A Productive Practice Session

Seem to be stuck? Don't know how to move on? Take a look at this lesson.

Ultimate Guitar
A Productive Practice Session
Every time you watch a famous guitar player on TV (could be your idol), and the interviewer asks him/her, how do you DO it? How did you get to where you are right now, what does it take to become a good musician. The answer is almost always 'by practicing'. Obviously, that's true. But let's face it, all players feel frustrated at times. Everyone wants to be good but sometimes don't know how to move on, so let me expand a little on 'practice'.

Yes, that is obviously true, it IS all about practicing but one must know, WHAT to practice and where to move on from there. In this lesson, I will show you how I usually practice every day and improve a little bit, step by step. First thing you must keep in mind is patience, it is a virtue, and I mean it really. Read this article with an open mind and try and look at it in an optimistic point of view. Alright then having said that.. let's move on to our first section.

1. Stretching And Massaging

If you have your guitar with you, I suggest you put that down for a second. We're going to be stretching the muscles that are involved when you're playing guitar, now from my perspective, this is necessary for an effective session and can prevent strain or injury during practicing, but if you feel that it's not necessary and you know your cautions then.. meh, go ahead but you might want to take this section into account as well. Also bare in mind that you should be sitting on a chair with no arms, and not a stool because most players tend to slouch when playing guitar and that can result in a painful aftermath.

First things first, I want you to stretch your arms across your chest and just feel the burn flow across your torso I suggest you don't try too hard to make your arms crack, if it happens on its own it's fine, but do not TRY very hard, you don't wanna take your arm off. Do this to both your arms and then, take your elbow and put it up over your head and again the idea here is not to break any bones or something but to feel the burn for a minute or two.

Alright once you're done with that I'll give you the grande (well not so grand) finale, you probably want to skip to the guitar part by now. Start massaging your palm and fingers one by one. Do this to both hands, don't squeeze too hard, you just want to get your hands warmed up for your session.

Now that we're finished with that, let's move on to the guitar part. This is will be divided into different sections - Left Hand Exercises, Right Hand Exercises, and Both Hand Exercises.

Left Hand Warm-ups

Okay, now I'm going to show you some exercises and the purpose of these are to get your left hand warmed up so it really doesn't matter how you pick them, you can strum these.. you can arpeggiate them or use your thumb. It's up to you. By the way, these shapes have a pretty ugly sound so you might wanna keep the volume low.
Exercise No. 1:
E|---5---------------8-6-------------9-...So on and so forth till the 12th fret

Okay so that is the first shape and another thing that you can do is play it on different strings so that you're comfortable with it and you feel some muscle burn in your fingers.

Here is something a little more tricky and it's pretty similar to the last exercise but it will be played in a different way. And it will go across all strings.
Exercise No. 2
I suggest you do this exercise on the other strings as well just to get more comfortable on the ones I have in store for you, I'm gonna take this shape and make a wider stretch out of it. Practice this shape before you move on to Exercise 3.
Exercise No. 3
Told you it was pretty wide lol. Once you have this down on the other strings you can move on to the next shape.. now just keep in mind that the idea here is not to play these exercises at 200 bpm, but to improve left hand synchronization. Here's the last exercise for your left hand.
Exercise No. 4
Right Hand Warm-Ups

There are two ways to approach this and in this section, we are going to use both ways. To start things off I want you to play this rhythm pattern for as long as you can at 160 bpm and REMEMBER, all downstrokes.. Because the idea here is to challenge your rhythm playing, see how long you can go.
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
This is method 1 of warming up your right hand. Once you begin to feel some pain you'll notice the next time you do this you can go for much longer, and eventually, not only will you have a strong right hand you will also be working your way on becoming a much better rhythm guitarist.

Okay now, I'm going to introduce METHOD 2, of warming up your right hand. This method involves playing a diminished arpeggio pattern from top to bottom. The good thing about this is you are string skipping so that really helps your right hand technique. Anyway, have a look at it.. see if it helps -
(Alternate Picking all the way)

Remember, you're going up in minor thirds, and this was just an example of how you can use that arpeggio pattern as an exercise.. it can be used to make a lick or used when composing. Another cool thing about it is, if you move it in minor thirds then you'll stay in key.. if you remember your theory diminished arpeggios consist of minor third intervals.

Both Hand Warm-Ups

Now that you've got those two down. Let me show you an exercise that involves both hands.

Again, using string skipping, it is effective for both your hands and sort of sums the whole warm-up session up. Anyway, I'll now move on to metronome practice.

Fun with the Metronome

You're probably reading this thinking 'Oh Jeez.. I don't need this bullshit' well son.. trust me you DO need this shit. Every god of guitar has used this device and it has not only helped shredders but some of the most famous jazz, blues, funk and rock n roll players alike.

Another factor in music that I cannot stress enough in this article is 'patience', you need to be patient with the metronome in order to get somewhere.

To start off, let me go through time signatures because if you haven't used the metronome before I suggest you go through the section on types of notes, just so you can get an idea of how many notes can be played per beat and odd-time signatures in music.

