How To Practice

An article about how rather than what to practice. Having the right attitude can make a huge difference on the productivity of your practice sessions.

Ultimate Guitar
What This Article Is About

This article deals more with how, rather than what, to practice. There is a wealth of good information available on techniques, basic theory, scales, arpeggios, chords etc. So we're not going to go into that area of guitar, but instead, we're going to deal with what sort of attitude you should have and how to apply yourself to get the most out of your practice time.

I've written a few articles, most of which have been aimed at intermediates who already have an understanding of theory, and a fair bit of experience under their belts. I tend to share things that I myself am finding useful, and so have never written for beginners because it's been 20 years since I began, so knowing what it feels like to shape my first G chord isn't exactly fresh in my mind.

That was until a couple of months ago when I started to learn piano as a second instrument. As a result, I was able to apply these ideas and find out if they have a practical use for beginners.

What Is Practice

The first thing to appreciate is that practice isn't a performance and performance isn't practice. During a performance, the piece is played in its entirety, and any imperfections just have to be lived with. Practice, however, is all about addressing imperfections, so playing a song at full tempo from start to finish without stopping is an inefficient way to progress.

Good practice is about not playing under strain. Not rushing things. Not tolerating mistakes. And ultimately trying to cultivate an approach in which aches and mistakes are almost entirely absent. If we stay within our current technical limitations, and not rush ahead of ourselves, it's possible to do just that!

Aches And Mistakes; You Get Out What You Put In

When you learn a new skill such as playing a song on a guitar, you're essentially programming yourself to perform tasks, like you would a computer. Say for example we wish to play a G chord. The first thing we do is visualize the chord. We don't think play a G, we float an image in our minds which represents a G chord on the guitar. Then the signal is sent to our muscles to carry out the desired action. If we were virtuoso musicians, what would happen at this point is that the precise muscles, and no others, needed to perform the task would be engaged. Each finger would go precisely where it's supposed to and it wouldn't hurt or be the least bit tiring. The absolute minimum amount of effort and energy would be expended, and the result would be an almost effortlessly executed and beautifully sounding G chord.

So how do we achieve this wonderful level of musicianship? By carefully programming the computers that are our brains to correctly and efficiently direct the machines that are our bodies. The important word to remember is carefully!

If we're not careful, we inadvertently program in all the things we're trying to avoid. If you play a C major scale in a stiff and painful way, next time you float the image in your mind, you'll get out not only the learned fingerings for the scale, but also all the stress and strain which you inadvertently inputted.

It's a fact that most stiffness and aches are due to poor initial programming rather than lack of strength and agility. How fit and strong do you have to be to play a single note, or a briskly chopped chord? If you program yourself carefully, the whole song could be performed with this minimum level of energy expenditure.

How To Program Yourself Effectively

The worst mistake you can make when practicing is to rush ahead and play things before you're ready. In other words, playing beyond your current limitations. There's an easy way to tell if you're getting ahead of yourself; aches and mistakes! As soon as you encounter either of these telltale signs you should stop, relax, reset yourself and continue at a more suitable speed.

As beginners, we tend to ascribe aches and pains to lack of fitness. This, in turn, leads to the false assumption that if we just grind away for hours on end we'll toughen up and the aches will disappear. This is true to a certain extent, but it's an inefficient way to approach things, and in my experience, the brute force approach never leads to truly relaxed, gentle, effortless, and sweet sounding music. Instead, it leads to a clumsy, heavy-handed, brutish attack, which when combined with the mental stress of never quite feeling as if you have the guitar under control, is an exhausting way to play.

Using the brute force approach, I certainly don't think it's possible to achieve regularly the state known as 'dynamic relaxation'. This being the idea that you can play an instrument whilst in a trance-like state akin to meditating. Playing an instrument in this condition is an absolute joy. Even as a beginner/intermediate, I, and you may too, have experienced this hypnotic state in which nothing exists except the music. If you program yourself to play in a relaxed way, it will become a regular thing, and not just the odd freak event.

What To Practice

Practice is usually divided into two main areas: general technical development and specific pieces which we wish to learn. So what constitutes general technical development? Well if for the moment, we ignore the subtleties of dynamics and tone, at its most basic level, music has three main facets; melody, harmony and time. The melodic line being the foremost part of the tune; a series of single notes; the bit you whistle when a tune gets stuck in your head. Harmony occurs when two or more notes overlap or are played simultaneously. Harmonies enrich the sound by providing depth and altering the flavour' of the melodic notes. A melodic note can have a very different feel depending on which other notes are played beneath it. And all of this has no meaning at all unless it is played rhythmically in time.

