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Guitar Practice – A Practical Guide

How to practice guitar – build the ideal practice routine/schedule

Last Updated: August 2023 | Article Details: 3046 words (15 – 17 minute read)

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Having a solid guitar practice plan is essential to leveling up your playing.

Messing around here and there with some chords or scales won’t really move the needle on your guitar playing goals.

So in this guide you’ll learn about exactly what to practice, how to practice it and how to keep things moving forward with your progress.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a practice routine for yourself, a great solution is a structured online guitar lesson.

Let’s get into it…

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How to Practice Guitar Effectively

The problem with practice is that it’s boring.

Even if you’re just using guitar tabs (learn more) to learn your favorite songs, practice can start to suck after a while.

You can try to make it fun, but at the end of the day, it’s just not something as exciting as picking up a guitar and knowing how to play it properly.

Lucky for you, it only takes about 20 hours of practice to play well enough to start enjoying it. Those first 20 hours are crucial, and your practice has to be focused, difficult and consistent.

Those are 3 key elements to effective guitar practice.

You can’t just mess around with things you already play semi-well once or twice a week. That’s not going to work.

You have to really focus and pay attention while you practice, you have to practice something you can’t play and you have to do it daily.

That’s the formula. There’s a great book called “The First 20 Hours” that goes into this in more detail and gives you examples of putting it into use. I highly recommend reading it.

But let’s talk about structuring your practice sessions for maximum impact.

Structuring a Practice Routine

It doesn’t matter how long you have to practice, but you do want to try and hit several different areas of playing each session:

  • technical skills (example: finger strength, hammer-ons, fretting, etc)
  • music building blocks (example: scales, chord voicings, chord progressions, etc)
  • advanced theory (example: harmony/melody, sight reading/tabs, ear training etc)
  • song work
  • songwriting/composing

You don’t have to hit on all of those, but they will give you a good all-around skill-set for making music.

So, first off choose at least 3 of those areas you’re most interested in – for most beginners and novice players I recommend technical skills, building blocks and song work for a start.

Acoustic Guitar on a Blanket

As far as how long you should practice, it can be as little as 10 minutes a day (so long as you actually do it DAILY, every day).

But I recommend you try to commit to 30 minutes daily – that’ll give you a solid 10 minutes working on each area of focus every day.

Do not practice any longer than 90 minutes per session. According to neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, that’s really the maximum amount of time we can focus optimally.

However, if you want to be really hardcore you can do 3x 90 minute sessions daily if you space them out by a few hours each.

You can do it whenever you want, as long as you get it done. But if you’re trying to optimize learning, the best time to do it is first thing in the morning, before you eat any food. Trying to learn while in a “fasted state” is much more effective than trying to learn when you’re full.

One final note – spend a couple minutes stretching (your hands, fingers, arms, neck, etc.) and loosen yourself up before sitting down with your guitar.

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A Guitar Practice Plan for All Skill Levels

At Deviant Noise, we’re all about making your own music. But learning other people’s music and being able to play real songs is a big part of the process.

This plan should cover the areas you need to get better at in order to 1) play your favorite music and 2) make your own music.

Step-by-Step Guide

Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Here’s the overview of how to practice guitar. It’s a 90 minute session fully, but if you don’t have the time, adjust the length of each section according to your limitations.

  1. Warm Up (5 minutes)

    The first step is to spend a maximum of 5 minutes warming up. Do some stretching of your hands, wrists and fingers. Loosen your muscles by shaking out any tension you’re holding. Spend a couple minutes just randomly fretting, strumming and picking the guitar.

  2. Work on Your Scales (15 minutes)

    The next part of your practice routine should involve the rudiments of music. Play through all of the major and minor scales – upwards and downwards – once through. If you have time left, play the scales in various starting positions on the fretboard. Spend a maximum of 15 minutes here.

  3. Focus on a Specific Scale and it’s Chords (20 minutes)

    Next, spend 20 minutes going over a single scale you want to memorize and internalize. Play the scale from every different starting position on the fretboard. You should also try to memorize the scale’s notes and each note’s “number” within that scale. Next, spend time playing the chords you can build using each note of that scale, in various positions on the fretboard. And finally, practice a chord progression or two using the chords from that scale.

  4. Technical Skills Focus (20 minutes)

    Choose a technical guitar skill you want to get better at and work on it. This could be string bending, hammer-ons, strumming patterns (learn more), picking techniques (learn more) – or anything else we talk about in our guitar skills guide. There are lots to choose from. Spend a maximum of 20 minutes here and really focus on achieving perfect technique.

