How Long to Practice Guitar: Science-Based Effective Practice

How long you practice guitar for plays an important part in how fast you will improve. What you practice is also important to consider, but there are some things you need to know about how long to practice for.

This guide is written for guitarists who feel they don’t have enough time to practice. If you feel like you’re not getting enough practice in, read this guide for advice.

There is a lot of mixed information online on how long you should practice. If you’re happy with how your practice routine is going, then by all means keep doing it – even if it doesn’t match the advice in this guide. Find out what works best for you and stick to it. But if you feel you’re not getting good results out of your practice sessions, this guide may give you a different approach worth trying.

After you have read this guide, find out how to plan an effective guitar practice routine in this guide. Follow the steps covered in the guide to set the perfect practice routine for your goals as a guitarist.

Practicing Guitar vs Playing Guitar

Before we look at how long to spend practicing guitar, it’s important to define what practicing means.

You’re technically practicing guitar any time you pick it up and play a song or noodle around. But for the purpose of this guide, that’s not practicing. Noodling around or playing through songs you’ve already learned isn’t considered practice for the purpose of this guide.

In this guide, you’re practicing guitar when you’re intensely focused on exercises, working on techniques, memorizing parts, or working on drills and patterns.

It’s important to separate practice and play when talking about how long to spend practicing. There’s a big difference between playing guitar for an hour a day and practicing guitar for an hour a day.

Think of Practice as a Workout

Think of practicing guitar like going to the gym for an intense workout and playing guitar as going to the beach for a leisurely swim.

When you go to the gym to work out, you might spend 10 minutes working on your shoulders, 10 minutes working on your back muscles, 10 minutes working on your core muscles, etc.

To get a good workout, you’ll use weights and machines that specifically target different muscle groups. Think of practicing guitar in the same way. If you want to practice your picking technique, you might work on some picking exercises. If you want to work on your strumming technique, you can spend time focused on strumming exercises.

Warming up on guitar also isn’t considered practice in this guide either. You wouldn’t go to the gym, warm-up for a few minutes, then go home because you’ve had a good workout. So don’t consider the time you spend warming up as practice time.

The best quality practice is when you’re focused and working on a specific goal. This is called ‘deliberate practice’ and it’s what this guide is focused on. Find out more about Deliberate vs Mindless Practice in this guide.

Play Guitar As Much As You Want

Noodling and jamming on guitar can help you get better, but that’s not considered practice in this guide.

This means you can spend as much time as you want to play guitar, but the below advice on how long to spend practicing guitar only covers intense practice (like a workout at a gym).

If you want to play songs, jam with backing tracks, try writing music, or similar things, you can do them as much as you want.

How Long To Practice Guitar Per Day

If you want to know how long to practice guitar, below is a simple guide to follow:

Aim to practice guitar for at least 15 minutes per day. Try to avoid long and unbroken practice sessions of longer than one hour at a time. If you want to practice for longer than 20 minutes, set short breaks to split up your practice sessions for the best results possible.

As explained below, short and regular practice sessions are far more effective than one long practice session.

Take a look at how much time you have available to practice (morning or in the evening). Split that time up into short 10 or 15-minute practice sessions.

If you want to practice for an hour or more per day, split that time up with regular breaks for the best results. Long and unbroken practice sessions may feel like they’re working, but as explained later, they’re not as effective as multiple short sessions.

Why Long Guitar Practice Sessions Are Bad

Practicing guitar requires a lot of focus. We can only focus for a limited time before our mind starts to wander or become tired.

There are two reasons why long practice sessions are bad. The first is that our minds can’t focus for long unbroken periods of time. The second is that our minds only remember the start and the end of a practice session.

You might feel like you’re focused through the entire practice session, but our minds can tire without us noticing. At the same time, you will forget what was practiced in the middle of a long practice session.

I explain the science behind this in the next section, but the key point to remember is that the longer your practice session, the less effective it will be as a whole.

Adding an extra 10 minutes to a 10-minute practice session is perfectly fine. A 20-minute practice session is short enough that the entire session will be effective. You’ll get a lot out of those extra 10 minutes.

Adding an extra 10 minutes to a 60-minute practice session will give you far fewer benefits. There are ‘diminishing marginal returns’ to extra practice time and that extra 10 minutes may or may not give you any extra benefit.