So we tend to practice scales (melody), chords (harmony), and arpeggios, which are a halfway house between the two, as they contain both a melodic and harmonic element. So these are like the three staples, or dimensions, of technical practice, all of which exist upon a framework of time.

Another area of technical practice can be what I think of as custom practice. This is when you encounter a new technique in a piece you wish to learn, and it's beyond your current ability, so you analyze it, find out what's involved and create a comprehensive set of exercises designed to turn a weakness into a strength. Whenever you encounter the same thing in a future piece it won't slow you down as much.

There isn't much point in tackling a piece until you have developed a bit of initial coordination with the techniques involved. It's for this reason that as a beginner you should stick to really simple pieces and I mean simple. We're talking nursery rhymes here.

Other than to satisfy a bit of curiosity as to the structure of a song, there's no point looking up a John Petrucci tab trying to learn it because the techniques involved will be in another universe to the one you're in at the moment. So don't frustrate yourself. Remember the first rule; not rushing ahead of your current ability.

How To Practice

Before we try to play actual music, no matter how simple, we first need to develop a bit of initial coordination. We can do this by running through some exercises based on the elements described above. But before we even tackle a whole scale or arpeggio, it's useful to develop basic coordination, get used to the strings (find more at UG Wiki) and the fretboard. Get comfortable with the guitar. Get the two hands working together, and get used to employing the fingers in the right way. In this article, I'm going to leave the lesson plan largely up to you. The sooner you start intelligently creating exercises specifically tailored to your own needs, the better. However, I'm going to use the following recommended exercise as a template for how you should approach ALL your exercises.

This exercise gives all four fingers of the left hand equal attention and develops coordination between the two hands.

This Is Extremely Important!

Play each note individually, resting between each one. I don't mean put the guitar down and go and have a cup of tea. Just play the note and then relax. The finger of the fretting hand should depress the string just enough to sound the note, then you relax completely whilst leaving the finger in place. The string will return to its undepressed state with your finger resting lightly upon it. This will instantly dampen the sound. Don't pull the finger away just relax it. Then you do the same with the next finger. This is called switching the fingers on and off. Play the note for a beat, relax, rest for a beat, play the next note for a beat, relax rest for a beat, etc.

The picking hand should also just do enough to make the stroke then relax, whilst remaining in place to play the next note. The important thing being that every action is balanced by rest. At this stage, the action and rest need to be pretty much equally spaced, but eventually, the two things will merge and become play/relaxed or dynamic relaxation'. But like everything, it won't happen if you don't practice it.
Play the following notes on the 1st e string using finger pattern 1, 2, 3, 4.


Play the following notes on the 2nd B string using finger pattern 1, 2, 4, 3.


Play the following notes on the 3rd G string using finger pattern 1, 3, 2, 4.


So as you can see we're ascending the 1st string using the same finger pattern as we move up one fret at a time. We then move to the next string and descend one fret at a time using a slightly different finger pattern. WE then move to the next string and ascend again using a slightly different pattern. We continue in this way to complete the first set of six exercises. The three remaining patterns are as follows:

4th D string: 1342Descending
5th A string: 1423Ascending
6th E string: 1432Descending

That completes set 1. There are 3 more which apply the same principle of ascending 1 fret at a time whilst keeping the same finger pattern. Then descending the next string using a slightly different pattern.

SET 2:

1st e: 2134Ascending
2nd B2143Descending
3rd G2314Ascending
4th D2341Descending
5th A2413Ascending
6th E2431Descending


1st e3124Ascending
2nd B3142Descending
3rd G3214Ascending
4th D3241Descending
5th A3412Ascending
6th E3421Descending


1st e4123Ascending
2nd B4132Descending
3rd G4213Ascending
4th D4231Descending
5th A4312Ascending
6th E4321Descending

So you can see from the above exercises that we have moved systematically from finger pattern 1234 to 4321 using every possible fingering permutation in between, whilst moving up and down the fretboard. So why do this? Why not just stick to 1234 and then every finger would still be getting an equal workout?