Here are the following types of notes:

1. Whole note = 4 beats, A whole note will receive 4 beats or counts.

2. Half note = 2 beats, A half note will receive 2 beats or counts.

3. Quarter note = 1 beat, A quarter note will receive 1 beat or count.

4. Eighth note = 1/2 beat.

5. Sixteenth note = 1/4 beat

6. Thirty second note = 1/16 beat.

These are the types of notes, now I assume you have a metronome. If you don't then dude.. download it, you can find it anywhere online just remember.. google is your friend. Anyhow, next in line is this scale run, we're going to be using the G major scale and play it across 2 octaves and what I want you to do is first play it in whole notes, get comfortable on that at around.. 90 bpm? And then move on to half-notes, quarters and so on.

Here is the G major scale:

This is just to get an idea of the types of notes and eventually this can help you a lot with your solo techniques. Now, there are such things as odd-time signatures, especially in progressive rock. Which means that there can sometimes be 3 note per beat bars, 6 note per beat bars.. I suggest that if you're doing a 3 note per beat bar then hit your 3rd note harder if you're doing a triplet run of any sort because you need to make the notes stand out more and it gives that kind of effect and immediately the listener will recognize that effect (he might even know what you're doing.. if he plays guitar that is).

Now having shown you this I would like to introduce to you my good friend.. the chromatic scale. Yup. You're now gonna move on to doing a chromatic run, because now that you've got an idea of the types of notes you can move on to doing 16th note runs just to improve your speed. I do this every day and sometimes challenge myself and keep a goal tempo, and I have to reach my goal someday or the other. Just remember.. 'patience'.

Here is the exercise -


If you at any point feel like it's just not coming to you, back the metronome up a bit.. let's say that if you can play it at about 100 but your goal tempo is 120 and you just can't do it cleanly at 120 then back it up and get it perfect at 100, then move on to 110 and eventually you'll see yourself nailing the strings at 120 BPM. Another thing that you can do is just do it at a tempo that is just impossible for you, but still try it and just lose it over there.. as John Petrucci says 'Kill Yourself'. And then back the metronome up to 120 and see if it's any easier.

The important thing is you should do whatever works for you. And I suggest you do this exercise every day and set yourself goals to achieve.. that way you'll be on top of the game. Now we'll be moving on to our next section. 'Sweep Practice'.

Sweep Practice

Sweeping is a really really hard technique to master and in this lesson, I'm going to be focusing on 3 string and 5 string arpeggio patterns and sequences and moving the patterns all over the fretboard. Now, if you aren't aware.. or too good at this technique I suggest you find yourself a lesson on UG. There are plenty of them around. Alright, let's get around to 3 string sweeps.

For the 3 string sweeps I will show you a classical influenced pattern, Yngwie Malmsteen uses this from his song 'Blitzkrieg' from Alchemy. Remember the sweeping motion, you don't want to be alternate picking or economy picking for that matter. Think SWEEP. And I suggest you first play whole notes, and work your way up to the top because, if you're an intermediate player I doubt you'll play this cleanly but give it your best shot man.
KEY - /\ Slides
Tricky part is the finger rolling but yeah.. it can be done.

Now for the five string sweep exercise.

This is an ascending repeat-slide pattern. Going from Cmaj eventually to Dmaj (was no space for tabbing).

Again use the metronome so you can get comfortable with playing it at a certain tempo and then working your way up from there. This will prepare you for killer six string sweeps. I suggest that when you get comfortable with these you should look up some six string shapes and move them around too.

And now I give you the last section. In this one I will not give any exercises but talk and give tips on it, this section is about improvisation and I have dubbed it 'melodic control'.

Melodic Control

Some people define it as 'playing from the heart'. Well.. you obviously can't play with your heart but the idea is to improvise a solo with a backing track or when you're jamming with other musicians. Now.. I think the best way to practice improvisation is blues. Blues is a great way to start off because once you get the idea behind it and know which scales to use and which key you're in and the overall FEEL of the jam you can make this the most fun part of practicing and mind you.. improvisation can be extremely orgasmic. The main scale in blues is the pentatonic blues.. in case you don't know it's the pentatonic scale with the flatted fifth added in. Although for blues there are other scales such as Mixolydian mode, Lydian Mode, and even the whole tone and symmetrical scale can be played in blues phrasings.

The first way to approach improvisation is to hear other musicians play when they improvise and take a close look at what they do. Try looking up Guthrie Govan, John Petrucci and Steve Vai. Listen and Emulate. Those are the two keys. You must try and learn from what they're doing and what kind of effect the lick or 'move' creates. From doing so eventually you will develop your own licks and style. And as always, even with improvising you should start at a fairly low tempo and work your way up from there. The thing about improvisation is, when it comes to types of notes.. there really is no 'okay first I'm gonna do 16th note triplets and then 32nd notes in the next jam'. You play whatever you want.

