How long should I practice guitar each day?” and “What should I practice on the guitar? What is the ideal guitar practice routine?”
These are some of the most frequent questions I get from new students and from non-beginners who just feel stuck when it comes to creating an ideal guitar practice routine.
Creating a guitar practice routine:
How long should I practice each day?
No matter how you decide to practice, the main principle is consistency. It doesn’t matter if you have committed to playing 30 minutes a day or just five, what matters is that you play every day.
Does that mean if you have committed to 20 minutes of practice time a day you must force yourself to hit 20 minutes no matter what? No. Schedules change according to different seasons of life so you shouldn’t feel pressure to hit your personal mark every day. If you can scrape together at least three minutes of practice time on your busiest days, you will ensure you are moving forward. Not missing a day is essential, especially in the early stages when your muscle development, mental development, and ability to hear relative pitches, etc. are very tenuous. Life Principle: The smaller the amount of time you have been doing something, the quicker you are to forget it. It doesn’t really matter how much you are practicing, just don’t miss a day.
That said, if I had to recommend a specific amount of time for beginning and intermediate guitarists, I would suggest 15-20 minutes a day. Most people, if they practice within that range every day, are more than satisfied with their progress.
If you’re a beginner and your fingers hurt, here is what you should do.
While 15-20 minutes a day is just right for beginners and intermediate players, there may be some seasons when you need to kick it up to 30 minutes a day because you’re trying to push yourself to the next level. There are some barriers that are extremely difficult to conquer in 15 minutes a day. You will be able to do it, but it might take longer than you’re willing to wait. If you’re trying to master a complex technique, it might be three months before you can pull it off if you’re practicing 15 minutes a day. If, however, you want to learn it in a few weeks, you will need to practice longer. Depending on your discretionary time and the goals you have, you can decide whether an increase in the amount of time you spend practicing guitar is doable.
The bottom line is that you want to balance getting good as fast as you can without burning out. But if you’re enjoying it or you have very defined goals, you might be able to set aside a large block of time every day for practice. I’ve been in a band where the bass player practiced an average of six hours per day. He loved it and all of us reaped the benefits. Another friend of mine practiced piano 8-10 hours per day for a season. That’s beyond the reach of a lot of people, but he got really good really fast and, most importantly, he enjoyed the process. You can ramp up your practice time as long as you’re not flirting with burnout. If you aren’t driven or don’t have ambitious goals, trying to practice for 45-60 minutes every day is a good recipe for disaster. Base your practice regimen on your goals.
What to include in your guitar practice routine.
Regarding what to practice, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone is different. Highly regimented forms of practice work better for a certain type of person; others like irregularity and unpredictability. You have to judge what kind of person you are.
If you like to have a specific practice schedule, you may say: “On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I’m going to practice warm-ups, scales, and modes, and then have an open jam time. On Tuesday and Thursdays, I’m going to practice warm-ups and then work on new chords or finger-style playing. On Saturdays and Sundays I’ll practice warm-ups and then play songs.” A schedule like that might remind you of an exercise routine. Few people exercise in exactly the same way every single day. For best results, vary your routine. You will increase your skill level and avoid becoming bored.
If you prefer a less-structured way of practicing, you can feel free to scrap anything resembling a written schedule. Play what you want and have fun, but keep one important thing in mind: have some way of knowing whether you’re practicing different aspects of the guitar. We have a tendency to leave out what we don’t naturally like. If you love playing chords, but dread playing scales, an informal practice schedule will make it easy to avoid playing scales. Even writing, “play scales” on a piece of paper and leaving it in your practice studio will challenge you to give some time to it.
All this being said, I do recommend having one consistent element every day. I like to make the warm-up portion of my practice routine consistent every day. The warm-up can be a very small amount of time, maybe 3-5 minutes; but if you make it consistent, it will ensure you’re not all over the map with no direction to your improvement. In doing this you’ll enjoy a type of cohesion and direction to your playing and your progress.
To summarize, practice every day and find a balance between stretching your current abilities and just enjoying what you’re playing. Know yourself and what kind of practice routine will keep you interested and improving. Believe it or not, 15-20 minutes–every day–will allow you to make noticeable progress every time you pick up the guitar.