How To Plan a Guitar Practice Routine (with Examples) - Guitar Gear Finder

How To Plan a Guitar Practice Routine (with Examples)

If you want to become a better guitarist, you need to have a solid practice routine.

People who plan a guitar practice routine not only learn faster, but they develop better skills.

As a guitar teacher, I’ve seen the difference a solid practice routine makes and how spending 10 minutes planning a guitar practice routine can significantly improve the quality of your practice sessions.

In this guide, I will explain exactly how to plan a perfect guitar practice routine that suits you.

You will learn:

  • What you should focus on in your practice
  • What makes a good practice routine
  • Step-by-step how to plan your guitar practice routine
  • Examples of good practice routines

Once you plan your practice routine, find out how long you should practice the guitar for in this guide. The guide explains the science-based method of getting the best quality practice possible in the shortest time.

Important Note

This is a long article, but taking the time to properly read it is crucial if you want better results.

It would have been easy for me to say something like “split your practice time between scales, chords, songs, lead, rhythm”, but that advice sucks. This guide goes deeper into the how and why behind planning your practice routine.

If you take your time to properly read this guide, you’ll understand why most of the videos and articles you see on practice routines are flawed.

Why Your Guitar Practice Routine Matters

Advanced guitarists know how important your practice routine is. A poor practice routine will slow your progress down to a crawl.

Most guitarists learn the hard way why spending hours per day practicing is a waste of time unless you practice the right things.

Your practice routine matters because it’s the only thing that will make you improve.

A good quality practice routine will keep pushing you forward. So it’s worth spending time getting your practice routine right.

If you don’t have much time to practice every day, then it becomes even more important to plan out your practice routine.

You don’t want to be wasting your time practicing things that aren’t going to help you improve.

What A Bad Practice Routine Does To You

To understand what makes a good practice routine, it helps to look at what happens when you have a bad practice routine.

Sam's 'Solid' Practice Routine

Imagine a guitarist, Sam, who knows how to strum a few chords. He wants to one day play in a band, write songs and play at gigs.

Every day when he gets home, he pulls out his guitar and randomly strums the few chords he knows for a couple of hours while on the couch watching Netflix.

In his mind, he’s putting in 2-3 hours of solid practice every day. His hands feel sore by the end of his ‘practice’, so that means he’s put in good work, right?

What would you say to him if he complains that he’s not getting better?

When you read the above example, the problems in Sam’s practice might be obvious. But so many guitarists fall into this trap and don’t even realize there is a problem.

Sam will never achieve his goal of playing in a band, writing songs, or playing at gigs.

His ‘practice’ sessions fail for three main reasons:

Focus: when you practice, you need to single-mindedly focus on what you are doing. If you’re able to watch Netflix or YouTube, talk to somebody else, or do anything else, you’re not practicing.

Focus is crucial to your practice because it’s how our brains learn. When you focus intently on something, the neural connections in your brain strengthen.

Strumming your guitar while on the couch watching Netflix is not practice. It doesn’t matter if Sam spends 3 hours a day doing it, he’s never going to get better.

Comfort Zone: the purpose of practicing is to push your skills forward and learn new things. If you never venture out of your comfort zone, you won’t improve.

A lot of intermediate guitarists get stuck with this. They learn some basic skills and get to a point where they stick to only practicing the things they already know.

Whenever you hear that somebody has hit a plateau in their playing, it’s because they’re not pushing past their comfort zone.

In the above example, Sam is stuck in his comfort zone and will never break out.

Goal Progress: Sam has some great goals. He wants to play in a band, write his own music, and play at gigs. But what is he doing to work towards those goals?

What band would take Sam on if all he can do is strum a few open chords?

If your practice sessions don’t work on the skills you need to learn to reach your goals, then how are you going to achieve them?

It should be clear from the above example how a bad practice routine sets you back. Now let’s look at what makes a good practice routine so you can start planning your own practice routine.

What Makes a Good Guitar Practice Routine

A good guitar practice routine will focus on the skills and techniques you need to learn to achieve your goals. It will push you forward and make sure you work on the things you need to learn.

This might sound obvious when you read it, but it’s something so many guitarists never plan for.

At this point, you may be thinking “just tell me what chords and scales to practice!”

So many guitarists search for scales or chord exercises because that’s what they think they should be practicing, but they never consider why they should learn those things.

Scales and chord exercises might be a big part of your practice routine, but everything in your practice routine needs to have a good reason for being there.

A good guitar practice plan only includes the things that you should be working on right now.

Maybe right now, scales exercises aren’t important for you. What you include in your practice routine depends on what you want to achieve and your current skills.

