Posted by: worshipguitarguy | February 2, 2007

Making the Most of Practice: Planning for Success

Again, I love the classified section in the back of guitar magazines.  It seems there’s always someone trying to sell their $59.95 book and audio CD’s, and fortunately, I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon much.  But, a couple of times, I have been suckered into buying some “life changing” guitar resource.  And truthfully, many of them are helpful.  But the thing is, there wasn’t some earth shattering divine revelation inside of them.  Instead it was simple stuff that after reading it, you’d probably say “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Much of their stuff could be derived from the second most popular book in Christianity…  aka the Purpose Driven Life.  (I’m surprised Rick hasn’t written a book called the Purpose Driven Worship Musician.)  So here’s where I’m stealing Rick’s future revenue maker… (Coming soon to a Christian bookstore near you!)  And on the back cover, you’d read something like this:  “Make an effort to plan practice time purposefully, and you’ll notice results much faster than if you just sit around playing the same stuff you already know over and over.” 

Eh, so you’re not willing to pay $50 for my book?  Well, fine then… I guess I’ll have to give you my free plan for making yourself a better guitar player…

1.  Schedule regular practice times:  I know most of us are busy, but a key to improvement is making regular practice a part of your routine.  You don’t have to practice 8 hours a day to become a good guitar player, (although it never hurts.)  Sometimes, just taking 15-45 minutes, and staying focused on making that time count is what’s important.  Also, try to keep the intervals between practice consistent.  It’s better to practice consistently 3 times a week, then to practice hardcore for four days straight, but not pick up your guitar for the next two weeks unless you’re at church or with your band. 

2.  Sit down and make a list:  Specifically, take a piece of paper, and draw a line down the middle.  In the left column, write the stuff you’re good at on guitar.  In the right column, make a list of areas you feel that you still need to develop.  Maybe you feel like you’re a pretty good strummer on acoustic, but you have a hard time making your electric parts sound clean and distinct.  Maybe you have difficulty playing lead riffs, or you struggle with timing issues.  Whatever is in that column though will show you where your focus should be in practice.  That doesn’t mean you stop working on what you do well, instead you just cut back on the time you spend on what you do know, so you can focus on becoming a more well rounded musician. 

3.  Practice with a metronome:  I’ve said this several times, but if you have a drum machine or metronome, use it constantly in practice!  Listening to that constant click programs rhythm in your head, making it a subconscious part of your playing.  Having that automatic click programmed in is key to playing both rhythm and lead guitar.


Sample practice schedule:

This isn’t a hard and fast thing, but say you have an hour to practice, here’s an example of how you could spend your time:

10 min: Scales  Warm up, play some scales you are familiar with, then transition into learning some new scale positions or forms.  As you move up and down, place a metronome on 80-90 bpm, and work on keeping your technique consistent and smooth.

If you need a new challenge, try playing scale patterns with slight variations.  To get the idea, here’s an E minor pentatonic exercise which skips around on the strings as a way to break out of the typical ascending and descending note patterns.  (Also I finally recorded sound clips of each of the five Pentatonic Minor forms.  Jump over to the original Pentatonic Scale post to find them.)

15 min:  Strumming and Rhythm:  Pick out a song or two that your familiar with, and maybe one new one.  Then practice strumming them out with a metronome.   Again, work on keeping your form solid and consistent.  Make sure your strumming wrist feels loose and light.  Check for signs of tension in your fretting wrist, and remember to relax it!  Work on clean transitions between chords, and rhythm styles that are distinct.  If your rhythm feels good, practice throwing in counter rhythms, or vary what your doing slightly while strumming to stretch yourself.

If you’re not comfortable playing in all five CAGED chords, this would be a great time to step back and work on one of the five sets during a practice session.  For instance, practice a 1-5-6m-4 progression in one of the keys you may not be comfortable.

25 min: Ear Training  This can be either a fun or frustrating part of your learning experience, but ultimately it will be a huge help.  Grab some songs, (Worship or otherwise) and listen carefully to what’s going on.  Then try to play along with the song, matching the chords and riffs in it just by listening to the CD or audio file.   

If you’re really struggling, you could use a tab as a cheat sheet, but try to keep yourself focused on learning by ear.  Program in some of those riffs and unique chord shapes, and you’ll find them popping out all over the place, even when playing other songs.

10 min:  Free Jam  Just pick stuff your comfortable with and love, and let it go!  Make sure practice ends on a positive note so you don’t walk away from your guitar frustrated or burned out. 



  1. Just my own experience… but I’ve found that if I want to maintain my current level of chops, I have to play about 30 minutes a day. If I want to improve, it needs to be 60 minutes per day…

  2. If I were to add something to this already stellar list of things to do in order to better yourself as a guitarist, it would be this: Write your own stuff. If there’s one thing that has tied together all the theory and general guitar knowledge that I have learned, it’s creating my own guitar parts. Often times, when you imitate other guitarists’ playing styles and/or songs, you find yourself simply copying them and not developing a style all your own. Everyone strums or plays a chord differently, and it’s those subtle differences that make guitarists, and musicians, unique. Listening to someone else’s songs is a great way to develop your ear and relative pitch, but spending time at the end of each practice session to work on an original piece of music is a fantastic way to tie everything together.

  3. are there any resources out there that you would suggest actually buying?

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