Creating Good Practice Habits
Almost every student I’ve taught has asked, “How much should I practice my guitar?” The good news is that the answer is simpler (and probably easier) than you may think!
It all boils down to consistency. It doesn’t matter if you play thirty minutes a day or just five, what matters is that you play every day. Setting a daily practice time of, say, 30 minutes, doesn’t mean you have to hit it no matter what. No, schedules change according to different seasons of life, so you need some type of practice audible in place, some kind of plan for those days that are too busy to do much of anything.
Here’s a trick. If you can scrape together at least three minutes–yes, just three minutes (something I’ve called the “3 Minute Rule”)–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 and ability to hear relative pitches are very tenuous. If you have this in place you’ll save a ton of time, because you won’t have to keep relearning and retraining. Life Principle: The smaller the amount of time you’ve been doing something, the quicker you’ll tend to forget it. Don’t miss a day!
That said, if I had to recommend a daily practice goal for beginning and intermediate guitarists, I’d suggest 20 minutes a day. Most students aren’t intimidated by this modest commitment, and they’re thrilled with the steady progress it ensures.
Hey, it’s hard to practice because my fingers hurt! Here’s what to do….
While 20 minutes a day is just right for beginners and intermediate players, in some seasons they’ll need to kick it up to 30 minutes or more a day, because they’re trying to push themselves to the next level. Some barriers are just too difficult to conquer in 15 minutes a day. You’ll be able to do it, but it might take longer than you’re willing to wait. Depending on your discretionary time and your specific guitar goals, you can decide whether an increase in the amount of time you spend practicing guitar is doable.
The simple idea is this: you want to improve steadily without burning out. If you’re enjoying every moment on guitar, or if you have very defined goals, you can 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 an impossible routine for most of us, but he got really good really fast and, most importantly, he enjoyed the process. So ramp up your practice time as long as you’re not flirting with burnout. If you aren’t really enjoying it, forcing yourself to practice for an hour every day is a good recipe for disaster.
What to include in your guitar practice routine.
Regarding what to practice, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone is different. Highly regimented forms of practice work better for a certain type of person; others like adaptability and unpredictability. You have to judge what kind of person you are.
If you prefer routines and a specific practice schedule, try this: On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, practice warm-ups and scales, and then have an open jam time. On Tuesdays and Thursdays practice warm-ups and then work on new chords or finger-style playing. On Saturdays and Sundays 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 won’t get bored.
If you (and/or your child) prefer a less-structured way of practicing, feel free to scrap a written schedule. You need a plan, a course or road map of sorts, but feel free to take detours and play what you want along the way. Have fun. Just keep one important thing in mind: try to play/practice different aspects and techniques of 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. With some simple tricks you can avoid the trap of being a “one trick pony” guitar player. Write down, “play scales” on a piece of paper and leave it in your practice studio. It’ll remind you to branch out.
All this being said, I do recommend having at least 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 you’ll keep getting better, and you’ll also enjoy a 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!