Why your practice routine shouldn't be balanced

If you’ve read a few articles or watched videos on planning a guitar practice routine, you’ve probably heard that your routine should be balanced.

They say you should split your practice time to make sure it covers all the important areas of playing guitar such as chords, scales, techniques, theory, picking, etc.

The idea here is that you become a well-rounded guitarist by always working on all of these things.

The problem is that balanced practice routines suck.

Imagine you’re trying to learn a song that uses a lot of bends, but you struggle to bend in-tune. Every time a bend shows up, you struggle to play it properly and get frustrated because you know you’re playing the bends wrong.

In this case, you don’t want a balanced routine. You want your practice routine to heavily focus on bends.

For the next few weeks, you might spend 70%+ of your practice time working on bends.

Is that balanced? No. But spending all that time working on bends will definitely help you master bends sooner, so you can get on with learning that song.

The point to remember is that you don’t want a balanced routine because focusing your routine on specific areas gets better results.

If there’s something you want to learn or something that’s bothering you about your guitar skills, focus your practice routine on those areas.

If you don’t care about strumming chords, don’t add that to your practice routine to keep it balanced.

Focus on what is important to you and change your routine when your priorities shift.

In the below steps, I’ll explain how to figure out what you should include in your practice routine.

Let’s go through the steps, then look at some examples of how to plan a good practice routine.

Step 1: What Do You Want to Be Able to Play?

This is the most important step because it sets the foundation for your practice routine.

It’s also the step that most beginner and intermediate guitarists skip.

Don’t skip this step!

Thinking about what your goals are is crucial to creating a guitar practice routine that is right for you.

There’s no point you copying my practice routine or anybody else’s because everybody has different goals.

For this step, get a piece of paper (or a note-taking app) to write down your answers to the following points.

What you write down will play a big role in planning your practice routine, so take your time with it.

Potential Goal: Playing Songs

Almost everybody starts learning the guitar because they want to learn how to play other people’s songs.

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced guitarist, think about what songs you want to learn.

Write a list of the top 10-20 songs you want to learn.

This list will be used in the later steps to plan your practice routine. The songs on your list will have a big impact on the type of guitarist you become, so think about these songs carefully.

Most guitarists have at least a few songs that they’re dying to learn how to play. Write down the top song you want to learn from start to finish as your main goal.

Potential Goal: Writing Songs

Not all guitarists want to write their own music, but if you do, you should keep it in mind when planning your practice routine.

If you want to learn how to write your own music, write that down as one of your main goals.

Your practice routine isn’t just for learning techniques, you can also spend time to learn and practice songwriting.

If you’re interested in writing your own music, think about what style of music you want to write. Write a list of songs that are in a similar style as the music you want to write. These songs will help guide your practice planning.

Potential Goal: Improvising

Apart from playing other people’s songs or writing your own songs, you may want to learn how to improvise and jam.

Not all guitarists want to learn how to improvise, so it’s okay if it doesn’t interest you.

If you want to be able to put on a backing track and just jam along with it, or jam with other musicians, write this down as one of your goals.

Think about guitarists you listen to and would like to be able to improvise like them. Write the names of these guitarists down to help you plan the next step.

Other Goals

There are so many different things you can learn to do as a guitarist. Whether you want to join a band, learn to record music, start busking, or anything else, write it down as a goal.

While your goals may change over time, having something to work towards will improve the quality of your practice sessions.

My students who have clear goals make significantly faster progress compared to students who don’t have clear goals.

List Your Goals

Before you move to the next step, you should have written down (if relevant):

  1. Your main goals as a guitarist
  2. A list of songs you want to learn
  3. A list of songs to inspire your songwriting goal
  4. A list of guitarists that inspire your improvisation goal

The lists you write down will be used in the next step to work out what you need to practice, so take your time thinking about these lists before you continue.

Note: there are examples of what your lists may look like in the practice routine examples later in this guide. If you’re stuck, keep reading and you can come back to this step later.

Step 2: What Techniques and Skills Do You Need to Learn?

Once you have a solid idea of what you want to be able to play on guitar, you can figure out what skills and techniques you need to work on to be able to play those things.

For example, if you want to play songs that use a lot of bends and vibrato, it makes sense to plan your practice routine to start working on those techniques now.

Then when you’re ready to start learning those songs, you’ll be prepared for any of the bends and vibrato that show up in the song.

Here’s how to work out what techniques and skills you need to work on to achieve your goals:

1) Get the Guitar TAB for the songs on your list. Go to a free Guitar TAB website and load a song from on your list.

2) List all the techniques and skills used in the song. If you don’t know how to read Guitar TAB, read this guide and learn all the symbols used.

