It’s an age-old question, one that has been asked by pretty much every beginner out there that ever picked up the instrument. Learning how to practice guitar can seem to be an uphill battle.  Mostly because there is just so much to comprehend at the start.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The best way to answer this question is to break it into two separate ones: “how should I practice” and “what should I practice.” They may sound similar, but they are entirely different things to consider. Let’s take some time to explore an answer to each and find out the best way to practice the guitar effectively.

Learn how to practice guitar correctly?

“How” you practice the guitar is miles away from “what” you should practice. The word “How” implies developing a process. More accurately, it means creating an approach, a mindset that works best for you. No two guitar players are the same, however. So it’s a safe bet to say that no two players should approach their practicing regimen in the same way.

“There’ll come a writing phase where you have to defend the time, unplug the phone and put in the hours to get it done.” ~ James Taylor

Sure, there are some basic ideas that all practice plans need to have in them, and that’s what we’ll touch on. What’s important is to keep in mind that each of these points can and should be tailored to fit you and your personality as a player. That will ensure that you will be the most benefit out of your practicing time.

Setting goals

Before you do anything else, you need to think about what kind of guitar player you want to be. Are you going to be a songwriter? Are you going to be very proficient with playing difficult chord changes and solos?

Guitar practise time

Girl practicing the guitar.

Figuring out what you want to achieve is very important because that will determine what kind of goals you need to set for yourself. There’s not a lot of sense in learning to be a finger tapping, sweep picking shred master. Well, not if your goal is to learn a few easy chords to play a handful of songs for the enjoyment of yourself, family, and friends.

Goals need to be set to challenge yourself. If they are too easy, there’s nothing to keep you motivated and reach for the stars. At the same time, you don’t want to set your sights too high, however. Because if things get challenging and frustrating, it might lead you to lose interest altogether.

And that’s a bad thing.

How to practice guitar, best time, place, and frequency?

You should pick a time of day when you’ll be most likely to be alert and have that hunger to learn. The best time to practice your guitar is different for everybody. Personal circumstances will dictate when and where you practice. Trying to practice when you’re tired or not in ‘prime shape’ may well defeat your purpose for practicing in the first place.

Guitar practise room

Two guitar players.

Guitar practice tips

As far as a practicing space is concerned. You should find a comfortable location where distractions can be kept to a minimum. Regardless of what some people may say, an element of practicing is work. There is no getting around that fact. The best time and place to practice is when you can hold your concentration as much as possible. Short durations of concentration are much better than long durations. In fact, long periods of intense concentration will be detrimental. The reason that this is so is because of the way our brains work.  

Time spent practicing guitar

How often do you plan on practicing? Every day? Three times a week or whenever the spirit moves you? Once you lock in on a frequency, that is that right balance between too much and too little. Then considering how long to practice is your next step. Some players practice for hours, upon hours. Every – single – day. Others are more than fine with knocking things out a few hours a week every couple of days.

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed.

There are two ways to become overwhelmed; you must avoid them at all costs, both mentally and physically. Mentally don’t bite off more than you can chew. That will frustrate you, and you may find yourself losing inspiration and the desire to practice. Take action if you find yourself feeling this way. Take a break for a while. Sometimes, returning refreshed is the best cure as you will be motivated once more.

Guitar practise overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Being physically overwhelmed usually happens to beginners. Learning to play the guitar is not easy. If your fingers hurt to the point of actual discomfort or you find certain arm/finger positions are uncomfortable, stop!. That’s also a recipe for extinguishing the flame. Suppose things start to hurt (literally). Or, if some type of motion seems uncomfortable, take it slow and easy. Sometimes trying to move too fast is more detrimental than helpful.

What should I practice on the guitar?

OK – so you’re all set with how you’re going to practice. Now what?

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Part of your goal setting is to determine what aspects of playing the guitar you want to get better at. There’s a lifetime of music theory topics and specific techniques that you can master with disciplined guitar practice.

Guitar practise songbook

Guitar and songbook

The key is going after the ones that will help you move the fastest to get where you want to be and attempt to spend a certain amount of time on them with each practicing session.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Notes on the fretboard

Music isn’t music without notes. Having a solid knowledge of where the 12 notes in the Western chromatic scale are located on the fretboard is a skill that will always be well worth the time spent.

Guitar practise Fretboard

Guitar fretboard

There are many resources on different memorization techniques. Some of them are pretty ingenious. The good thing here is that it’s a simple memorization process. No advanced music theory is required!

Having a solid knowledge may seem like a bit much at first. If you want to become a complete master at the guitar, knowing the ins and outs of where each note lies will make your development much easier as your knowledge progresses.

Scales

Scales are nothing more than patterns of different intervals or the distance between notes on the fretboard. Having a solid knowledge of scales and how they work is the cornerstone of having an excellent soloing vocabulary.

Guitar practise Scales A-Minor-Pentatonic-Scale

A minor pentatonic scale.

There are countless books and lessons on scales; in fact, there’s no lack of information available. You’ll find everything from simple patterns to weaving different scales within the same song to significant musical effects.

