How To Practice Guitar With A Limited Amount Of Time

Do you struggle with not having enough time to practice guitar? Are you unsure about what things to practice within this very limited amount of time?

Ultimate Guitar
Do you struggle with not having enough time to practice guitar? Are you unsure about what things to practice within this very limited amount of time? While it may be rather difficult to increase the total time you have available to practice guitar, it is very possible to maximize the results you get from the practice time you do have available. Here is what you need to do to get maximum results...

The Essentials

To get any significant results in your guitar playing, you need to focus on two essential elements: efficiency of your practice, and its effectiveness. Being efficient means being skillful in avoiding wasted time and effort. Being effective means having the ability to achieve the desired result. Imagine that you are trying to dig a swimming pool by using a teaspoon. Sure, you are being effective (the pool is getting dug), but it is going to take you YEARS working at this rate to complete the job (because you are working with very low efficiency). A much better approach (one that will help you avoid wasted time and effort), would be to use a powerful excavator to do the same task in minutes! In order to become truly great guitar player in a minimum amount of time, you should strive to maximize BOTH efficiency and effectiveness, as they are equally important. However, the focus of this particular article will be entirely on efficiency, and I will discuss effectiveness in a future article. I want to share with you 3 powerful ideas and practice strategies that can be used to maximize results from your practicing by increasing efficiency. They can and should be applied regardless of how much time you have to practice, and especially when time is limited.


Many guitar players become discouraged if they cannot find a large enough block of time (for instance, an hour or more each day) to practice. I often receive questions from students such as: Tom, I only have 20 minutes to dedicate to practicing guitar each day, and I want to make the most progress possible. What should I be doing? In this case, I suggest to practice something which has a high level of transferability. A skill is transferable, if working on it will simultaneously make you better in other elements of guitar playing (for example: left hand technique, right hand technique, 2 hand synchronization, shifting from string to string, muting string noise, fretboard awareness, improvisation and many more). If what you are working on helps more than one of these elements at the same time, then you are practicing something that has some degree of transferability. There are two primary factors which determine the transferability rate. The first factor is the number of other areas which are benefited. The second factor is how strong that benefit is. One example of a technique with high transferability is string skipping. It involves the technique on both hands, challenges your 2 hand synchronization, and forces you to focus on muting unwanted string noise. This is a good technique to work on because its benefits directly transfer to other elements of guitar playing. Legato technique, on the other hand, has a much lower degree of transferability. It mainly focuses only on left hand technique (and some elements of muting string noise as well). So when time is limited, working on legato playing is probably not going to bring you as much benefit compared to practicing string skipping. By investing your practice time among high transferability items, you will get a lot more from your practicing. I want you to become aware of this idea and think about it as you are selecting the most important items to work on when your practice time is very limited. To help you fully understand and APPLY the transferability concept into your guitar practicing, I have created a free short guitar practice video. Teaching my philosophy of transferability has been a key factor in the great success I have had with training many of my students to become great guitarists in a short amount of time.

Blueprint to Success

Another way to dramatically improve your efficiency is to use a practice schedule that is targeted and relevant to your goals. Think of a practice schedule as a blueprint to your success. If you have been stuck at the same level for months or years, if you have the desire to move past your current plateau, and if you have limited time to practice, consider creating a schedule. It will keep you focused on what you need to do, and will help you to become more organized and not waste time when practicing. This schedule must be specific to your musical goals and yet flexible enough to adjust to your progress and any possible changes in your musical ambitions. If you are struggling with creating an efficient practice schedule on your own, you can find help here.

Divide and Conquer

Another piece of advice that I want to give to you is to become more specific about isolating your technical challenges. This will allow you to get to the core of your playing problem(s) and avoid wasting precious time practicing the parts of the music you can already play well. For example, when you practice an ascending scale sequence like this one, you may have trouble with fretting hand accuracy every time you have to shift from string 5 to string 4. Here is where the practice efficiency breaks down for most players. They will attempt to practice this ENTIRE sequence over and over, trying to iron out the difficulty. Even though you will still be practicing the hard part of the sequence when you do this, your efficiency will be greatly compromised for the following reasons:
  • The number of times per minute that you can play your SPECIFIC problem area will be a lot less, simply because you are also playing additional notes.
  • Your attention will not be fully engaged on the problem at hand because you will have to think about playing additional parts of the phrase. This means that your hands will need to play your specific challenge even MORE times before you can overcome it. This is similar to the example of digging a swimming pool with a teaspoon, and obviously this is highly inefficient. If instead you took the time to define the problem (such as the shift between the two strings and the transition from using your 4th finger to using the 1st finger), and focused on practicing that section only without playing the rest of the phrase, you will practice the problem area many more times per minute! This is something you should do regardless of how much practice time you have, and especially in situations when time is limited. After you have practiced the problem in isolation, you should put it back into the context of the whole sequence, and practice everything together to see how well it holds up. But working on the problem in isolation (dividing and conquering it!) should be the first step. Think about each of these 3 practice tools. If you were already familiar with them, have you been applying them every day? Obviously, if you have already been using these concepts and are seeing good results, then continue doing what you were doing! However, if you are not yet applying these ideas, and/or are not progressing at the rate you would like, then you should think hard about how you can implement these tools to improve the efficiency of your practice. If you are still stuck after trying to apply them on your own, ask someone for help! If you follow the advice given in this article, you will soon find yourself making more progress in 30 minutes than most people can achieve in 2 hours of practicing! Learn more about efficient guitar practicing by watching this free guitar practice video. About the author: Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world. Visit to discover highly effective music learning resources, guitar lessons and tools including free online assessments, surveys, mini courses and more. 2008 Tom Hess Music Corporation. All Rights Reserved
  • 72 comments sorted by best / new / date

