Rock Your Guitar Practice Routine

If you don't take the time to decide where you want to go as a player, you won't get there! Think (and dream) about what kind of player you want to be, and formulate a plan to get there. The ideas in this article should help you.

Rock Your Guitar Practice Routine
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Anyone who has ever tried to become proficient (or great!) at the guitar has had to come up with an effective practice routine. In this article, I'm going to address some of the main things that you'll want to consider as you formulate your own routine.

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.

Balance

Regardless 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.

Tracking

Once 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 Routines

In 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.
  • Chords
  • Scales
  • Arpeggios
  • Licks
  • Repertoire
For these categories, you'll want to prioritize them based on your most urgent needs. If all the categories are equally important to you, you can practice them each in rotating blocks of 20 minutes. For most people, 20 minutes is a good block of time to maintain your concentration - use your own judgment here.

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 A

In 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.

Repertoire

Jeff 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.

Chords

Jeff 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.

Scales

Jeff 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).

Arpeggios

Jeff 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.

Licks

Jeff 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 B

We 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.

Repertoire

This 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.

Chords

Mary'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.

Scales

Mary'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.

Arpeggios

Arpeggios aren't really important for what Mary is trying to do at the moment, so she'll hold off on this category for now.

Licks

With 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

Conclusion

An 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.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    sugeci
    Practice routine C Steve is a beginner djentist, what should his routine be?
    jzgy12
    Make sure his patients brush and floss daily...
    GameSkate
    E|-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-| But he might appear as slayerist for some people.
    EdwardMasters
    HeidiCPascua
    My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do... www.wallstreet34.com
    Tucson_Don
    Serious Question jzgy12: What routine would be suggested for a person D who knows some CAGED theory; lots of chords; some scales; and 30+ songs as a rhythm player who aspires to contribute more leads. Also, I've heard about arpeggio's but where can I find a good practice exercise that is described? I want to learn how to play the cool sounding techniques. (How do I play a 220 BPM Metallica riff with 50+ year old hands?!) I want to be able to play the notes I hear and feel, but where are they? Any serious advice where to find such initial help.
    jzgy12
    Hi Don - Let's see if I understand correctly... Goal #1 Contribute more leads Goal #2 Learn arpeggios Goal #3 Increase technical capability (play Metallica riff, etc) Goal #4 Train Ear (play what you hear and feel. These are pretty broad goals, but I'll do my best . Goals #1 and #2 are related to the CAGED shapes. Major chord arpeggios should be easiest to add to your CAGED shapes, since they are essentially the CAGED shapes plus a note or two. If you know some basic theory, just convert the major arpeggios to minor by flatting all the 3rds. Eventually you'll want to build other arpeggios, but major and minor are a good starting point. As far as the scales go, use an overlapping system - visualize a chord (1 3 5), the arpeggio (1 3 5 plus a note or two), and then the rest of the scale. Make sure you know your root locations/octave shapes, which are embedded in all of your CAGED major chord shapes. Everything in your guitar universe is related to these shapes. These 2 goals are basically raw knowledge. If you're a book guy like me, I can recommend 2 books that will address these issues - Fretboard knowledge by Desi Serna, and Soloing Strategies by Tom Kolb. I'm sure there are other good ones, but I like these. If your knowledge is fairly solid already, I'd go with Tom Kolb's book. Great presentation, and killer playing on the CD - highly recommended. Or get both . Of course, you have to put it all into practice. Pick a position to work in, then try looking on youtube for specific chord progressions, ie. "Am G F" and try to play arpeggios with the chords - start slow! Once you're comfortable with that, add in the other scale notes that you've worked on. There are many other things to consider - bending, vibrato, slides, and the list goes on. The best way in my opinion is to combine what I described above with learning licks from other players. Ideally, you want to learn them without tabs, because you cheat yourself out of the amazing knowledge from using your ear. If you're new to that, here's an article on that subject that I just posted the other day for you to check out - http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/g... This will also solve Goal #4 over time. It's the best thing you can do for your playing, if you haven't tried before. As for Goal #3, the old advice is best - play sloooow. Still not working? Play slower. Still no good? Even slower. I promise you that 90% of guitar players think they're playing slow enough aren't. I see it every day in lessons. I'm in that 90% myself sometimes. Hey, we're guitar players - we all want to play fast! Articulate each note perfectly, and RELAX. If you start tensing up, back off the speed a bit until you're in control. This is important for making improvements - write down your progress in a notebook, because obviously this is a lot of stuff to keep track of! Looking forward to your feedback, because I fear I've said too much . Seriously let me know, I'd be happy to work it through with you. Thanks! Dave PS We're about the same age - and I've just had a technique breakthrough for myself, so there's hope!