Well, finger 2 won't always follow finger 1 and so on. Also, what will most likely happen is that you'll naturally fall into a rhythm which will put an accent on the first note of the four, ONE two three four.ONE two three four etc. This I think of as the Indian drum beat groove, HI ya ya ya Hi ya ya ya. So what would happen if we just played fingering 1234 is that the first finger would always be accompanied by a strong accent. This would become a part of the programming, so that we would play an accent whenever the first finger was employed. This could really screw up our future phrasing. Accents can fall on any of the four fingers, and by moving through the exercises in this way, not only have we given each finger a workout, but we've distributed the accents equally amongst the fingers.

Keeping things equally balanced and so not giving bias to one area of practice over another is what I mean by intelligently created exercises. Also, it's important not to give bias to things that come easily, and neglect things that do not. Don't flatter yourself when you practice (Wynton Marsalis)

Playing Chords

As I said at the start of this article, it's been a while since I shaped my first chord, so I'm not sure how useful the following technique will be for absolute beginners who haven't yet got past the phase of having to place the fingers one at a time to make the chord. Once you are able to manipulate the fingers as a group then I suggest learning new chord shapes in the following way:

Clearly visualize the chord in your mind's eye before shaping it with your fingers. Don't depress the strings until you're certain the fingers are well placed, but as soon as they are, play the chord with a clean chop. This is done by depressing all the fingers simultaneously while making a swift stroke with the picking hand. Then the fingers should all be released at the same time. There's no need to pull the fingers away from the strings. Simply leave the fingers in place and relax the hand, allowing the tension to instantly dissolve. This should cause the chord to end abruptly and cleanly, provided the fretting hand was playing all six strings. If there were open strings then you will need to use the side of the palm of the picking hand to silence the ringing strings. This should be done in sync with the relaxing of the fretting hand. The product should be a nicely chopped chord.

Unless you're working on rhythm, don't leave the fingers in place and play the chord again, as it serves little purpose. It's better to remove the hand from the position before shaping the chord anew and performing another brisk chop. This way you can shape the chord many times in a short period. This is a more effective way of programming your fingers to shape chords, than just holding them down and strumming for a while.


When beginning arpeggios, I suggest keeping it as simple as possible. That is, stick to the basic major and minor triads played across just three strings. Avoid playing arpeggios across all six strings combined with a position shift or two. Once you have gotten comfortable with the basic triads, you can then start to string them together to create longer ones.

Remember that when you hear guitarists playing long runs on guitars, they are in fact stringing together a series of short phrases. They can perfectly play each of these short phrases in isolation. This means they can line them up and knock them down one after another without pause. This gives the illusion of a mega run.

As a musician, you will eventually need to be able to play any phrase in the piece of music in perfect isolation. This means that from a standing start, being able to play any phrase on its own, cleanly, up to tempo, and with all the dynamics and expression in place. Only when you can do this will you truly be able to perform the piece in a musical way, that is, playing all the phrases perfectly one after another, and not just plodding through the entire piece in a breathless and wooden way.

You Can't Rush Success You Can Only Rush Failure

Remember to stop, relax and play more slowly and carefully every time you make a mistake or encounter an ache. Something we tend to do as beginners is to develop the habit of speeding up every time we make a mistake. The reason being that we feel we've wasted a bit of practice time by making a mistake, and so we rush to correct it. We can rush over the same portion four or five times in a sloppy way before finally getting it sort of right and then moving on because we believed that the five sloppy repetitions were the cause of the good one.

What we've actually done is inputted five times as much bad info as good. So, in theory, we're five times more likely to play it sloppily next time. If instead we'd have slowed down and played it three times very carefully and accurately, we'd have a ratio of 3:1 in favor of accuracy. So theoretically we're 3 times more likely to get it right next time, and so our potential for accuracy keeps increasing rather than decreasing. Get into the habit of stopping, relaxing, slowing down and thinking carefully whenever you make a mistake. Try to maintain a good accuracy ratio.

The Right Attitude

Will frowning, sighing, clenching your fists, gritting your teeth and thinking, why am I not getting better more quickly, make you a better guitar player? Will it correct a mistake you've just made? Of course not. It will, however, waste energy, cause tension and stress, make you feel dejected and ultimately make practice a drag. So don't give house room to feeling such as these.

However, if we're going to successfully remove downs from our practice sessions we also need to remove ups. One can't exist without the other. So getting over excited and cocky when you experience progress isn't allowed either.

