All of us have periods of time when life forces us to practice guitar less than we would like. But this does NOT mean that you should accept/settle for suddenly making a whole lot less progress in your playing. There are many ways to practice guitar highly effectively, even if your time is severely limited.
Below are several ideas you can apply right away into your practicing to become a better musician each time you pick up your guitar:
1. Narrow your guitar practicing focus to the "big eight."
A common error guitarists make when practicing guitar (no matter if they have a little time or a lot) is focusing on too many things at once. Although it's good to have lots of choices and access to lots of practice materials, it's NOT good if this abundance of exercises leads to paralysis and overwhelm. To solve this problem, your practicing needs to revolve around only EIGHT foundational areas of great musicianship. They are: guitar technique, music theory, ear training, phrasing, fretboard visualization, knowledge of chords and scales, rhythm guitar playing and creativity training.
See the video explanation below where I tell you in more detail about what each of the above elements are and give you advice on how to correctly practice them:
2. Increase the results you get from "each minute" of practicing guitar
Your total amount of guitar practice time is largely meaningless. The only thing that truly matters is the amount of "progress" you are able to squeeze from each "minute" you practice. This is why you can have 2 musicians work on the same practice item for an identical amount of time and yet one gets results much faster than the other. This happens because one person understands how to maximize results from each minute spent practicing and the other does not.
Before you worry about spending 'more time' practicing, focus on maximizing the results you produce from the amount of time you have NOW. You do this in 2 ways:
A. By avoiding distractions and organizing your practicing to focus only on the eight fundamental elements of guitar playing (as described in the video above).
B. By focusing like a laser on specific objectives you are trying to achieve with each exercise you practice. Example: if you struggle with making your picking technique better and faster for playing scales, analyze your picking motions in detail, find out which element of your technique is inefficient and focus like a laser on mastering "it." The point of this example is that you focus on specific "problems" in your guitar playing and working on fixing them, vs. finding another 20 exercises to practice using the same sloppy technical motions that you never take time to fix.
3. Get more value from each exercise you practice
On top of reducing your focus to the eight areas of musicianship I described above, you should also 'alternate' what you are paying attention to as you practice each item in your schedule. To put it another way, instead of using a single exercise to practice your guitar technique, then another item to practice your fretboard visualization, then one more to practice your aural skills (ear training) and one more to practice your creativity, you can become better in all 4 of these elements of playing with just ONE exercise. To achieve this, change what your mind focuses on as you practice. Here is an example:
Take a new scale that you want to work on for 20 minutes. Instead of using every minute of this time to only practice a single area of your musicianship (such as guitar technique for instance), here is what to do:
Spend five minutes refining your guitar technique with the scale (by doing what I described above in the earlier section about improving your "results per minute" of practicing).
Spend five more minutes learning every shape of the scale all over the guitar neck (instead of being stuck practicing it in only one position of the fretboard like most guitarists do).
Focus five more minutes on improving your ear training by "singing" the scale out loud. This will help your ears to learn the sound of the scale and make it easier to come up with creative melodies using it.
Invest 5 more minutes on creating scale sequences with that scale that you can apply in your guitar solos.
Focusing on ALL 4 elements I listed during the same amount of time will lead to very different (much better) results, compared to the results you would get if you only focused on a single area of your playing the entire time, neglecting your other skills.
4. Establish specific objectives for every guitar practice session
Before you sit down to practice, be clear on how today's practice session will be a step in the right direction towards your long-term objectives as a guitarist. Literally visualize each day of practicing as a congruent step, aligned with other steps (i.e. practice sessions) that makes you a better guitarist, one step at a time.
In order to do this, ask yourself this question before you start practicing: "what precise objective do I want to achieve (or get better at) by the time I finish practicing?" This is a vastly different mindset compared to going through the motions of practicing and not keeping the big picture of your goals in your mind at all times. Holding yourself responsible for achieving specific things in each practice session is also another way to make more progress from each moment you spend practicing guitar.
5. Never skip days of practicing
A common mistake guitarists make when their time is limited is assuming that it's no use to practice if you have less than 15-20 minutes of time. This is completely wrong. If you are practicing effectively, then ANY amount of time you spend with your guitar is going to make you a better musician… yes, even 5-15 minutes. Of course the goal is to practice as much time as is realistic for you, but the point is, don't think that you can't make "any" progress with just a few minutes of practice per day - you definitely CAN.
Now that you understand how to get more from your limited guitar practice time, do the following:
1. Watch the video above to get a thorough understanding of the 8 elements of guitar playing that you should be focusing your time on.
2. Examine your current approaches to practicing guitar, to see where you can apply the advice I've given throughout this article to get more from every practice session you do.
3. Change your mindset about your practicing to focus on "solving problems," "developing skills" and "strategically moving towards goals" (vs. mindlessly going through the motions) and your playing will start to improve faster than ever before!
About the Author: Mike Philippov is a guitar teacher, guitar instructional author and composer in progressive rock styles. Follow him on YouTube to see his videos about practicing guitar, improving your guitar technique and becoming a better guitar player faster.