If you’re serious about taking your guitar skills to a high level, find out why you shouldn’t practice too long in this guide.

The Science Behind Effective Guitar Practice

Most of what guitarists talk about when it comes to practice are based on experience. You try something, it feels like it works, so you keep doing it. But just because something feels like it works, it may not be the best method.

There are some important findings from psychology studies that you can use to get better results from your practice.

As a guitar teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time looking into research to help my students get better results from practice.

I’ll explain these findings as simply as possible and how you can use them.

The Forgetting Curve

When you learn something new such as a guitar technique, a lick or riff, or some music theory, your mind will gradually forget it in a predictable way.

The below chart is called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve:

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is why learning guitar is so hard and things you could play perfectly last week you forget today.

In short, the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve sucks!

But understanding it helps us deal with it and get better results from our guitar practice.

Here’s how it works:

When you learn something new such as a new lick and practice it for the first time, you are at the blue point in the below chart:

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Over time, your mind will gradually forget the details of what you learned. The curved line gradually falls as your mind forgets the details.

If you pick up your guitar the next day and try to remember the lick, it may take you a few attempts to play it as well as you played it yesterday. The curve has only fallen slightly since you learned the lick.

But if you try to play the lick after a week of not practicing, you’ll probably find that you struggle to remember it. It might take you quite a few attempts to remember the notes, the rhythm, or any techniques to play it properly.

Basically, anything you learn will gradually fade away as shown by the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

So what does this mean for your practice?

The way to prevent anything you learn from falling down the Forgetting Curve is to practice it again and again over time.

Every time you repeat practicing something, you help prevent it from falling down the Forgetting Curve.

The most effective way to do this is using something called Spaced Repetition. Spaced Repetition is a powerful way to practice something the minimal number of times needed for it to be stored in your long-term memory.

Serial Position Effect

The Serial Position Effect explains clearly why long practice sessions aren’t effective.

The below chart shows how effective a practice session is from start to finish:

Serial Position Effect on Long Guitar Practice Session

The start of any practice session is an important time because it will stick in your memory due to what is called the ‘Primary Effect’.

Make the most of the first few minutes of a practice session because whatever you practice then will stick in your mind.

The end part of a practice session is the most important part and it sticks in your mind the most due to what is called the ‘Recency Effect’.

Finish your practice session with the most important thing you want to improve in your playing.

As you can see, the middle of a practice session is the least effective part.

This is why long practice sessions are horribly ineffective. A long practice session stretches out the middle period, so you end up with most of your practice session wasted as shown below:

Long guitar practice session

Notice that most of the time spent practicing is when the curved line is low on the chart? That means most of the practice will be wasted time – even if it doesn’t feel like it while you’re practicing.

Compare the above chart with three short practice sessions over the same length of time with some short breaks:

Short practice sessions

Notice that the short practice sessions have smaller dips in the middle?

That’s because there’s not enough time for your mind to start losing focus during practice.

Those small dips mean more of what you practice will sink into your memory. You’ll end up getting more out of these short practice sessions than one long session.

The key point to remember is that splitting a long practice session up into smaller chunks improves the quality of your practice overall.

If you really want to speed up your rate of progress, have short practice sessions with breaks.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that a marathon 2-hour practice session is effective. It isn’t.

Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns

In the previous chart on short practice sessions, you might have noticed that each extra practice session started off slightly lower than the previous one.

Here is the chart again:

Short practice sessions

Each new practice session is slightly less effective. This is due to something called the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns.

In plain English, it means that each additional practice session is less effective than the first one. Or every extra 10 minutes of practice will be less effective than the previous 10 minutes.

This is why super-long practice sessions are a waste of time. The longer the session, the less effective that time will be.

You might still learn at a faster rate if you practice 120-minutes per day compared to 60-minutes per day, but those extra 60-minutes won’t be as effective as the first 60-minutes. Every extra hour’s worth of practice falls in effectiveness. Eventually, if you practice long enough, extra practice gives you very little or no extra benefit.

This is why breaks are important. It helps your mind reset and come back to a practice session fresh.

Key point to remember: the effectiveness of your practice decreases the longer you spend practicing.

But What About Elite Musicians?