    drock33
    Hey Dave I am a lead singer, main song writer, and only guitar player in my Christian rock band. I have been mostly self-taught and been playing for 20 years. I know rhythm guitar pretty well and major chords. My troubles begin with writing solos for my songs when they call for it and when I write a song I don't now what chord I am playing sometimes. This is frustrating because I can't communicate to other musicians my vision and I feel like less of a complete song writer and musician. I need help and a great practice routine. I have a sense that is a logical start. Thanks God bless. Darin Shea
    jzgy12
    Hi Darin - Thanks for the question. It seems that many of the recommendations I gave to Tucson_Don would apply here. As far as solos go, I would start simple. Learn one pattern of each of these scales: major pentatonic, minor pentatonic, major scale, natural minor scale. Then learn how to play these patterns in different keys. All you have to do is locate the root notes in each pattern, and move the pattern to the right note. Do you need help with basic theory, ie. finding notes on the strings quickly? Let me know, I have some videos that might address that. I'd recommend the 2 books I mentioned to Tucson_Don: Spend time with this one first... Fretboard Theory by Desi Serna http://www.amazon.com/Fretboard-Theory-1... After you've spent time with that one, learning fretboard fundamentals - check this one out... Soloing Strategies by Tom Kolb. Tom does a good job of laying it out for you, but it's a bit more advanced. When you're ready to develop vocabulary with the patterns you've learned, this is a very good resource. I'd need more information to get more specific. But again, focus on learning those 4 scale patterns, then how to use them. You can search on youtube for,"A minor jam track", play the scale in the A minor location, and gradually start to improvise with that. Once you understand how to change keys (knowing your root locations, etc), pull the new key up in youtube, and go at it again. How does that sound? If you'd like, I also offer a free Skype consult. It's not easy to craft the perfect practice routine over email. Just let me know if that's of interest to you. Good luck! Dave
    GS LEAD 5
    Jzgy12, What routine would you suggest for a person whose aim is to reach a level of songwriting complexity/technical ability on the level of guitarists like John Petrucci/Joe Sat/Jeff Loomis/You get the picture? I would describe my current level of skill as follows- A) I know individual scale scales from root to octave. But not fluently enough to break out of each shape and play smoothly. B) I am proficient in metal riffing, and am capable of composing fast/technical riffs without much issue. C) I can play reasonably fast (around 190bpm in 16th notes) however I take ages to learn long solos, since I find memorizing notes tedious and time consuming. So often I lose interest midway. D) my phrasing is reasonably good, good control over bends, slides etc, but limited by poor knowledge of scales. E) I at times have difficulty shifting complex chord shapes fast and cleanly. F) I am proficient in tapping, I am capable of playing all of Scale the Summit's "The Levitated", but struggle to apply it to improvisation/composition.
    420portlandheav
    Gslead5. Learn major and minor pentatonic up and down the neck and practice imorovising over tracks. Pentatonic scales are all good players meat and potatoes for lead. Pay attention to how the notes work in each key over a chord. For your chord issues I'd just practice transitioning with the chords you Have problems with. With time you won't have those issues.
    baddarryl
    Hi Dave. Thank you for this. By Chords I am assuming you mean chord theory? Or do you separate out Theory study? Thank you....Darryl
    jzgy12
    Hey Darryl - Really, it depends on your specific situation. If you're new to chord theory, you might have 2 sub categories - 1) learn chord theory 2) apply chord theory, for example. Can you tell me a little more about your situation? Thanks, Dave
    baddarryl
    Basically I have known the shapes and names of most of the basic chords for years, but if you told me how to build a Cm7 for example I would have to look it up and couldn't name the notes. I want to learn how to apply the scales to chords being played really is my end game. I am far from that. I have been playing for many years without ever working at it really. Time to put in the work. I understand Intervals, but that B string throws me off in that regard. I play rock and metal, but appreciate prog and jazz so I intend to learn those chords as well.I likely won't be good enough to solo over them anytime soon though. I guess the answer is learn and apply. I also need to learn the fret board better. Sounds like GS Lead 5 if s a step or two above me. Thank you.
    jzgy12
    Hey Darryl - Sorry for the delay - the notification got buried. Yeah, sounds like you have a lot of work to do. Gotta pay the price to get where you want to go, right? Check this page out on my website - http://duluthguitarlessons.com/intermediate-gu... I think the fingerboard knowledge videos I put together will be helpful for you. This kind of thing doesn't happen overnight. You can get the basic tools under ccntrol pretty quickly, but the real learning happens as you apply them to every situation, over and over. Take a look at the vids, and let me know if you have any other questions. If you're interested at some point, I do offer Skype lessons. Good luck! Dave