3) Sort your list out based on difficulty and frequency. If a certain technique is used in a lot of songs on your list, that skill is worth learning sooner than a technique that only shows up in one or two songs.

The idea here is to build a picture in your mind on the skills and techniques you need to learn to be able to play the things you want.

Follow these same steps for any songs you listed as inspiration for your songwriting or for improvisation.

Once you have a list of techniques and skills you need to work on, you can move on to the next step.

Step 3: Find Exercises for Each Skill

Now that you have a list of skills and techniques to learn, you need to figure out how to learn and practice these skills.

You can find countless exercises and lessons to help you learn any technique or topic on guitar.

Search on YouTube and watch a few lessons from different people to hear different opinions on how to play specific skills. Check out lessons on websites like this one and read as much as you can about any technique or skill on your list.

For example, if you notice that a lot of the songs you want to learn use scale runs, this lesson explains how to practice scales.

Once you read a lesson like that, you’ll know exactly what you need to work on to learn and master scales.

I highly recommend researching a variety of sources, because some guitar teachers will resonate with you better than others.

Once you have a rough idea of what types of exercises will help you learn a technique or skill, you can move to the next step.

Step 4: Plan Your Practice Routine

By this point, you should have a list of songs, a list of skills and techniques, and hopefully a few exercises for each skill you want to work on.

Now you can start planning your practice routine.

It’s really important to have all this information before you try and plan a practice routine.

If you don’t have a list of techniques and exercises in front of you that you worked out based on your goals, there’s no point continuing. You won’t be able to plan an effective practice routine without this information.

If you do have all of this information, planning your practice routine is easy. Here’s how to do it:

Practice Routine Length

Start by looking at how long you have available to practice.

Whether you have 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 60 minutes available, you can plan an effective practice routine. Learn more about how long to aim to practice in this guide.

Let’s say you have 15 minutes available to practice every day. While that doesn’t seem like much time, it’s plenty of time if you use each minute wisely.

Once you commit to a certain length of time, try to stick to it. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to go way over one day and don’t avoid practicing because you over-committed.

Pick a practice length that you’ll be able to stick to.

Split Up Your Practice Time

Once you have committed to a certain practice length, you can now split that time up to cover the most important skills and techniques you want to work on.

Take a look at your list of skills and techniques and pick out the most important 3-4 skills.

Even if you have committed yourself to a 60-minute practice session, I only recommend focusing on 3-4 skills.

The idea is that once you master a skill, you can replace it with another one. But you don’t want to try and practice 10+ skills every day. That’s too much and you won’t be able to focus on each specific skill properly.

Once you pick 3-4 skills you want to focus on, allocate time for each skill.

You can easily change this later on, so to start out I recommend evenly splitting up your practice session so each skill gets even time spent practicing.

So if you have 15 minutes available and want to practice three skills, spend 5 minutes practicing each skill.

After a few practice sessions, you’ll know whether you should increase or decrease the time spent on each skill.

You may find that you’re struggling with one skill, so it makes sense to spend more time on it to speed up your learning. Or if you start to feel like you’re finding the exercises for a skill easy, you can spend less time on it or replace it with a different skill to work on.

Use a timer or keep an eye on the clock to make sure you spend enough time on each skill.

Now that you understand the theory behind effective practice sessions and how to plan your guitar practice routine, let’s go through some examples.

These examples will give you a good way to see if you’re on the right track with your own practice routine.

Updating Your Practice Routine

As you grow as a guitarist, your skills will improve, your understanding of different topics will strengthen, and your goals will change.

This means your practice routine needs to be constantly updated to reflect your changing skill level and goals.

Sticking to the same practice routine for too long will slow your progress down. Why would you want to keep working on simple exercises when there are more advanced things you could be working on?

Aim to go through the above steps any time you feel like your practice routine isn’t pushing you hard enough.

If you feel like some of the things in your practice routine are starting to feel too easy, then replace them with more challenging items.

A good rule of thumb is to refresh your practice routine once a month.

A month is enough time to go from complete beginner to competent in many skills and techniques. So it makes sense to refresh your practice routine every month to make sure you’re not wasting time on things you’ve already mastered.

Regularly reviewing your practice routine also makes sure you’re not trying to push yourself too hard. If after a month you’re still struggling with a certain technique or topic, then look for ways to change your approach or dedicate more time to that technique to speed up progress.

If you follow the above steps to set a practice routine for yourself today, set a reminder a month from now to review and refresh your routine.

Example Practice Routine 1: Beginner

When you start learning guitar, you need to cover the basics before you can start working towards your goals.

Beginners need to spend time working on basic skills such as: being able to fret notes correctly, play some basic open chords, play without having to look at your picking hand, etc.