  5. Song Work (30 minutes)

    Finally, spend the last 30 minutes (max) of your time practicing a song you want to learn. You should divide your time here in half – half on practicing parts of the song you already know, and half spent learning a new part of the song (or a new song) or a small section you’re having trouble with playing fluidly.

The above routine/schedule covers the 3 basic areas beginners should focus on that we mentioned earlier – technical skills, rudiments/building blocks and songs.

This will give you a well-rounded practice session that constantly builds on itself.

The important thing to remember, is that you want to always be pushing yourself past your comfort zone. You should be screwing up a lot trying to figure things out.

If your sessions don’t have any mistakes, then you’re not practicing the right things.

Warm Up Section

The first section is just you getting yourself into “guitar playing mode.” It usually takes a few minutes to get yourself into focus and into a groove, so might as well spend it just messing around a bit.

Stretch out your fingers, hands and wrists. Then grab your guitar and make sure it’s in tune. You can then start fretting the fretboard – whether using random frets or using specific chord shapes.

Start strumming the strings with your fingers or pick (or both). Then start picking strings randomly – one after another, alternating between strings, etc.

If you know a couple of guitar chords (learn more) or a short lick/riff, you can play that.

Again, the idea is literally a quick “warm up” to get you into the right frame of mind.

Practicing Guitar Scales

The next section is dedicated to quickly going through all of the major and minor scales.

Start on any scale you’d like, but the most obvious option is the C Major scale.

Play that scale up and down a couple of times and then move on to the next scale, repeating until you’ve gone through all major scales. If you have time after your major scales, you can move on to minor scales. If you don’t, then focus on getting good at major scales first, then move on to minor scales in the future.

I recommend working along the circle of fifths when doing this – i.e. don’t go from C to D to E to F when switching between scales. Instead go from C Major to F Major (moving in fourths) or C Major to G Major (moving in fifths). The reason for that is that real music tends to move (harmonically) in fourths/fifths, so you’re familiarizing yourself with the movement of actual music this way.

Once you’ve become good at both major and minor scales, you can then start to add scale modes to your practice.

Guitar Major Scale Diagram
Click image to learn how to read scale diagrams

Single Scale Focus Section

This next section is where you focus on a single scale and really try to memorize/internalize it.

If you’re a complete beginner, the obvious place to start here is with the C Major scale, but you can choose any scale you like.

Start by playing the scale up and down across various starting positions on the fretboard and strings. Then, start playing the chord associated with each note of the scale. For example in C Major, those chords would be CMaj, Dm, Em, FMaj, GMaj, Am, and Bdim. You can learn more about diatonic harmony in our music theory guides (read more).

Strum those chords one after another, making sure your chord changes are smooth. Then pick a chord progression (for example, a 1-5-6-4 progression) and play it using the chords of the scale you’re practicing. Then try arpeggiating the chords instead of strumming them.

Pay attention to EVERYTHING you’re doing – your goal is to make playing this scale and it’s chords second nature.

Technical Skills Focus Section

This is a pretty self-explanatory section. Take a look at our list of guitar skills and pick one you want to learn.

Then spend a bunch of time just practicing it.

You can practice the skill individually, trying to get perfect technique and tone, or you can use a piece of a song that features that technique heavily.

Just pay attention to the technique of the skill as much as you can so you can build good habits.

Song Work Section

Another VERY self-explanatory section, this is where you pick a song you want to learn and get to learning it.

You could do this a couple of ways:

  • Search online for tabs/sheet music
  • Buy guitar song books
  • Subscribe to a website with a good song database.

Option 3 is the best choice, and the one we highly recommend. Searching for guitar music online is sketchy and guitar books can become expensive over time (and can be inconvenient).

But an online song library from a guitar lessons platform is a great resource for any aspiring guitarist.

Our preferred pick for most beginners is Guitar Tricks as a lesson platform, but I’d say go with something like Fender Play if you’re looking for songs to learn. That’s because Fender Play has the best song library we’ve found so far online.


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Tips for Better Practice Sessions

Now that you’ve got a solid practice plan in place, let’s talk about some tips that will help you maximize your learning effort each time you sit down.

These may seem generic, but they’re a HUGE help in terms of making sure your time is effective. So don’t sleep on them!

Do it Daily

This is SO important. You need to be consistent if you hope to make any progress at all. You can’t expect magic to happen if you’re only picking up your guitar once or twice a week.

Your practice HAS TO BE DAILY. Period.

It’s ok if all you can afford to dedicate to it is 10 minutes daily, so long as it is actually DAILY – every single day.

10 minutes a day, every day gets you further than 3 hours once per week.

Consistency is KEY.

Schedule it as Part of Your Routine

It may not seem like much, but scheduling your practice time daily as if it’s a part of your daily routine goes a LONG way in making sure you actually get it done.

