The Perfect Practice Session

It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. But even more than the time you put in is knowing WHAT and HOW to practice to improve your guitar skills as quickly as you can.

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As part of his book "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell explained that it takes 10,000 hours of training to perfect a skill or area of interest. Though concerning guitar (and also other skill-sets) the time you spend rehearsing is just a portion of the puzzle. You also need to understand WHAT and HOW to rehearse to get the most from your personal guitar practice time. Picture this: If you continued practicing the exact same piece of music for 10,000 hours, you wouldn't be getting any better at guitar. You'll merely be improving at the piece of music. It's a basic concept, but some people forget it. Quite a few new clients reach out to me to obtain classes for the reason that believe they are really in a rut. It is usually because they're not continually pushing their selves into diverse musical areas. The main contributing factor is not developing a reliable approach when it comes to your practice sessions. I am going to describe an excellent guitar rehearsal session for you. This is predicated on a thirty minute session. You are obviously allowed to rehearse a lot more if you want. The more the better. Expand each one of these basic steps, but keep the proportions the same. And given that the human attention span is limited, take a little 5 minute break near the 30 minute mark. You will notice that your brain is refreshed and it'll be easier to concentrate on the rest of your practice period. During your respite, avoid getting distracted by something else that will throw you off. Just stretch a little, grab a glass of water, and get back to it. Pre-Practice: Listening - Get yourself enthusiastic about practicing guitar by playing a couple of your favorite guitar songs. Choose songs that get you really fired up to spend time playing and draw on that energy while you start off your session. 2 Minutes: Stretches - Getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or even Tendonitis is a bummer. You can prevent the problems by way of adequately stretching out before you'll play. Do several wrist and shoulder stretching exercises so that you can relax everything up before digging in. You can perform these when you're listening to your pre-practice songs. 5 Minutes: Technique Exercise and Warm-Ups - What? Aren't you supposed to spend hours upon hours playing scales and arpeggios? Absolutely not. They're boring. Get warmed up with some of those exercises: scales, arpeggios, string skipping, finger combination exercises, diagonal picking, chromatic four-finger run, etc. Then start using them in songs in the next section. Technical exercises are like learning grammar. Playing songs is like writing a book. Be sure to do all of these with a metronome and switch up your exercises every couple of days. 18 Minutes: Project Pieces - This is where you use the most focus, working on whatever your current project songs are. It's where you'll put the technique building blocks to work and actually enjoy playing guitar instead of just playing scales. Don't try to work on any more than one two songs at a time. And besides just learning how to play it, make sure to investigate the theory and structure as well. The more you know about how music is structure, the easier it is to learn more songs later. If you're challenging yourself correctly, you probably won't be able to learn the whole song in one practice session. It could take weeks or months to learn a song and that's ok. Sometimes though, you may hit a wall where you can't improve it any further. No biggie. Just put the song aside for a couple months and try it again after you've improved your skills elsewhere. You don't have to aim for perfection with everything. If learning a whole song in 18 minutes is normal for you, you're not challenging yourself enough. Find songs to work on that are just above you level of capability. Challenging yourself constantly is the fastest way to improve on guitar. Save the easy songs for the free play section of your session. 8 Minutes: Free Play - Anything goes here as long as you're playing something. Simple songs, old stuff you enjoying jamming on, improvising, writing songs, whatever. Not only will you have fun here, you'll also learn to play without reservation. Again, if you're going to do a longer session, say 60 minutes, just expand each of those time chunk proportionally. 10 minutes of technique, 36 minutes of project pieces, 16 minutes of free play. You could also do it as two distinct 30 minute sessions. A couple bonus tips: - Use a metronome for everything. You may want to smash it to bits at times, but it's your best ally in becoming a tighter guitarist. - While you're playing, especially mindless technique stuff, different ideas will occur to you for licks, songs, lyrics, or even non-music stuff. Keep a note pad and small sound recorder close by when you practice to capture those ideas quickly and get them off your mind so you can focus on the practice tasks at hand. Go back and develop them during the free play chunk. - "I didn't have time to practice" is the worst excuse you can have. And I hear it all the time. To cure this, schedule your practice session into your day just like other "have-to's". School, work, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, practice guitar. If it's important to you, treat it that way. - Have a guitar readily at hand to play whenever you have a moment. Stuck on phone hold? rebooting the computer? Grab your guitar and play a bit. Yes, we want to keep the guitar clean and safe, but don't put it in the case when you're at home. Even that small task of getting it out of the case will keep you from playing as often as you might. If you're worried about a nice guitar being out in the open, buy a cheapo beater guitar and use that. Mine is always sitting next to my desk to be played on a moment's notice. Having a solid plan and constantly challenging yourself to try something a little harder will make sure that your 10,000 hours of playing guitar are well spent. For more step-by-step beginner guitar plans and brain hack, visit www.GuitarNotesForBeginnersHQ.com