Another tip I'd like to give you is spice up your soloing with different techniques you may have learned. If you haven't learned any techniques like legato, tapping, whammy bar tricks, sweep picking then I would advise you to look those up and add them to your playing. Now I assume you know what bends and vibrato are. They are the best way to start off if you're improvising for the first time but when bending you must make sure you're not going off-key (this requires time and ear training). Add vibrato to some parts, bend when you've just started a new bar.. like I said before 'listen and emulate'. And also keep in mind that you don't want your playing to be emotionless.. sure you want to 'play' but you have to really MEAN the notes that you play, play them like you MEAN it, play them and show everyone that you know what effect you want to create on the listener and you KNOW what you're doing.

Improving your improvisational techniques comes over time. I suggest you also make up a few riffs or licks of your own that you might like to add because the other main factor in music is creativity, you want to make people look at your riffs and go 'wow, that's originality right there'. Originality and real creativity is not a talent or something you're born with.. you work your way there and by finding inspiration from songs you first compose riffs that are inspired by a song you really like and then from there slowly you get better and better at making your own riffs and licks and eventually you come up with original material.

Well.. from what I think this is definitely not the best lesson in the world on 'practice' but I've tried my best to present you with something worth your time. Please feel free to rate and comment my work and give me feedback.. if you have any requests or questions feel free to PM me, or email me at rawalahmedkhan@gmail.com.

Thank you for reading this and I wish my fellow players BEST OF LUCK on their guitar journey. Rock on everybody! Keep it real... Peace.

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good article. I'm curious about your chromatic scale... why are you leaving out notes such as C# on the low E string and B on string G?
    definately gonna apply a bunch of these licks to my practice regimen. thanks, im sure this will help a lot.
    So much details i loved it thank you so much this helps alot!
    Good lesson, practice is paramount to skill and style. Thanks for a good primer.
    GREAT lesson. 10/10 Definitely going to use most if not all of the exercises you listed. Thanks
    very good man. Patience is a virtude I`ll remeber this everytime I practice
    That was a great read and a very helpful lesson. Just what I have been looking for. Thanks!
    Very good warm-ups here. I've incorporated this into my practice.
    i will starting your practice session, 1 month later i will post the results, nice lesson
    10/10 for encouraging the use of the metronome. Long ago i was like "the metronome sucks" but now i love it, and i hope guitarrist.. well musician in general learn to use it, worth it.
    You deserve a cookie. And a hundred dollar bill. Unfortunately, I can give neither. But you still deserve it. Thanks, I'm going to commit this lesson to memory entirely if I can.
    Bethe : I am really wanting to learn.. Stopped for a long while, but want to move forward now. So, could you elaborate on what the numbers mean on each line of Exercises. 5,6,7,8. Is that on the 5th fret, 6th fret, etc? Can't afford a lesson, but have known how to read chord charts and play basic chords, just never got good enough. Help an old beginner.
    obviously the dashed lines represent the strings. you might have already known that but yes the numbers mean the desired fret on that particular string. good luck to ya
    I am really wanting to learn.. Stopped for a long while, but want to move forward now. So, could you elaborate on what the numbers mean on each line of Exercises. 5,6,7,8. Is that on the 5th fret, 6th fret, etc? Can't afford a lesson, but have known how to read chord charts and play basic chords, just never got good enough. Help an old beginner.
    I thought this lesson was superb. I have never actively practiced with a metronome before, and my fingers have never burned so much after playing! I am sure I'll see improvements in my speed and coordination in the weeks to come. 10/10
    this was pretty great, i usually just learn quickly, if i like a song i practice for about a month and that improves my skills, so i move to a harder song and then an even harder song, and yeah i agree mckraf everyone has a different style of learning
    ^yea thats the same thing I do for bass and ive been doing for 5 years or so. i feel pretty stale now, but i recently started playing blues and hip hop so thats really made it more fun. i think its worked perfectly and i can see my improvement and it really helps my ear training. everyone does things their own way and its always about finding something that just clicks with you, even if you're just ****ing around
    COBShredder : awsome lesson dude, really nice, I should do this everyday, but i rather just playing a whole bunch of songs and then some improvisations, is that ok? does it help? and sometimes I do exercises but its mostly songs and solos.
    Yeah this is a great lesson but mostly what i do is just practice songs over and over till i perfect it works for me but every guitarist has a diffrent style of learning.
    i have john petruccis rock discipline, tis very helpful
    awsome lesson dude, really nice, I should do this everyday, but i rather just playing a whole bunch of songs and then some improvisations, is that ok? does it help? and sometimes I do exercises but its mostly songs and solos.
    Heminator89 wrote: Most of this stuff is on John Petrucci's Rock Discipline as well and the chromatic run is pretty identical to what he shows.
    True, the reason why I used some of his stuff is because, not only am I a big fan.. but also because these are usually the runs I use, same with the warm-ups. But to make it original and not just a mere copy.. I decided to add time signatures, sweep picking, and melodic control.
    Most of this stuff is on John Petrucci's Rock Discipline as well and the chromatic run is pretty identical to what he shows.