Top 5 Practice Tips

This is a list of practice tips I came up with after thinking about how I practice and improve.

Ultimate Guitar
Throughout my years of learning and playing music, I've developed a bit of a philosophy on the best way to practice. I've found some things that work for me and they'll definitely work for anyone who applies them too.

1. Spend Half of Your Practice Time on Stuff You Don't Already Know.

Practicing songs that you can already play through without a problem is fun and encouraging but it isn't useful for making you any better at the instrument. Focusing half of your practice time on something new and challenging will help you push yourself to the next level. It will help you expand your comfort zone and grow as a musician if you keep challenging yourself with new songs that are just outside of your skill level.

2. Record Yourself Playing and Listen to It.

Do this by any means necessary, even if it's just a video or audio recording from a cell phone. You'll notice things about your playing that you didn't pick up on before. You'll discover new holes in your playing and it will help you determine what you should be working on.

3. Learn Songs That Have Both: Lots of Different Chords and Chords That You're Not Good at.

Pick a song that you really like with a lot of chords (like "Hotel California" maybe?) and stick to it until you have it down. This will help you master new chords and allow you to play even more songs. A more recent example of a song with a ton of different chords in "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars. That's a good one if you're looking for some challenging vocals too.

4. Practice With a Metronome/Recording.

Sometimes (not always) you should break out the metronome and play along with it. This will help you to follow a consistent, external beat. It will also help prep you for playing with a drummer. Another way to go about this is practicing with a backing track or a recording. Sing on top of the track, practice soloing, etc. This will get you closer to being able to play with other musicians if you haven't already.

5. It's Better to Practice for 5 Minutes Everyday Than an Hour Once a Week.

When you practice your instrument (or do anything), neurons form patterns in your brain. Eventually the patterns get deeper the more they fire through, this is what determines how good you are at whatever you're doing (playing music in our case). This will happen every time you practice. When you fall asleep, the neurons will refire rapidly through every pattern for everything you did that day. If you only practice once a week, even if it's for an hour or two, this refiring will only happen once whereas it would happen every night if you practiced daily. It's better to practice everyday, even if it's for less time. Try applying these tips to your practice routine and get more out of your practice time!
YouTube preview picture