What I'm saying is that when entering the practice room, you should leave your emotions on a nail by the door. The only exception to this being if you're working on the expressive side of a piece, but by the time you reach that stage, you'll be well past the initial programming phase. Essentially, don't route good and bad performance through the part of your brain that governs emotions. There's no need, and it serves no constructive purpose.

Practice Is An Inevitable Part Of Our Day

When we awake in the morning what's the first thing most of us do? Get dressed. Have you ever thought, I don't really feel like getting dressed this morning? Of course not, because going to school or work naked isn't an option. So getting dressed is such a fundamental part of our day that we never route it through our emotions. We never have to ask ourselves whether we feel like it or not.

Moreover, we never enter into competition with ourselves on the subject of getting dressed. Have you ever timed yourself to see if you're buttoning up your shirt faster today than you did yesterday? Do you try to put your shoes and socks on in perfect time and then get annoyed when you fail? Of course not.

So try to develop this detached attitude to your music practice. It's a fundamental part of your day, and so you do it whether you feel like it or not. You don't compete with yourself. You don't get annoyed if you can't play the scale at a higher tempo today than you did yesterday. You just do the practice whatever.

There is no need to set goals because you're just setting yourself up to fail. If you do the practice in a calm, careful, and intelligent way, you'll improve whether you want to or not. Every time you make a competition of it, you're setting yourself up to fail. Remain detached when practicing.

Imagine two people: One sets himself a goal to be achieved by the end of the month, and then spends every evening visualizing himself accomplishing it, but does a little practice. The other sets herself no goals, but instead just practices her technical and musical exercises in a detached way every day, caring not whether she achieves anything or not. Who do you think will be the more capable come to the end of the month? It's the practice that counts not how you feel about it. You don't feel the need to enjoy getting dressed in the morning, and because you don't try to enjoy it, you don't dislike it either; you feel nothing either way. It's just something you do. Practice your music in this detached way, and the irony is that by not trying to achieve or enjoy, you'll do just that!


I'm not a music teacher. I have not had the experience of teaching thousands of students to play an instrument. Therefore I haven't had the experience of seeing which techniques are most effective for most people. And so nothing I say should be taken as Gospel. These are nothing more than the approaches I have found useful. Take em or leave em.

