If you’re highly dedicated to improving your guitar skills, then practice is the best way to improve.
If you’re super keen to become a virtuoso-level guitarist, then you might be tempted to practice guitar every waking hour you can.
Should you practice 5+ hours a day if you want to be the best? Or is there such thing as too much practice?
It is possible to practice guitar too much. The longer your guitar practice session, the less benefit you get out of each extra minute. There is a point where any extra practice time brings no extra benefit.
In this guide, I’ll explain how to figure out whether you’re practicing too much and how to get the best quality practice possible.
I’ll also explain why so many guitarists get it wrong when it comes to practicing guitar so you can avoid the same mistakes.
This guide is meant for guitarists who are serious about becoming highly advanced guitarists.
If you’re not quite that serious but want to know how long you should practice, read this guide for a science-based view on how long to practice guitar.
How Much Practice is Too Much?
If you want to be the best guitarist possible and learn as fast as possible, that’s great. As a guitar teacher, I’m always thrilled to hear guitarists wanting to become the best they can.
If you’re committed to practicing hard to become a great guitarist, you’re already off to a great start.
But how much is too much practice?
There are three things you need to understand when it comes to long practice sessions: practice quality, memory retention, and practice content. The limit on how long you should practice depends on these three areas.
Let’s look at each of these three areas and what you need to know to avoid practicing too long.
The quality of your practice sessions is more important than the length of your practice sessions.
In other words, quality over quantity.
A 4-hour practice session where you mindlessly noodle is a 4-hour waste of time. Somebody who brags about practicing 4-hours a day is wasting their time if they’re only mindlessly noodling all that time.
So how do you improve the quality of your practice sessions?
The key to a high-quality practice session is focus. The higher you need to focus on something, the higher quality your practice will be.
If you’re working on something challenging and it requires intense focus to play correctly, that’s high-quality practice.
If you’re working on something that doesn’t require focus, that’s low-quality practice. If you can play while watching Netflix or while talking to somebody, that’s mindless practice and you’re wasting your time.
The reason it is possible to practice guitar too much is that our focus isn’t unlimited.
It’s almost impossible to intensely focus on something non-stop for 3 hours. You may even find it hard to focus 100% on something for 30-minutes without feeling boredom or distractions bothering you.
Focus is a limited resource, so you need to take it into account when practicing guitar.
If you’re feeling tired or can’t concentrate, then only practice guitar for a very short time. If you’re full of energy, by all means, have a longer practice session.
The length of your practice session needs to stay short enough for you to stay focused the entire time. If you lose your focus, you’re wasting your time.
Your progress on guitar depends on your memory formation. The reason you can play something today better than yesterday is because you remember trying it yesterday.
Memory plays a huge part in your development as a guitarist.
Unfortunately, memory isn’t perfect and we can’t remember everything 100% (even people with ‘photographic memory’).
As explained in this guide on the science behind practice length, our brains don’t commit everything we practice to memory.
In any practice session, your brain starts off committing everything you practice to memory.
Then as the practice session continues, it starts to commit less and less to memory.
At the end of the practice session, your brain will commit more to memory as you finish.
Here’s how effective our brains are to committing what we practice to memory during a practice session:
This means the most effective parts of your practice session are at the very beginning and the very end.
It sucks, I know. It would be great if everything we practiced was perfectly committed to memory. But it doesn’t work that way.
So what do you think happens if you have a 5-hour marathon practice session?
As you might guess, it isn’t good:
While long practice sessions do commit more to memory overall, you can see that most of what you practice has low memory recall.
This is partly why it is possible to practice guitar too much. In a 5-hour practice session, only about 30-minutes of that practice is fully committed to memory.
Read this guide to learn more about this and how to overcome this problem.
What you practice is obviously important to the effectiveness of your practice.
If you want to become a shredder and be able to play lightning-fast arpeggios or two-hand tapping, then spending your practice sessions strumming chords won’t help you.
At the same time, if you spend 3-hours every day working on one technique, you’re going to struggle to improve at anything.
There needs to be a balance in what you practice. You need to split up your practice time to work on different things, but don’t split it up so much that you’re not spending enough time on any one thing.
I go into detail on how to find out what you should practice and plan your practice routine in this guide.
The key point to remember is that what you practice needs to match what you want to be able to play on guitar.
The key points to remember are that your practice quality, memory retention, and practice content all need to be considered when deciding how long to practice.
The longer your practice session, the less you’ll be able to commit to memory, and the less likely you’ll be able to keep your focus up.
Long practice sessions, in general, will waste your time and it can even harm your progress if it drags on too long.
For some people, this means anything past 2 hours per day is too much practice. Other people may be able to practice for 4 hours per day before their focus and memory retention starts to slip.
There isn’t a simple answer on how long is too long to practice because everybody is different.
Let’s look at an example to help you understand whether you’re practicing too much.
Understanding Practice Effectiveness: Gym vs Guitar
Practicing guitar is very similar to a person going to the gym.
While it may be hard to tell when somebody is wasting their time mindlessly practicing guitar, it’s easy to tell when somebody is wasting their time at the gym.
Example 1: Intensity
Imagine you’re working out at a gym and you see this person walk in and start doing this:
He works out like a madman for an hour, then leaves drenched in sweat.
While all this is going on, this is the person on the next machine:
He also spends an hour at the gym but only squeezed in a few exercises in between selfies.
It should be obvious that the crazy bodybuilder’s session was significantly more effective than the guy taking selfies.
If the selfie guy started bragging about how he works out every day, you would laugh knowing what he considered a workout.
This kind of thing is obvious in a gym setting, but the exact same thing happens to guitarists when they practice.