72 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I always use this one: play through the song at a much slower tempo such that you can play everything cleanly, then slowly increase the tempo to normal
    I was always taught--and still believe--that accuracy is more important than speed. There isn't much sense in playing it fast if it's wrong. I agree with you guys totally
    I found I can play much faster if I start slowly and steadily up the tempo.
    I found recording myself in decent quality absolutely essential for improving my playing. I never realized how awful I was until I bought a Pod Studio and started to hear everything I do wrong in high quality
    yeah i once had the opportunity to listen to myself in high quality and hearing all my mistakes and flaws in such great detail was a pretty painful experience - that said, it helped a shitload
    Good advice. One thing that I have found that also helps in my 20+ years of playing is; sometimes you'll feel like you've hit a wall and can make no progress at all. Stop playing. Just for a while. Try something different - listen to new music, try playing bass/piano/banjo/mandolin - anything else. Then after a while (whether that's a day, a week.... whatever) return to the guitar. You may be surprised at what happens as you feel reinvigorated.
    Yessss. I coincide. I thought I was the only one who went by this idea. I feel it's necessary to take a break from it every now and then, because ,really, it feels as if you're playing the same thing over and over sometimes. Something you won't be able to break out of unless you take a break. It's one way to progress. A little out of the ordinary, though
    I do this often...I usually come back a little better than I was before. Great advice!
    same here, I haven't played in a few weeks to study theory and all of a sudden I can sweep a lil
    -Well constructed, simple, and concise tips. -Another big practice essential you forgot to mention is ear training. It's such an important tool for any musician. -And to people who say, "Oh cool, I practice an hour a day, I'm all good." Don't think of it like that; think of it as taking time out of your day to learn something new or challenging, every day, no matter if it takes an hour or a couple of minutes.
    It's Better to Practice for 5 Minutes Everyday Than an Hour Once a Week.. but neither will really get you too far
    My the hardest thing about practicing for me is actually practicing.
    Throughout my years there were times when I slacked off, and it gets easy to NOT practice! Bad habits are just as easy to pick up on as good ones, and I got used to not playing, then I feel bad, then that makes me not want to play at all, and it just sucks. Don't be like I was
    I have only one tip worth mentioning, I think. I have been playing about a year an a half, and I know I am a beginner, so I won't inflict my vast lack of knowledge on you. Get the guitar in your hands. If you are siting there watching TV, you have time to pick it up and screw around with it. No matter what you are doing, if your hands are free, get the guitar in your hands. If it's in your hands, you will at least have the opportunity to learn. So get the damn thing in your hands.
    awesome! I would only add that one should listen to and experience as many different and new songs and genres as possible! The more sounds you hear, will lead to more new sounds in your playing!
    And lets not forget each one of us possesses the most incredible and versatile instrument of them all, AIR GUITAR. Anytime, anywhere we can play it and practice chord changes, get the rythm/feel of a song, licks, etc. Just dont over do it if your in public listening to your Ipod, we dont look as cool as we feel.=)
    Without even realising, I keep practicing strumming with my right hand while I'm in public, listening to some songs on my iPod, and this actually's been helping me with accuracy and speed to a certain extent.
    steven seagull
    are you seriously suggesting that air guitar classes as practice i don't even...
    It's not the same as actual practice, but it doesn't hurt. If you're listening to music and not doing anything else, forming the chords with your left hand, or even visualising the fretboard and "playing" melodies or riffs is a great way to help your memory and even your technique to an extent. I do it all the time. It's similar to listening to music and drumming along with your hands on your knees. That's how I practiced drums when I was in school before I could afford my own kit, and it made a hell of a difference!
    it's legit. I started with Guitar Hero and air guitar'd throughout the day to try to remember the songs. When my interest peaked for actual guitar, I continued and the strum patterns were simpler to get. Same with arpeggio picking (First Song I learned was Movin Out by Aerosmith)
    I have an incredibly busy schedule, wife, job and other interests. Even when my day is PACKED i try to squeeze in 15 -30 minutes (like in the morning). For me..early morning practice is good for scales, licks, etc. Yawn...I'm still waking up at that time, not a lot of creativity. Peace out. Oh...and be patient. I find that when I have something I'm stuck it, work it, then give it a rest and come back to it the next day. All of a sudden its there.
    I agree to almost all the points, but the songs that we already know, should not be ignored at all. I spend at least 20% of the time to re-run the old ones. It helps my muscle memory to know the chords. No point to keep on learning new things unless you keep on brushing upon the ones you already know .
    dido! recording to a click track took me from being "okay" to "more than okay"! seriously though kids, start listening to yourself play - and more importantly, be honest with yourself. I have a friend who records on a weekly basis, but it hasn't help him become better because he can't be honest with himself and admit he is terrible at playing guitar. he tries to hide it through massive amount of EQ, layers, and by saying "it is black metal" as if that were a reason to suck at guitar after 17 years of playing.
    Black Metal: Taking the blame for bad guitar playing since the 1980's.
    not really a tip, more of an advice, and I don't really think I should be advicing anyone To get cleaner chords and faster chord transition, playing a Classic Guitar helps (yes, the ones with nylon strings), because the strings are a bit tougher than electric/acoustic strings and they require a bit more force to give a nice sound out of it, thus training hand/finger muscles
    i agree with a lot of that i like to practice stuff i don't know and although it can be frustraiting i think it helps. and i keep practice times to at least 30 minutes each day otherwise you explode your head!! little and often goes a long way
    I follow most of these. In fact all of them to some degree. I practice 1-2 hours a day and up to 3 hrs a day twice a week.
    I don't keep track of time while playing, it just seems to fly by.
    If only I could have the practical discipline in which you obtain..
    I heard that in college, John Petrucci and John Myung (of Dream Theater) wouldn't allow themselves to spend time doing other things until they practiced for some crazy amount of hours per day (like 6 or 8 I don't remember)
    I'm 13 so I have nothing to do, I practice all day. I'm a girl so video games don't interest me that much. During the school year I do all my homework in study-hall so I can practice when I get home.
    Karl August Tidemann practised for 12 hours a day for 4 years, his wife came in as second priority, that`s pretty crazy
    Yep, all good stuff, - if you want to play fast, play slow first. If it isn't right at 10bpm it will be shit at 200bpm!
    hey I have some quiestions, for example,how can I get speed by taping? you know, like those solos of eddie van halen?
    I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but I'll suggest that you check out this free practice tool by ABRSM, you can use it to slow down music; Better yet, if you use certain types of TAB from this website such as Guitar Pro or Tab Pro, you can slow the music down and follow the tab. Then you can work on cleanliness and gradually speeding up.
    Hotel was the first song I learned . Good stuff. But do you have any tricks to remember lyrics from songs?I have been trying to learn so many but come up short. I also write music when the mood hits. I like it all! Should I only try one song at a time?
    More tips like these. Its always pleasing to read these and notice that you are already doing some of these without even really thinking. My secret tip is playing guitar while watching tv series For some reason it seems to work very well
    One of the more personal difficulties about practicing is knowing how to be hard on yourself. If there's a passage that you know you aren't playing to the best of your ability, and you know that it can be better with time, then don't stop until you personally can feel it's right. You are your own best critic.
    Hey man, awesome advice. Do you have a preferred version of Hotel California? Which tab or video do you use?
    I practise every single day. Sadly today i have to take a break, 'cause i practisised 8 hours yesterday and my finger and wrist is totally fu--ed up Worth it!
    if playing for that long causes your fingers and wrist to get f***ed up, you're doing something wrong. probably playing too long without breaks.
    I totally agree with these tips, whether it be chords or scales or techniques! one strange thing though is that steve vai says people should practice what theyre good at since that leads them to making their own thing out of it