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    i love the part about music practice an inevitable part of everyday life. never thought about it that way and im going to start thinking about it in that way thanks
    Great article. I enjoyed reading this. Totally agree with the part about when practicing scales or a song and you make a mistake, stop. and correct it and start over again and again until its fixed. If you get frustrated bc you cant get it, jump ahead of that part or note and practice that and then come back to the tricky part. This works for two reasons 1. frustration= self-pity and nothing productive comes from that and 2. Sometimes learning the next series of notes will help you lear the previous bc sometimes its the transition that makes it difficult!
    Excellent article! I think I've been using the brute force method since I started learning, but after reading this I think I'll cool my jets a bit. I'm bookmarking this. Thanks so much!
    First time visitor to this site, and this was the first article I read, mostly because it was so highly rated, and was directed toward beginners. The philosophy embedded into the elimination of highs and lows when focusing is very akin to how I try to live life, so this should be an extremely helpful guide for me because it's so close to what I know already. Although I giggled when I read the part about getting ready in the mornings. I do in fact route the morning rituals through my thought process, and I do often bicker with myself over what I actually have to do before leaving for work. Being of an engineering mindset, I also always try to perform the morning routines as concisely, efficiently and quickly as possible, from showering and brushing teeth to putting on clothes and eating breakfast and finally plopping into the car and what course I take to work. Probably a mindset I'll need to learn to hang on that proverbial nail as I'm practicing. Ultimately, I can go lots of places on the net to find things to practice, but this one really tells me that I'm going in the right direction because it tells me how I'm supposed to think/feel/act while I'm practicing. I may not know how perfect my chord needs to sound, but I can identify with whether I'm jumping up and down when I get it right or kicking the cat when I think I'm not doing well.
    I have some wannabe friends who could use this very "zen" info. Just take all the wannabes and sit them in front of this lesson, pry their eyeballs open(yes, like in clockwork orange, dude yeah), and say " READ ALL THIS ALOUD 20 FUCKING TIMES YOU PRETENTIOUS LITTLE FUCK! STOP SLATHERING YOURSELF WITH IDEAS OF BEING A MUSICIAN AND REPLACE THEM WITH IDEAS OF ACTUALLY PLAYING MUSIC! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT THE TRUTH!." We must focus on the art no? or the art controls us yes? I am so bored and lonely.....I should be "practicing" for a "performance" all the while "refining" my "techniques". Thats what I shall do no? "The ultimate technique is to have no technique." Funny how a martial artist can teach guitar in 8 words better than 7500 articles on guitar "technique". I dont know I just think thats funny. Guitar players are funny little creatures, aint we? How we call ourselves guitar players and write run- on paragraphs? I dont know, I just think this all is kinda funny? Are all of you pulling my leg? Do you really know how to play an instrument? Does your instrument play you? Does it control you like a mean insecure lover? are you the one who is the mean, insecure lover? You will soon find that it is not the spoon that is bending, but rather it is yourself. 20 bonus wazzah big guitar cock points to anyone who can locate the two movie references (not including clockwork orange) hidden in this folly of message board sploogism. The internet is media. Media is alive, it is breathing. Be careful who you include in your circle.
    started with a guitar in may, thought i was doing ok having around 18 songs to strum to, turns out i realised i can only play a bit of each.....may take hede to the teachings of the master, sounds like it may just work
    ...but music seems to affect me in a a great way. Like a drug. And this quote is very true. I feel in my head the melody, harmony, especially the rhythm when listening to a song. I connect them and arrange in my head. Then I sit and pick up the guitar and I'm a totally different man.
    I feel the same way about music, sometimes I can just get lost listening to the same song over and over and picking apart every little nuance and just loving it. The only problem is I just started trying to play (and I mean JUST started) so I can't just sit down and start playing whatever I want. This is such a great article though because I always try to play little parts of my favorite songs (the tiny parts that I actually can sort of play...) but get frustrated when I can't seem to do it all correctly or perfectly. It's tough to just sit there and practice playing mundane little notes, but I am realizing more (a lot more thanks to this article) that you gotta make a strong foundation to build upon, otherwise you may never get off the ground. Sometimes I think my fingers are too short or my guitar is no good... but then I see my friend, who doesn't even have a pinky finger, play the guitar wonderfully, and I see other people pick up my guitar and make the most beautiful sounds come out. Seeing this makes me realize that with plenty of practice you can really do whatever you playing the guitar! As you said, I should make sure I don't try to compare myself to others or be too hard on myself. If anything I can use that as an inspiration to fix the mistakes as they come and turn any weaknesses into strengths! Just like you mentioned, in life there are many things that we must learn to do and eventually master from doing it so many times (like tying your shoe!). Guitar, and any musical instrument for example, is just one of those things that is harder to start, learn, and to become at least halfway decent (or master of course). I feel that because, in most cases, we try to learn something like guitar when we are a little older it is that much more frustrating when you aren't able to do it. I don't remember learning how to tie my shoes or failing at it, but I sure know how to tie them now without thinking (hooray for me!). I do remember being in 9th grade, learning the guitar in music class and just thinking how good I was at playing Jingle Bells. Then I didn't pick up the guitar again till years later and I couldn't even play that! I tried playing songs I liked and attempted to do chords and stuff, but a part of me felt like I was better when I was younger. The difference was I had a teacher which helped obviously, but I suppose the main thing was I wasn't setting the bar too high because there was no bar. Back then I wasn't trying to play some favorite song of mine that was beyond my technique or beating myself up when I couldn't do something the first time. I knew I had no experience so I just practiced and enjoyed the time I had trying to learn. Wow sorry, I didn't think I'd end up writing so much but this article really has made me think a bit more about the whole process of learning an instrument. Take everything a step at a time so you can climb higher and higher without falling back down. Thanks for the great read!!