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    pncoutts
    This is a good, broad article without getting into too much specifics and telling people what to practice. Nice! I would add a little section explaining how people can figure out their own goals and such... I've found a lot of people can't do that. Nice article tho!
    beginnerguitarn
    Glad you guys like the article. It's really a time management/focus thing that helps to keep things on track. Wolfmanxci is right on track with his stretch suggestions. I use stretches that my doctor gave me when I was dealing with Carpal Tunnel and they've helped a lot. I've got an article about my stretches here. And Pncoutts.. That's a great idea. And may be a good article on its own. By the way, I've been writing for quite a few sites over the last year and I'm super impressed with the engagement and personality of people on Ultimate Guitar.
    Air_Stryker
    I like this article, I used it to help me learn Children of Bodom's Downfall. I'd tried learning it before but never really had the patience for it, but this really helped =D
    Wolfmanxci
    SwitchFender wrote: I find a lot on the internet concerning guitar warm ups but what do you recommend for stretches? What are some good essential stretches you do before practicing?
    Personally I use simple stretches which are used when I warm up before martial arts sessions, nothing strenuous just simple ones to help loosen up, this one mainly works on looseing your shoulders. Place one arm across the front of your body. With the opposite hand, grasp your elbow, Now, pull your arm across your body without twisting your torso, hold for about 10 seconds and then switch arms. Then for the fingers/stroke hands I use a grip master, this is designed to help finger strength but personally I find it an invaluable tool for warming up also. Obviously these are my own preference, each person will have different tips and no doubt there are countless other ways out there, hope that's helped to some degree.
    link no1
    Brilliant article, well written and good advice.
    If learning a whole song in 18 minutes is normal for you, you're not challenging yourself enough. Find songs to work on that are just above you level of capability. Challenging yourself constantly is the fastest way to improve on guitar.
    I love this, this is the thing I told my self the day I picked up the guitar and stuck to it ever since. The only problem I am having at the moment though is I am stuck on finding something a bit more challanging than what I can do...Not saying I am amazing, I mean I can find songs I will learn in 10 mins and ones I can't play at all...no inbetween. If anybody can throw me a few songs I am currently learning things like Megadeth, Children of Bodom, etc. in 10 mins and can't find the next step.
    KeepingTabsIO
    Great article. One way to help keep you consistent and log your progress is to use the free application http://keeping-tabs.io . The site acts as an online guitar practice logger and allows you to upload your routine and run through practice sessions with a metronome and timer. It also serves to track your progress over time which allows you to see how you are doing on certain lessons and determine what you need to continue practicing or what you can move on from. It really comes down to organizing your routines, sticking to a set practice schedule and logging your progress which is what Keeping Tabs was built to.
    beginnerguitarn
    I think I have two pieces of advice here. First, start attacking the songs you can't play at all. Work on them in just little bits at a time. Even if you can only work out one riff over the course of a week you're ahead of where you were. Second, do a lot of listening, especially to things outside your comfort zone. You'll run across different musical ideas that may turn you on and present new challenges. Once you've got technique a lot of practice becomes about learning the feel of particular styles.
    link no1 wrote: Brilliant article, well written and good advice. If learning a whole song in 18 minutes is normal for you, you're not challenging yourself enough. Find songs to work on that are just above you level of capability. Challenging yourself constantly is the fastest way to improve on guitar. I love this, this is the thing I told my self the day I picked up the guitar and stuck to it ever since. The only problem I am having at the moment though is I am stuck on finding something a bit more challanging than what I can do...Not saying I am amazing, I mean I can find songs I will learn in 10 mins and ones I can't play at all...no inbetween. If anybody can throw me a few songs I am currently learning things like Megadeth, Children of Bodom, etc. in 10 mins and can't find the next step.
    beginnerguitarn
    Ha! And from a guy that studied physics at one point... Thanks for catching that.
    Vitor_vdp wrote: Your session adds up to 33 minutes. Just saying.
    leviathan97
    UGH. I hate when I hear about "not having enough time". I have a friend who learned three chords and now wants to talk about being a guitar player, but every time I ask her what she's been playing she says she hasn't had enough time. It drives me nuts. The article is great. It's really informative -- I think I'll look into a metronome. And I actually have been suffering from Carpal Tunnel symptoms lately, so I'm definitely hearkening to that advice
    almostcrime49
    Completely agree, my guitar is always right next to my desk and I'm constantly picking it up and putting it back down haha
    seyton_mcthaed
    just saying... one really good way of improving finger strength/dexterity/whatnot is to go learn FINGER TUTTING.... go check it out on youtube. yup i know its not a very metal thing - it being based on hiphop dance and all - but it's really helped me a lot in making my fingers much stronger. just a suggestion from me
    FatFingersJoe
    Great advice, especially for someone with a short attention span. Definitely has helped me focus more on technique than just completing a lesson.
    BurningTurkey
    Nice article. I keep m guitar on the couch next to me at all times. Never know when Imma wanna play
    SwitchFender
    I find a lot on the internet concerning guitar warm ups but what do you recommend for stretches? What are some good essential stretches you do before practicing?
    murrflem
    Good point on having a cheaper beater guitar. I've got a beater that I basically put together using spare parts... it's always handy though and I end up playing that one more than my other 'good' guitars!
    jrakus
    Good article. Everyone should have a "free play" part in their daily exercise.
    hiwaychild1
    good job. things like these kinds of practices not only improve your playing ability but they have an affect on how you approach things. Your self discipline will become greater because of this also
    davecooper
    One important thing for me is to have warm hands going into the practice session. I have poor circulation in my hands and it can take 30 mins of playing to get my fingers moving properly. A pre warm up means I can get the most out of the session from the start. As a matter of interest, my practice tends to be a few minutes scales, a few minutes chords, then I extend my latest project by a few notes. I then play a couple of songs right through and finish with a few minutes jam to a generic blues or rock backing. Along the way I may fiddle with amp settings etc. Minimum 30 mins max 1 hour except at weekends when I may get a chance for longer sessions.