Once a beginner learns these foundational skills, they can start thinking about their goals and going through the steps to plan a practice routine.

Let’s look at how a complete beginner may spend their time practicing if they only have 20 minutes per day to practice.

For a beginner, they’re going to get a lot of benefit from practicing finger exercises like these.

Warm-up exercise

For a beginner, the above exercise helps them work on several skills:

  • Co-ordination between picking and fretting hands
  • Finger dexterity and control
  • Stretching the fretting hand
  • Confidence over the fretboard

If a beginner only has 20 minutes to practice guitar, it would be a good idea to spend 5-10 minutes working on basic exercises like these.

That may seem like a lot of time, but for a beginner, these exercises will speed up their development.

As you progress, the amount of time you spend working on these exercises can decrease as you shift towards practicing more complex techniques.

A complete beginner may want to spend 10 minutes on these exercises. A beginner with 6-months of experience learning guitar may reduce this to 5 minutes.

The rest of the practice routine can be split between learning basic riffs or melodies and practicing basic open chords.

Working on exercises, chords, and riffs is a great way to learn the basics.

An example 20-minute practice routine for a complete beginner may look like this:

  • 5 minutes: basic finger exercises
  • 5 minutes: work on playing and memorizing basic open chords
  • 5 minutes: practice more finger exercises
  • 5 minutes: practice basic riffs

Splitting the 10 minutes’ worth of finger exercises up is important to give yourself a break and mix things up.

Beginners don’t really need to plan out practice sessions as almost anything will help push their skills forwards. The more you progress, the more important planning becomes.

Example Practice Routine 2: Intermediate

Intermediate guitarists need to start thinking carefully about what they want to work on.

There are so many different techniques, topics, and songs you could learn, so this is the point when you need to start thinking about what you want to achieve.

As an example, let’s look at how an intermediate guitarist named Alex might plan her practice routine.

Alex loves blues and wants to be able to improvise and jam with other blues guitarists. She also wants to learn some classic blues songs.

Step 1: What Do You Want to Play?

Alex starts by listing everything she wants to be able to play on guitar.

Here is her list of goals and the top songs she wants to learn:

  • Be able to jam with other blues guitarists
  • Learn to improvise
  • Learn The Thrill is Gone by B.B. King
  • Learn Red House by Jimi Hendrix
  • Learn Crossroad Blues by Robert Johnson

While Alex has a huge list of songs she wants to learn, those three songs stand out as most important to her.

Step 2: What Techniques and Skills Do You Need to Learn?

Now Alex can start digging into her list and figuring out what skills and techniques she needs to work on to prepare her for learning those songs and working on her goals.

She starts by downloading the Guitar Pro files for the three songs and goes through the TAB for each one.

She writes down all the techniques she sees and uses this Guitar TAB guide to identify symbols she doesn’t recognize.

Here’s a short example of what her list may look like:

  • Hammer-ons and pull-offs
  • Bends and vibrato
  • Slides
  • Barre chords
  • Scale runs

Once she does this with the three songs, she watches some videos of guitarists improvising and writes down any other techniques she recognizes.

Even if some of the techniques are way outside of her current skill level, it’s handy to write them down so she knows what she will eventually want to work on.

Step 3: Find Exercises for Each Skill

At this point, Alex has a list of techniques she knows she needs to work on, so now she needs to figure out how to work on each skill.

For each technique, Alex does some searching online to find exercises and lessons on how to practice the skill.

For example, she knows that scales are going to be a big part of learning to improvise, so she reads this lesson on how to practice scales.

She bookmarks the guide so she can easily refer back to the exercises.

She watches video lessons on how to play vibrato, bends, and other techniques on her list.

Once she has gone through all the exercises, she should have a list of resources she can go back to at any time to work on these techniques.

Step 4: Plan Your Practice Routine

Now that Alex knows what she should work on and how to work on each skill, she can plan her routine.

As mentioned earlier, people always want to jump to this step, but going through the steps is crucial to plan an effective practice routine.

Alex looks at how much time she has available each day to practice and sets herself two 15-minute practice sessions each day (find out why two 15-minute practice sessions are better than one 30-minute session in this guide).

She picks the top 3 skills she wants to work on and spreads the skills and exercises across the two practice sessions. She also makes sure that each practice session starts with time spent working on finger exercises and warm-ups.