The intensity and focus you put into your practice are crucial to your success. Mindlessly strumming or noodling is exactly the same as sitting in the gym taking selfies.
When you practice guitar, if you’re not intensely focusing, you’re not practicing.
If you want to be a highly-skilled guitarist, push yourself hard and squeeze as much out of every exercise as possible. Focus on intensity instead of long sessions.
At the end of your practice session, you should feel like you’ve done a mental workout. If you don’t feel like you’re pushing yourself while practicing, a longer session isn’t going to help you.
Example 2: The Easy Option
If you go to any gym, you will always see someone on the treadmill.
There are countless people who go to the gym, spend a gentle hour on the treadmill, then go home.
Why do so many people go to the gym to use the treadmill?
One important reason for our purposes is that it’s easy. It’s not an intimidating machine that requires instruction to use, you don’t need to learn any new forms or technique, and you can easily set the speed to something comfortable.
While it’s possible to get a great workout out of a treadmill, people tend to use it because it’s an easy option.
There are so many other machines and weight training that can do far more for a person’s fitness goals, but people choose the treadmill because it’s an easy choice.
When we look at how people tend to practice guitar, a lot of people spend time replaying things they’re already good at, cruising through easy exercises, or just noodling.
In other words, many guitarist’s practice sessions are just like treadmill workouts.
Take a look at what you practice and whether any of it is truly challenging you. Are you spending time trying to learn things you’ve never tried before, or do you always go back to the comfortable things you always play?
Do you challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone? Or do you pick things that are comfortable to work on?
If you want to get great results from your practice sessions, don’t pick the easy options.
Example 3: Balance
If you’re not a gym person, at the gym, guys tend to prefer focusing on upper body exercises to get a big chest, big arms, and big shoulders.
This is the result of these desires:
It’s common to see people with a massive upper body, but underdeveloped legs.
Gym people skip ‘leg day’ because training the legs hurts and leaves you in pain for a few days. They also skip leg day because they want to focus on other areas of the body instead.
Skipping leg day may be a running joke with fitness people, but many guitarists do exactly the same thing.
Many guitarists are the equivalent of a person with a massive chest and arms, but tiny chicken legs.
If you really want to become a great guitarist, you need to create balance in your abilities.
There’s no point being able to sweep-pick arpeggios lightning-fast if your rhythm skills suck. Who cares if you can pick 30-notes-per-second if you don’t know how to put that skill to use?
There will be some things you want to focus on in the same way that most guys at the gym focus on chest and arm exercises. But don’t neglect other skills and techniques.
For you, ‘leg day’ might be working on music theory, barre chords, or alternate picking. Find out what your leg day is and make sure you’re covering it in your practice routine.
Don’t skip leg day when it comes to your guitar practice.
Why You Should Ignore the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’
You may have heard about the 10,000-hour rule, which was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers.
The basic idea was taken from research by Dr. Ericsson on expert-level performers. They suggested that to achieve expert-level abilities, you need to put in around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
When people first started hearing about this 10,000-hour rule, they felt that all they need to do is clock in 10,000 hours and they’ll become experts. Easy, right?
But most people neglect the ‘deliberate practice’ part.
There is a massive difference between deliberate and mindless practice.
If you sit on the couch and strum your guitar while watching Netflix, that’s mindless practice. None of those hours spent ‘practicing’ will amount to anything.
The key to success with guitar is deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is when you have 100% of your focus on things that will actually improve your abilities.
Having 10,000 hours of practice won’t make you a great guitarist if those hours were mediocre or mindless noodling.
Racking up the hours won’t make you a great guitarist.
Racking up hours of high quality and deliberate practice will make you a great guitarist.
If you’re practicing 4+ hours a day, the chances are much of that time is wasted. Instead of putting in marathon long practice sessions, aim for a highly effective practice where you have to completely focus on what you’re doing.
Almost nobody can practice for 4+ hours with intense focus the entire time. So try to find your own personal time limit and get the best practice possible while staying under that limit.
My Experience With Too Much Practice
As a teenager, I became obsessed with guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, and other highly technical players.
I would see videos of them shredding at lightning-fast speeds and wanted to do the same.
I also read about Steve Vai’s incredible 10-hour practice routine.
I figured that if I wanted to be able to play like Steve Vai, I had to practice like him too.
So I followed the routine in the magazine as closely as possible and filled my day with practice.
I would get home from school at 4 pm and practice non-stop until dinner at 6 pm. Then after cramming my food down I’d continue practicing until 8 or 9 pm.
On weekends, it would be common for me to practice 5 or 6 hours over the day.
To be clear, my skills did rapidly improve after taking on this approach. Eventually, I was able to play many of his songs note-for-note and my abilities gradually refined to a high level.
But looking back, I can see that most of that time was wasted.
I didn’t know back then how our memories work, how breaks improve the quality of our practice, or about spaced repetition.
I just put in the hours, thinking that’s all that it took.
There are diminishing marginal returns when it comes to practicing guitar. This means that every extra 30 minutes you practice will give you less and less benefit.
When you start practicing 3, 4 or 5 hours per day, every extra minute you practice is pretty much a waste of time.
At a certain point, longer practice sessions can start taking away from the effectiveness of the entire session.
The lesson I want you to remember is that the quality of your practice sessions is more important than the quantity.
Just because Steve Vai practiced 10+ hours per day doesn’t mean that it was a smart approach.
He probably could have achieved the same results with less than 6 hours of practice by making use of spaced repetition, breaks, and other techniques I talk about in the below guides.
Don’t get into competition with other guitarists over how long you spend practicing. Instead, focus on making your practice sessions short, intense, and effective.
Check out these guides to better plan your practice sessions:
Remember, when it comes to practicing guitar, focus on quality over quantity.