    Joshua Mahurin
    "Play the following notes on the 3rd G string using finger pattern 1, 3, 2, 4. G|1-3-2-4-|2-3-5-4-|3-4-6-5-|4-5-7-6-|5-6-8-7-|" Yo u messed that up. It should be : G|1-3-2-4-|2-4-3-5-|3-5-4-6-|4-6-5-7-|5-7-6-8-|
    Thank you for this, I'm the first person in my family to pick up guitar,or any instrument for that matter, and this really helps because i really don't know how to practice and dont have much to tell me what i'm doing right or wrong.... so thanks...
    Borza, Chris, You've almost brought me to tears. It is amazing how we all love this instrument, but unfortunately, we can easily turn it into an instrument of self-torture. We draw all these goals, visions and expectations. We apply our judgmental and calculating rational brain in a realm it does not understand. Just yesterday I listened to a recording I did a year ago. and it was so good it made me feel defeated! I looked with pity over what little advantage I have over that guy from a year ago. Not to mention how competitive we get when watching youtube videos. It's like you have all the people from around the world to compete with. It is no longer just your group of friends. No wonder you will never feel ahead if you keep that competitive attitude. I'm gonna dedicate my practice sessions to attaining freedom from all the emotional entanglements. To use the instrument to meditate and be peaceful. Chris, thanks for the absolutely wonderful article.
    does anyone else find it retarded that white ppl say stupid stuff like the indian drum beat groove, wtf. Native Americans dont sing like that, thats some stupid ish that white ppl put in movies like we all say "how". Other than that it was a good article but not because it had big words in it, but because it had insight with the exception of the one misnomer.
    Great article, Chris, it's obvious that talented people won't need to read this, as talent comes in the genes, but for us desperate souls that used to take the guitar a couple of months just to abandon it for a year because couldn't play a full song (including solo), this is a great lesson. I hadn't noticed that my practice was stressful until now. Thanks a lot for the eye opening. Cheers
    My first little lesson... pretty fun, great write up about things to think about for the future Thanks Chris!
    Also one great thing is that with the fingering exercise, you develope reflexes, the ability to think before you play. This is worth a hundred lessons.
    Really a great post. I've took up the guitar after about two years, and this advices are really helping me.
    Fantastic, well-written, well-presented article. Lots of great stuff. I'd just like to point out though, for those who talk about "talented" musicians, as if talent is something you're either born with, or you're not...consider Steve Vai, for example. Most people would without a doubt say he's immensely "talented", and many guitarists might bemoan the fact that they'll never be as good as he is because they're not as "talented" as he is. Well guess what? This is a guy that used to practice 10-12 hours a day! His guitar ability wasn't born out of some mysterious genes passed onto him. He worked his ass off! And the exact same can be said of virtually every guitarist that plays at a similarly virtuosic level. Nobody ever says of a skilled surgeon "Wow, he's really talented!" Most people just assume he worked his ass off in school, interning, studying, etc., to get to be so good. Why do people look at musicians differently and say "he's talented", as if he were somehow born with an innate ability to play as soon as he popped from the womb, ignoring the fact that for hours every day, for years on end, this person practically lived with a guitar glued to his fingers? The point is, "talent" isn't something that's out of the reach of anyone here. You want someone to hear you play and exclaim "Wow, you're really talented?" Practice your ass off.
    Thx for the comments chris and hummosa. I'm gonna make a commitment to really start enjoying everything that I play. I think it's the right way ahead, to make my playing and technique a reflection of my inner self. And I'm a pretty happy guy all things considered, so that should hopefuly reflect in my playing. This is also a great quote: "A horrible truth we have to face is that being creative and being talented aren't the same thing. As artistic people we feel compelled to create. Not creating isn't an option. So when you have neither a natural giftedness or the benefit of a great teacher, being creative can be a frustrating business. " Now I wouldn't go so far as to calling myself an artist, but music seems to affect me in a agreat way. Like a drug. And this quote is very true. I feel in my head the melody, harmony, especially the rhythm when listening to a song. I connect them and arrange in my head. Then I sit and pick up the guitar and I'm a totally different man. Guys like Guthrie and Townsend really inspire me, because they seem to have that down. Gonna keep trying!