Here’s what her first 15-minute practice routine looks like:

  • 3-minutes: finger exercises and warm-up drills
  • 5-minutes: Pentatonic and Blues Scale exercises
  • 2-minutes: vibrato exercises
  • 5-minutes: work on licks in The Thrill is Gone

Here’s her second 15-minute practice routine:

  • 2-minutes: finger exercises
  • 5-minutes: practice using Pentatonic scale over blues backing track
  • 3-minutes: bends exercises
  • 5-minutes: Pentatonic and Blues Scale exercises

It should be obvious that these practice routines heavily focus on scales. This is on purpose because scales play a big part in Alex’s goals.

By heavily focusing on scales now, she will learn them faster.

It’s also important to note that she doesn’t just spend the entire time working on scales exercises. By spending time trying to use the scales along with a backing track, she’s applying the scales theory in a musical way.

When you’re an intermediate guitarist, focus your practice routine on the specific areas you want to improve.

As explained earlier, don’t aim for balance – focus on a few areas and shift your focus once you master those areas.

Example Practice Routine 3: Advanced

Practice routines for advanced guitarists look different compared to the above example, but you still use the same method to plan your routine.

Practicing when you’re an advanced guitarist is like training when you’re an elite athlete.

An elite athlete will still work on many of the same exercises, drills, and routines an amateur athlete may work on, but at a higher level.

So what do you practice when you’re already an advanced guitarist?

Work through the same steps and you’ll identify what you need to work on.

In this example, let’s look at an advanced guitarist called Jim who plays in a band and writes his own songs.

Step 1: What Do You Want to Play?

As an advanced guitarist, Jim already knows how to play all the songs he likes. He has a high technical skill level and doesn’t feel the need to push himself further.

But what he does want to do is write better songs.

So he writes a list of songs that inspire him. Songs that he wished he wrote or could write songs in a similar style.

Step 2: What Techniques and Skills Do You Need to Learn?

When you’re an advanced guitarist, this question turns into “what concepts and ideas do you need to learn?”

Techniques and skills are easy to work on when you’re an advanced guitarist, so you will shift your thinking towards concepts and ideas.

For example, Jim might identify that one of the songs in his list has an interesting chord progression that doesn’t make sense to him.

So he would write down his goal to understand the theory behind the progression so he could write similar progressions.

Jim spends time looking at each song and identifying what makes those songs interesting to him.

He ends up with this list:

  • Understand the chord progression in song X
  • Understand how the melody and rhythm work so well together in song Y
  • Learn how to write riffs like in song Z

When you’re an advanced guitarist, what you work on is less about practicing specific techniques and more about high-level thinking like this.

Step 3: Find Exercises for Each Skill

It’s easy to find exercises to work on skills such as bends, vibrato, tapping, etc.

Finding exercises to work on skills such as creativity, improvising, or songwriting is much harder.

In this example, Jim wants to learn from the songs on his list so he can use ideas from those songs in his own songwriting.

Jim can do this in two ways:

  1. Learn the music theory behind the songs
  2. Practice writing similar riffs, licks, and progressions

The more he understands the theory that makes those songs work, the easier it will be to write songs that uses similar concepts.

Likewise, if he tries to write similar sounding riffs and parts, he will eventually learn how they work and how to use them in his own songs.

It should be clear how different this is from the other examples, but you can use the same steps to plan your practice routine.

Step 4: Plan Your Practice Routine

Jim has narrowed down some parts and ideas from songs he wants to learn from. He knows how to work on and learn from each part, so now he can easily plan his practice routine.

A 20-minute practice routine may look something like this:

  • 2-minute: finger exercises and warm up
  • 5-minute: study the music theory in chord progression X and write similar progressions
  • 5-minute: try coming up with similar melodies as song Y
  • 5-minute: write riffs in the style of song Z
  • 3-minute: jam with the riffs and licks used in this practice session

As Jim’s goal is to work on his songwriting, it makes sense for his practice routine to heavily focus on coming up with ideas and learning from other songs.

Jim may very likely have another practice routine where he works on his technical skills in the same way as an athlete going to the gym.

But Jim’s progress as a musician will come from the above practice routine.

Even advanced guitarists don’t need balanced practice routines. Everybody has specific areas that can help them advance. For Jim, it’s songwriting and creativity (something that is hard to practice).

Practice Routine Key Point To Remember

If you have read this guide thoroughly, it should be clear how the steps covered above can help you figure out what you should be working on at any level of skill.

Explaining how to properly plan a practice routine is difficult because it’s not an easy answer.

When you see a 5-minute video on YouTube telling you how to plan your practice routine, it’s going to be incomplete advice at best and misleading advice at worst.

Every guitarist has different goals, so every guitarist needs a different practice routine. If you use the steps properly, you’ll be able to plan an effective practice routine.

If you want to get the most out of your practice, check out this guide for 5 things to do every time you practice guitar.

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