A good guitar practice routine is vital to learning and improving your guitar playing. It is really easy to pick up your guitar and play the songs or notes that you know, but this won’t make you any better.
It is easy to be uncertain as to what to practice, where you should spend your time on, maybe you feel like there is never enough time, or you seem to not be getting any better even when you do practice. Not getting better is one of the biggest reason newer players quit playing guitar.
In this article we’ll start by giving you a great 20-minute guitar practice routine that we’ve used ourselves.
Next, we’ll go through a handful of tips that will help you if you’re not making progress as fast as you like, or even if you’re stuck.
Last, if you struggle to come up with things to practice, or don’t know what’s next, we’ve put a list together of a TON of things you can actually spend time working on!
20 Minute Guitar Practice Routine
This guitar practice routine is something that we have used for a long time. We got the framework from our first couple guitar teachers and have improved on it to fit our style ever since!
The structure of the practice is what we really want you to pay attention to, because you can customize it quite a bit for your specific needs!
First thing is first, pick up your best guitar, tune it, and let’s get ready to go!
Warm-Up Your Fingers – 1-2 Minutes
This can be as complex as you’d like to make it, but it is important to add some sort of “warm-up” before we pick up our guitar. This may not seem like a big issue when you first start playing, but the more time you spend playing the more important it becomes!
This video has some great stretches, maybe pick one or two for your warm-up and vary them each day you play!
Play A Simple Song You Know – 3-4 Minutes
Grab your guitar and play something easy! Begin to warm up with an easy guitar song that you already know. This will get your fingers and strumming hand moving. Plus, if you took the time to learn the song it’s likely something you like, thus getting you in the mood to play!
If you don’t know any songs yet that’s fine, you can start by playing some simple notes or chords you do know that you are good at. The point is to start moving your hands and fingers!
Chord Changes – 5 minutes
Now that you are warmed up and in the right mindset, it is time to work on things that will help you improve!
In the first 5 minutes you warmed up and played songs, notes and chords you have mastered. Now you want to incorporate a chord or two you aren’t good at.
Let’s say you’re a beginner and the only chord you’ve mastered is the G chord. This 5-minute block would be used to practice switching between the G and maybe D and C chords. Play G, slowly move your fingers to the C, play the C until it sounds perfect (you may have to adjust a few times), and go back to the G.
You can then repeat this with D, then switch between C and D, then back to G. The order doesn’t matter as much as that you are challenging yourself to finger the chord perfectly each time.
Strumming or Fingerpicking – 5 minutes
Now to work on your strumming hand! In these five minutes we want to focus on improving what your strumming hand is doing.
For a beginner this may mean you are just strumming up and down, focusing on hitting each string in a smooth and consistent rhythm. Or, maybe you are working on a difficult guitar fingerpicking arrangement or strumming pattern.
Keep the chords easy during this time. In fact, you may not want to play any chords at all and just leave the strings open!
Make sure you have a metronome going for these five minutes. Focus on your rhythm during this part of practice and make sure you’re able to stay in time!
New Song Practice – 5 Minutes
Time to put your strumming and chord shapes to use for fun! Afterall, we all learn guitar to play our favorite songs, right?
Now, if the song is difficult, or you just started learning it, maybe that means that you only play the chorus, or must play it much slower than the original. That’s ok, Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will you become a master at a new chord or strumming pattern!
Also, let’s say you only have only 5-10. Adjust the time you spend in each section. The important part is that you spend time on what you need to improve.
5 Practice Tips for Guitar
Just because you have a guitar practice routine now, you still have to make sure you do it! You also need to make sure you’re getting the most out of the time you spend with your instrument.
How do you do that? Glad you asked! Here are 5 practice tips for guitar players!
Keep your Guitar in Sight
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear says the first step to creating any new habit is to make it obvious. So, our first tip for playing the ukulele actually has nothing to do with playing.
Put your guitar on a stand in a location that you pass multiple times a day. The concept of ‘out of sight out of mind’ comes in here. It is easy to miss a day of practice because you didn’t think of playing, but not if you have to move your guitar next to your TV!
What are Your Goals?
To make your practice sessions as productive as possible it really helps to know why and what you are practicing for.
If you want to learn a certain song, write it down! Then, underneath that you can write down the different components of that song you need to learn. Now you know which chords, strumming patterns or fingerpicking arrangements to spend our time on!
Consistency is Key
Pick a practice schedule and stick to it! With something like guitar, you need to consistently be playing in order to improve. Picking up the guitar at random won’t get it done!
Tell yourself you can’t take off your shoes until you play guitar when you get home from work. Or, set a schedule like Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday.
This schedule can be adapted infinitely to fit your life. The important part is you are regularly practicing, not when, where, or how!
During your guitar practice routine you should focus on quality, not quantity. You can stumble through bad chord transitions all day long and not get any better if every time you switch between chords you are deadening notes or missing them all together.
Slow, deliberate practice fixes this. Over time you can speed up!
Set a metronome for a VERY slow speed. Get the change right at a very slow speed and then gradually increase the pace. If you miss more than a few times at a speed slow it back down.
You want to make sure these transitions are perfect, so until they are don’t try to play them fast!
Don’t Watch Your Fretting Hand
If you are learning a new chord shape then this could be ok, but if you’re practicing playing a song then don’t stare at your fretting hand. Try to pick a spot on the wall or the TV and focus on that.
Developing a habit of looking at your hands limits your ability to play in any environment!
Try playing in a pitch-black room. It can definitely be awkward at first, but it will force you maintain good posture and technique. Not to mention this can really help you develop an ear for how a note, chord or progression should sound!
Things to Practice for your Guitar
“I don’t know what to work on!” If I only had a dollar for every time one of my students used this as an excuse for not practicing. Even after I gave them homework!
I give everyone a document when they start with me, detailing the guitar practice routine we’ve covered here and part of it is this list.
Anytime you’re not sure what to work on, look here. It should give you some ideas and something here will peak your interest!
- Scales – There are hundreds of scales, patterns of scales, tempos and variations (skipping notes, groupings, etc) that can be improved upon or learned.
- Chords – There are tons of ways to play each chord, then you can work on replacing notes with a 2nd or 4th, or omitting a note by removing the root note, 3rd or 5th.
- Rhythm – Playing different timing patterns or with other musicians.
- Techniques – Hammer-ons and pull-offs, bending, sliding, vibratos, harmonics, muting and all combinations.
- Strumming – Endless combinations of strumming patterns, mute mono and fan strumming
- Ear Training – Tune your uke by ear, pick out major, minor and 7ths on the same chord, record chord progressions by ear
- Theory – Reading different notation, building chords/scales, timing.
Still not sure…. Learn a new song. There are literally millions to choose from!
A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!