A typical response to hearing all of the above information is that it’s wrong because elite-level musicians practice 6+ hours per day. If you want to be a professional musician, one hour per day just isn’t going to cut it.

A good way to think about this is to look at athletes and how they train.

Imagine an average person who likes to go for a swim once or twice per week. Each swimming session gives them a nice boost to their overall health. In other words, each session gives them a massive amount of benefit for very little time.

If they increased from swimming twice per week to three times per week, they will notice that their performance increases over time.

Each swimming session for an average person has a massive impact on their health and performance.

Now imagine a swimmer training for the Olympics. They may spend 6+ hours in the pool every day. They’ve built up to an elite level of performance over many years and those 6+ hours per day are required to maintain that performance.

Each additional hour the Olympic athlete trains per day have very little impact on this performance, but Olympic athletes want to squeeze every last drop of performance gains as they can. So they only care about putting the hours in.

So why does this guide say that long practice sessions are ineffective when elite athletes (or musicians) train for long hours every day?

The key point is that the Olympic athlete has built up to that level over many years. They didn’t just decide on day one to swim laps for 6 hours every day.

Imagine if the average person who swims a few times per week tried to copy the Olympic swimmer’s training routine. They would burn out on the first day. Their body wouldn’t be able to handle the training volume and their body would be wrecked for the next week.

When an average bedroom guitarist tries to practice for 4+ hours per day because that’s what elite-level musicians do, unless they’ve gradually built up to that over a long period of time, they’ll burn out.

If they do get through the 4-hour session, not much out of that session will sink in. It might feel like it has worked (as a teenager I would often try this and think it was working), but it’s definitely not the best approach.

The key point from this guide is that it is possible to get better performance in less time by using shorter practice sessions. By all means, practice as much as you want per day, just make sure you take regular breaks and stop practicing if you feel unfocused.

If you have plenty of time available to practice, go for it. But if you have very limited time due to work, school, or family commitments, don’t feel like you’re doing a bad thing if you can only practice for 15 minutes. 15 minutes per day can give you fantastic results if done right.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from practicing, so if you’re already practicing multiple hours per day and you’re happy with your results, don’t change your routine.

What to Practice On Guitar

Now that you have an idea of how long you should spend practicing guitar, what should you work on?

Everybody has different needs as guitarists and should work on different things.

Somebody who wants to strum acoustic guitar to accompany their singing needs to practice very different things compared to the guitarist who want to cover some rock, blues, or metal songs.

Find out what you should practice on guitar by reading this guide on Creating an Effective Practice Routine.

The guide walks through how to think about and plan your practice routine and includes examples on what you might want to work on.

Guitar Practice Length FAQ

Here are some commonly asked questions about practice length.

Can You Practice Too Much On Guitar?

Yes, it is possible to practice too much on guitar. At a certain point, adding extra time to practice doesn’t do any extra good for your progress.

Your mind needs time to reflect on what it has learned. If you don’t give yourself time to reflect on what you have practiced, it won’t sink in.

Imagine somebody teaching you a language and trying to teach you 1000 new words every day. That’s way too much to handle. If you tried to keep that pace up, not only will you burn out, but you’ll struggle to remember any of those words.

Some guitarists practice for hours and hours a day because they think it’s the best way to improve. Unless you’re an elite-level musician who has built up to that practice routine over many years, it isn’t effective.

There is a point where any extra practice doesn’t do you any good. The Law of Diminishing Returns (explained earlier) can seriously reduce the effectiveness of too much practice.

Key tip: it’s okay to give yourself breaks. Let your mind rest and reflect on what you have practiced.

Learn more about practicing too much in this guide.

Is One Hour of Guitar Practice Enough?

One hour of guitar practice per day is more than enough to see rapid improvements in your abilities. But you won’t get the best results with an unbroken one-hour practice session.

Split the practice session up so you have a couple of short breaks. Shorter practice sessions are significantly more effective than one long session.

If you try to practice for longer than an hour a day in a single session, those extra minutes aren’t going to add much extra to your progress. So don’t worry about cramming in as much practice as possible.

Try to have short and focused practice sessions to get the best results.

 

To get the best from your practice, you need to have an appropriate practice space. Read this guide to set up an effective practice space.

The guide also includes photos of other people’s practice spaces so you can see what works and what doesn’t.