      thank you for this article. As i read, I noticed that i used alot of these techniques to help my playing, however, i never really thought of them as techniques. With that said, i can say that since these techniques are now defined, i have a better idea of how to practice rather than constantly trying to find efficient practice methods on my own, thanks!, though ill still look for little ways liek this
      Great lesson - but may I request more examples of exercises with a high transferability? Thanks
      jy9626 wrote: just what i needed! i can only practice about 20 minutes a day, because of my IB.
      dude you can practice any time youre sitting down. oh and tom this was a great article tom i hope i used your name enough tom that you notice this article comment that im sure you, tom, check every day.
      there's nothing wrong with practicing for a long time, this just says how to make it more efficient, especially when you have homework or a job to do
      just what i needed! i can only practice about 20 minutes a day, because of my IB.
      That's a great lesson, especially focusing on a tiny section at a time, that's something a lot of people forget about.
      ya the first sentence give of each section says it all, little wordy, but maybe he's taking the bashing and putting it to use with slightly less garbage
      nick_b wrote: "dont work on your legato technique" doesnt sound like a great approach Kid: "my legato sucks" Hess: "well dont practice it, for god's sake!"
      lol. yeah I didn't read most of it since I figured it was just common sense in a sort of revision style. it was ok i suppose though
      "dont work on your legato technique" doesnt sound like a great approach Kid: "my legato sucks" Hess: "well dont practice it, for god's sake!"
      This article should be called "How to take all the fun out of playing guitar"
      Tom Hess... not the first person to master the art of common sense. The difference is other people don't put a price on it... But meh... what can I say. It's certainly an improvement from some of his other articles.
      Very helpful...Thanks! and for you people who say it is common sense... and that Tom Hess puts a price on it... well actually.. none of us paid anything to read it, so what are you talking about? and WHY would someone share all of the KEY, VALUABLE information for free ? they wouldnt, now that is common sense...
      Its interesting to note that Tom Hess gauges efficiency in terms of time and effort, but not money. For me personaly money is a very sacrce resource, so i could pay a fortune for the powerfull excavator that is Tom Hess to help me master the guitar in 5 easy 20 min sessions, but id rather use a shovel and do it myself for free on the weekend.
      To all the negative people commenting here about Hess. How many people have you taught to become exceptional guitar players? None. That's what I thought. Have you seen Hess play, he's a monster. There is a page at his web site which is filled with a lot of really cool guitarists Hess has taught . That's his proof. Where is yours? Yeh, you aint got none! Ha.
      this article is stupid theres like three obvious but true points in here just covered in bs to make an article of it but i do admit taking money from stupid ppl who wanna learn the guitar but have no talent is pretty funny so i dont hate you that much tom
      plus he's got a bald head and big beard, wonder if he's ever thought about having his head turned upside down?! :S
      Nice article, I used to stuck on any problem i had and this really helpes me out with my practicing thanks Tom for the article Im waiting for more like this
      i was going to install a pool next and i would have used a spoon to dig the hole if it weren't for tom's effeciency lesson. thanks tom you grasping prick! this guy should get a job writing for Wiley - you know the "dummies" people. they're experts at this kind of shit! filling entire chapters with 1 sentence worth of "wisdom"
      amen to that. and if you take uncle toms hess' advice and practice for 20 mins a day but never practise your legato by my calculations you need about 10,000 years, and after all that youll still suck at legato.
      After 2 years of, I have finally decided to get back to what I enjoy: playing guitar. I still have to work, but I also want to get better, this article has really been helpful!!!
      i started doping this without any one showing me besides tom hess is a sell out that doesnt care about music and just and just wants to make money of people who do care about music
      Hahaha "Wow Tom thanks so much, great article", "Thanks Tom this is my favourite article so far", "Cool article and really good video", "you must have so much experience and be an all round intelligent guy to come up with these excellent tips Tom, I love you". Who are these people????? It wasn't a bad article but it wasnt very good either.
      Might want to run an ip check on the first 50 posts excluding a few, they are just random accounts with no activity, come on tom, let people actually comment without spamming the "thank you comments", its pathetic.
      captaincrunk is right to a certain degree, but it is so easy to forget little things like this. I bet you've made the mistake of not singling out just the problem a few times before, and wasted time repeating unnecessary passages a few times before, and for this reason the article is a very good reminder and will be very helpful to a lot of people.
      Very useful info...Its hard to practice and play all the time when u have to work and stuff
      great article and killer video I will pay a lot of money to see you playing live;
      Randy Johnson
      Hey Tom, I am glad you posted that free guitar lesson video!!! I remember that lesson from the clinic tour. That lesson you gave was killer!!! I was hoping I would get to hear that again!!!