If you don’t schedule it in (and stick to your schedule) it becomes a lot harder to “find the time.”

But if you’ve got it scheduled, it’s a lot more likely it’ll actually happen. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, after work/school or right before bed – schedule it and stick to it, practicing at the same time everyday.

Remove All Distractions

Your practice space should also be somewhere that’s clean and not cluttered. Don’t practice in the same room as your computer/laptop or television. Unless you’re using your phone as a metronome, leave it in another room.

Get rid of temptations and distractions. For your sessions, your focus needs to be on one thing and one thing only – your guitar.

As far as keeping the practice space uncluttered and clean – it will help you keep your focus on what’s important. It’ll also make it more pleasing to be in the space, making it more likely that you’ll actually do it every day.

Be Mindful With Repetition

There’s no getting around it – you’re going to be doing a lot of repetition when you’re practicing guitar.

The trick is to not let it become mindless repetition.

You need to keep your attention and focus on the thing you’re doing – deeply. That’s the only way to really perfect your technique. If you’re just “going through the motions” without paying attention, you’re not going to be learning things effectively.

You may also start to get sloppy and degrade your overall technique. So try to stay focused and pay attention to what you’re doing in the moment.


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Always Use a Metronome

Music and time are inextricably linked. So you need to get good at keeping time and rhyhtm.

The best way to do that is to always practice with a metronome. You can use one on your phone, or you can buy a physical one. Either way, always be using it when practicing.

Whether you’re practicing a song, or even just your scales, chords and progressions, do it all to a click track (i.e. a metronome).

This will work wonders on your timing and your rhythm.

Pro-Tip: start at slow speeds, and only gradually move faster when you’re getting more and more comfortable.

Do More of What You Suck At

This tip goes back to the idea of not wanting to just “go through the motions” with your practice

If you’re practicing things you can already play (even if it’s just being able to play them semi-decently) you’re not progressing.

You need to be practicing the things you CAN’T currently play well. Always make sure you’re pushing yourself beyond your “comfort zone.”

That’s the only way progress happens.

Use Lesson Material Weekly

Finally, when you’re using an online lesson platform, it’s a good idea to only spend one or two days a week actually viewing new lesson material.

Most of these platforms have hundreds (or thousands) of video lessons to watch and other materials to view. You can find it easy to just keep watching video after video during your practice sessions if you’re not careful.

But watching lessons IS NOT practicing.

So limit the amount of lessons you watch/consume, and spend most of your days ACTUALLY practicing the things you’re learning in the videos you do watch.

Once or twice a week, watch a new lesson and then spend the rest of the week just practicing that.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Practice Guitar too Much?

Surprisingly, yes you probably can practice guitar too much. The ideal amount of time for any one single session is 90 minutes. That seems to be the maximum amount of time a human can focus effectively. You can, however, have 2-3 of those 90 minute sessions in a day, as long as you space each session out. Try to keep each 90 minute session 3-4 hours apart from each other.

Can You Practice Guitar Quietly or Without an Amp?

Yes you can definitely practice guitar quietly and without an amp. Using an amp, or playing a guitar with full dynamics/loudness has it’s place as well. But if you’re in a jam and can’t make too much noise, it’s ok to strum/pick softly. Practicing softly can help you have more control of your dynamics, and practicing without an amp can still get you better at the actual technique of playing, even if you can’t hear how your playing sounds in it’s “full glory.”

How Many Days a Week Should You Practice Guitar?

You should try your best to practice guitar every single day – that means 7 days a week. This may not be possible for some, but it is the ideal way to do things. Each day you DON’T use your instrument is a day that moves you slightly backwards in your ability to play. Even if you only have 10 minutes to work on it in a day, you should try to do it everyday. Consistency is key when learning how to play guitar.

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    Final Thoughts

    And there you have it – a complete guide on how to practice guitar effectively for beginners and intermediate players.

    The key takeaway from this article is that there are 2 key elements of an effective practice routine:

    1. It needs to be consistent (i.e. daily)
    2. It needs to be well-rounded (i.e. touch on all areas)

    Using the guide and tips above, you should be able to come up with a solid routine that you can use daily to really see yourself improve your ability to play guitar.

    Use this as a framework for your own custom routine. The important thing is to make sure you’re being consistent, focused and continually challenged.

    If you really want to become a better guitar player fast, I highly recommend you check out Guitar Tricks (14 Day Free Trial) – they’ve got a TON of in-depth video lessons on everything you could possibly want to learn.

    Thanks for reading this guide to guitar practice! I hope it was helpful.

    Next up, level up your playing and learning with the best training programs for guitar – read now.

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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.