What Do I Want to Achieve?The first question you'll want to answer is, what do you want to achieve? This is critical. If you don't know where you want to go, you'll end up nowhere. So, take your time answering this question for yourself. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Think about your end goal, and work backwards until you answer the question, "What should I do right this moment to move forward with my goals?" I'll give examples later.
BalanceRegardless of style, or years of experience on the guitar, you'll want to make sure that you have built balance into your routine. Say you're a rocker, and all you enjoy is playing solos. That's great - I do too, but if you don't practice chords/rhythm guitar, no one will want you in their band. That's like being the guy on your basketball team that always wants to shoot the ball, but won't play defense on the other end of the court - don't be that guy!
So, even if you don't enjoy certain things as much as others, if they serve your larger goal (playing in a band, for example), make sure that it's represented in your practice routine. There will be more on this later.
TrackingOnce you've formulated your plan, you'll also want to track what and when you practice. Here is a nice, clean form that you can use for that purpose.
In addition to this, I also use a small notebook to add greater detail to my practice sessions. I can add as much detail as I need for each day. As you advance as a player, it's very easy to become overwhelmed with the things that you're working on, and subsequently lose your motivation.
This is a solution to that problem. By writing down what you're working on, you'll make it much easier to follow through on longer term projects (learning all your major scale patterns in the key of C, for example), and maintain your momentum.
As you diligently work on your practice routine over the course of weeks/months, you will eventually get to a point where you won't need to work on certain exercises/ideas as much. As a result, you'll want to restructure and reevaluate your practice routine on a regular basis to make sure you're making the best use of your time, and moving forward towards your goals.
Sample Practice RoutinesIn this section, I will outline practice routines for a few different types of players. I won't be able to account for every situation, but hopefully I'll get the idea across so that you can effectively craft your own practice routine.
For every player that's trying to improve their improvisation skills (among other things) - regardless of style - there will be certain things in common. The details will change, but the categories remain the same whether you're a blues, jazz, country or rock guitarist.
After each block of time, take a short break - walk outside, get a snack, etc. When you come back, move on to the next area in your routine.
As you advance with music and the guitar, there will be more and more things to practice. After a short while, you won't be able to get to everything every day, which is OK. All you have to do is just pick up where you left off the next day within the five categories (chords, scales, arpeggios, licks, repertoire). Without your practice notebook, you'll likely not remember where you were in that sequence - and you'll start wasting your time again. So... get a notebook.
On to the examples...
Practice Routine AIn this example, Jeff is a blues guitar player that wants to play in a band. He's an intermediate to advanced player who's spent most of his time learning blues licks, so he's pretty strong in the licks category, but a little light on the repertoire side, so he'll have to adjust his routine accordingly.
RepertoireJeff decided that his initial repertoire goal is 30 tunes (that's about the amount you would need to play a standard 3 hour gig), so he's going to make this a priority, since he's fairly decent at everything else on this list.
By "making it a priority," I mean that Jeff will spend twice as much on this area as others, and track it in his notebook.
ChordsJeff likes to punctuate his solos with chords. Sometimes though, he's in an area of the guitar where he doesn't know where to grab a chord. Because of that situation, Jeff's main goal here is to know the shapes of the various chord types he needs in every position on the neck. Since he's a blues guitarist, he'll need plenty of dominant chord forms, in addition to the major and minor chord forms that everyone needs to know.
ScalesJeff is solid on his major and minor pentatonic patterns, but he's a little weak at combining them. To get that more sophisticated major/minor sound that you hear some players use (i.e. BB King), you need to be adept at combining these scales. This is the major goal in this category (for now).
ArpeggiosJeff knows his basic major and minor arpeggios, but he needs to learn arpeggios for dominant 7th chords. He plans on practicing these arpeggios, and then working them into his solos. Do you know where your sweet spots are for each chord? If you learn how to use arpeggios in your solos, you'll reach a new level of sophistication and polish in your music.
LicksJeff knows a lot of isolated blues guitar licks, but he's struggled to make them a part of his solo vocabulary. To solve that problem, once he learns a lick he'll practice soloing with it over jam tracks, along with his own improvisations. That's how you own a lick, by playing it along side your own ideas!
For Jeff, this is a pretty comprehensive approach to improving his overall musicianship. After a few months, Jeff will re-evaluate his progress to see if his priorities should shift in the practice room.
Practice Routine BWe have a different kind of player for this example. Mary has been playing for a few months, and knows a handful of open position chords, and a scale pattern or two. Mary's goals are much different than Jeff's. Her immediate goal is to be able to strum and sing 10 songs, and eventually do this at open mics - maybe even get in a band at some point. As a secondary goal, Mary has some interest in playing a bit of lead guitar in between chord strums.
RepertoireThis is Mary's focus. She'll pick 10 easy strum songs to start with. A teacher will come in very handy for this stage - you don't want to pick songs that are unintentionally beyond your abilities!
Most of her time will be spent practicing chord transitions and strums for the various songs, and learning the lyrics off of lyric sheets that she's printed out from lyrics websites. For Mary's goals, she'll initially practice the guitar part and singing parts separately. After she can do both tasks confidently, she'll practice combining them.
ChordsMary's focus is to learn the chords to 10 songs, as I mentioned earlier. So really, this category is already taken care of in the repertoire category.
ScalesMary's goal here is to learn scales so that she can make her strums/accompaniment more interesting by connecting each chord with a few scale notes. All she needs is a few notes between chords, and it will sound great! Since most of her songs use chords in the open position, she'll work on major and minor scales in the open position to match the chords she's learning.
ArpeggiosArpeggios aren't really important for what Mary is trying to do at the moment, so she'll hold off on this category for now.
LicksWith the help of a good teacher, Mary can learn licks right out of songs in this style of music, and adapt them to her playing style. This way, she will integrate her knowledge of scales with real musical phrases she can actually use while performing.
Similar to Jeff's routine, this is comprehensive enough to move her forward to her goals. She'll reevaluate in a month or 2 to see how she's doing
ConclusionAn effective practice routine flows from your goals. Be as specific as you can regarding what you actually want to do with music, and build your practice routine around that. Hopefully, these examples have given you enough insight to create your own effective practice routine. If you have questions about your own personal situation, feel free to contact me. In the meantime, I have to go tweak my own practice routine!
About the Author:
Dave Lockwood is an accomplished musician and award winning teacher in the Atlanta, GA area. Keep up to date by signing up at his website, and subscribing to his YouTube channel.