    I have, in my playing, come to a great brick wall, the size of Pink Floyd's . I have tried practicing slowly and steadily, but this hasn't evolved my playing technique much at all. In the last two years or so I would become frustrated with the fact that my efforts are to no avail. It gets worse. Lack of progress steers away me from my interest in playing. When you know you're gonna go wrong it tends to have that effect. I've "reset" my excercises to a low speed more times than I'd like. There are times when I'm not sure if I don't feel like playing because I'm not (and can't seem to find a way) to get better or if I'm not getting better bacause I've lost interest in playing. It's that bad. But that can't be true. I'm a guy that really loves music, I listen to all sorts of music. I also play a mandolin. In retrospect, I think I haven't been really concentrated on what I was playing while practicing, although I've put in many hours of work. Quantity, people, I can confirm, DOESN'T guarantee quality. So I'm trying to be more concentrated on what I'm playing. Steve Vai says our goal is to play the notes in a way that they sound exactly like we hear them in our head. Upon this discovery, I came to a conclusion that I've never really thought about what I wanted them to sound like. I would run the excercises aimlesly. And I think it contibuted to my problem. I think I'm on a slow road to recovery, but will have to be ber-patient. There are some things that still plague me. For instance, a simple 3-note per string run, A-major scale. Starting at the low E, I just can't ever seem to get comfortable at what's coming out, or what I feel while playing. I don't FEEL the coordination , feel like I'm producing something. It's hell. Like I have subconsciously programed something very wrong and it keeps sneaking by me. Watching Guthrie seems to help . Somehow I can see and feel the notes coming out of his hands as the product of his emotions. I'd like to have that feeling even at stupidly low speeds. If I get it and find a way to stay there, I know I could achieve great things. My post is maybe a little confusing, but I hope you guys see what I'm aiming it. Inputs are welcome and wanted, especially from you Chris. Thx
    Really makes me open my eyes about my way of praticing, I usually rush things and want as quickly as possible to learn the seleceted piece. Hopefully now I'll take things more slowly.
    Liked everything accept leaving your emotions at the door true criticizing yourself is pretty useless for a lot of people I however need to so I can address the issues, personally I think emotions are key when your practicing how would ever want to practice when they cant enjoy it. I love when I try a part of a song and nail it.
    Definitely a good article. I knew most of the things but this is a good resource.
    Definitely an awesome article. I myself am guilty of hammering myself through a hard part in a song until I get it right, and after all that Im in quite a bit of pain. Glad to know what Im doing wrong and how to fix it.
    As someone who just spent an entire day trying to record a piece and failing miserably, this couldn't have come at a better time. I was really stressed over all of the time I was wasting since I don't get to go into the studio as often as I'd like. Thanks!
    I agree 100% with not rushing- when I was a beginner I just tried to play everything full speed exactly as the tab said, but by slowing it down and taking in the individual notes, it's a lot easier to learn something.
    amazing article. thank you. im learning new chords right now for a guitar final, and your method is great.
    Wow. One of the best articles I've seen on UG. I myself regularly fall foul of some things mentioned on here, such as te brute force thing, but reading this will really help me change the way I practice!
    Practice and performance are not to be separated. Always practice as if you are on stage in front of a packed house. Even when playing exercises, these imaginary fans came to see you do them correctly, and not fiddle and noodle in between them. Practicing as if you're performing helps concentrate on attitude, posture, and nerves. Having said that, I agree that at times, focusing on difficult passages instead of entire pieces can be beneficial. However, practicing entire pieces and groups of pieces is equally as important.
    Great article,I also have found myself trying to play a new song at full speed and get frustrated.I realize now it is much more efficient to slow down and disect a song or parts of a song or technique.It is also a time saver when learning a new song not to keep replaying the parts that you can already play well,but to focus your time on the parts that need the time.
    Overall I agree with this article although remember none of this ever applies universally. Look at Shawn Lane, he was beyond amazing, and he made everything appear effortless. His approach to practice was not to practice perfectly at a slow pace but to practice faster with the mistakes and as you get used to the speed, you'll be able to fix these mistakes. There is a video where he talks about it. I could never practice it, but it's interesting, I wonder if he had practiced with this method if he would have been a better guitarist. Something we'll never know.
    One sets himself a goal to be achieved by the end of the month, and then spends every evening visualising himself accomplishing it, but does little practice. The other sets herself no goals, but instead just practices her technical and musical exercises in a detached way every day, caring not whether she achieves anything or not. Who do you think will be the more capable come the end of the month?
    but wouldn't it be a lot better if you set a goal AND practice hard to reach it? faith without action is blind, right?
    Lots of great points. I often push myself too hard, too fast, too soon. I practice too long, covering too much material, and those exercises at the end can get frustrating for me and my poor fingers. I do set goals, practice everyday,however I'm learning that someday's I just need to dial down. I also need to remember that somedays are worse than others.... and some days are good too. Enjoy the good, learn from the not-so-good.
    Oh no, I do believe that some people have a bit more of an aptitude for it than others, just as some people can sing perfectly in tune even though they've never played an instrument, while others are tone-deaf. So while someone who follows the exact same routines and learned the same way as Vai may not necessarily become as good as he is, there's no way they can NOT become an exceptional guitarist if they put in as much work and effort as he did. Of course, they also have to have the same drive, as well. Zakk Wylde had only been playing for about 5 years before he was tapped for Ozzy's band. That's drive.