Soloing techniques

Knowing scales is a natural lead-in to getting some sweet soloing techniques in your toolbox. Playing single notes all of the time will get, well, boring. Practicing and learning to execute different skills properly will add a personal element to your playing. Furthermore, it will let you apply your emotion and personal ‘stamp. These are the building blocks for developing your style.

Guitar practise soloing

Guitar player on stage

Techniques that can take you soloing to a whole new level include different picking techniques. Alternate, hybrid, and sweep. Developing a smooth vibrato, sliding accurately up and down the neck to land on a specific note, executing hammer-ons and pull-offs, and learning flowing legato run. Also, there are other types of harmonics; natural, artificial, and tapped and finger tapping.

Chords

In their purest form, chords are nothing more than taking a few particular notes from a scale and playing them all together simultaneously.

Chords are the backbone and building blocks for pretty much any song that you’ve ever heard. Having good chord knowledge is a ‘must-have’ for any guitarist—no matter what kind of guitarist you aspire to be.

Guitar practise chords

Guitar scales

Different types of chords range from what we’ll call the ‘basics’ :(major, minor, dominant 7th, and major 7). In addition, there are more complex chords that add flavor and style to a composition. Jazz is an excellent example of how these more complicated chords create a unique sonic texture. They can take you to a different place. Furthermore, they are great catalysts for increasing your creativity.

A critical chord-related skill for players looking to become a little more advanced is learning to play them in different positions along the neck. There also needs to be an emphasis on ‘inversions.’ Inversions are merely taking a set of notes and flipping them around to play them in a different order. The overall sound is relatively the same, but the ‘color’ can be refreshingly different.

Songs

One of the best ways to put everything that you’ve learned (and get some real-life application) is to try and learn your favorite songs. There’s a sense of satisfaction when you finally nail your favorite tune. It’s one of the best ways to keep your motivation up. Learn some easy songs as soon as possible, create a repertoire so that if anyone asks you to ‘play something,’ you can do so.

Guitar practise women singing

Young lady practicing the guitar.

Learn some easy songs as soon as possible

Challenge yourself! Learning songs that easily fit in the box as far as your skillset may get a little boring after a while. Suppose there’s a song where you feel you may have to push yourself a little bit (or even a lot), then great. It’s always a good thing to keep your chops and skillsets as good as they ever can be. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had by doing so.

One other benefit of learning to play songs is that it’s one of the most effective ways to work on ear training. Developed guitar players have a sense of ‘hearing’ things, such as recognizing different types of chord progressions. In addition, identifying a chord type only by how it sounds is very beneficial for your heart training.

Sometimes it’s a worthy exercise to put the chord charts and guitar tablature to the side. Go ‘old school’ and figure out how to play a song by listening to it. Again, excellent ear training.

Practice slowly

When you practice playing a new song, or a musical piece, lead melody lines, for example, the following technique is essential! Practice slowly! We all want to play any new song at full playing speed as soon as possible. Practicing slowly will have you playing faster sooner.

Practicing slowly will have you playing faster sooner.

The Golden Rule

There’s one general rule that will be applied to pretty much everything in life, as well as guitar sounds. It’s like a fine thread that runs through all of the fabric of acquiring skills and evolving in life.

Namely, whatever you do, do it with baby steps first, but do it consistently. If you become overwhelmed with too much information and knowledge to digest, the chances are you are going to give up and ultimately fail. On the other hand, if you take it one step at a time, you will be carried by a sense of accomplishment since you won’t be frustrated with taking too much upon yourself all at once.

If you continue that practice regularly, you will be amazed at how fast incremental improvement can get you to the desired place. Yes, we know it sounds counterintuitive, but trust us…We have been there.

The Psychology of Improvement

Most of us artistic people tend to be somewhat snowflakey, and we want it all and want it now (sounds familiar?). Thus, the point of this article is not for it to be like some dogma, but rather a guide to get you going. It is healthy to start your creative journey by imitating others and strictly following specific guidelines. But remember, all of the sounds you have heard that you liked very much were a product of someone’s imagination and creative “misbehavior.”

Breaking specific rules is crucial in getting your creative side out at a certain point. So, don’t be afraid of experimenting!

Conclusion

As you can see, developing a robust, comprehensive plan that you’re comfortable with is the best way to practice the guitar. The strategy needs to have two distinct parts to it.

Determine ‘how’ to practice your schedule and process along with ‘what’ to practice, for example, skills, techniques, and music theory. It will take some trial and error at the start. However, eventually, you’ll land on a mix of the two that’s ‘just right.

Oh…before we sign off, there’s one other vital thing that you, positively, have to keep in your mind at all times. It’s OK not to be perfect. Practicing and putting time in is the only way that you’ll become proficient at playing the guitar. That means you will make mistakes. Some things will take you longer to grasp and perfect than you thought. So what if they do? Look at them as challenges to overcome, not as roadblocks.

But that’s how you learn. And learning how to practice the guitar effectively will eventually lead you to your ultimate goal, whether that’s strumming a few tunes with your friends around the campfire jamming out live on stage. Or you are just being happy with the fact that you did it. Try to stay motivated set realistic goals. Give yourself time.

The time will come when all that practice will pay off; You’ll be glad you made an effort.