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.
There is a lot of mixed information online on how long you should practice. In this guide, I will explain the science-based principles that will make sure you get the best possible practice sessions.
If you want to speed up your progress with the shortest amount of practice possible, read through this guide.
After you have read this guide, have a look at how to set up an ideal practice space here. This also impacts the quality of your practice.
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 and no longer than one hour per day. 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 a day, plan to have four 15-minute practice sessions or three 20-minute practice sessions for the best results.
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 5 minutes to a 10-minute practice session is perfectly fine. A 15-minute practice session is short enough that the entire session will be effective.
Adding an extra 5 minutes to a 60-minute practice session will give you almost zero benefits. You won’t learn anything in that extra 5 minutes and worst-case, you may reduce the effectiveness of the entire practice session.
The Science Behind Effective Guitar Practice
A lot of other websites and YouTube videos might give you recommendations for your practice, but these are only guesses unless you know the science behind learning.
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 simple 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:
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:
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.
I’m writing a guide on Spaced Repetition, so to get notifications on it as well as other useful guides, lessons, and reviews, subscribe to updates here.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 60-minutes per day compared to 30-minutes per day, but those extra 30-minutes won’t be as effective as the first 30-minutes.
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.
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. It isn’t.
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.
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 a 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, 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.
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