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Practice Approaches

When I think of all the talent that I’ve developed in music, I can break it down to being the result of a few aspects of my practice:

  • Consistency: Whenever I’ve practiced regularly on a specific set of skills, whether it’s only a couple times a week or more, that skill progresses.
  • Focus: Not every practice session is the most focused for me, but when I can bring that extra level of alertness, it really pays off.
  • Intensity Of Effort: Whenever I’ve taken the time to carefully work at a more challenging skill, it’s made the easier skills that much easier.
  • Volume: People who play a lot of music unavoidably get better than those that don’t.
  • Balance: I often will only practice 10 minutes at a time, then go and get a drink or something else before I play some more. Sometimes I even practice while watching TV. Talk to any really accomplished musician. We’ve all had a ton of those kind of days. A less focused practice is more like play, and in English we like to “play music” not “work music.” So a simply fun practice session can be really good for you. 

Sample Practice Approaches

Below is a series of suggestions for weekly practice approaches. These suggestions range from lower volume to higher volume solutions, and from approaches that are more focused on general skills development to approaches that are more focused on building your repertoire/song list. These are basic principles and may be adapted to your current set of goals. Explore and consider them. If you are having a hard time enjoying high volume practice, it’s ok to switch to low volume for a few weeks. If you feel the need to progress more, switch to a higher volume approach. We’ll begin with the low volume recommendations. The higher volume suggestions can be found more towards the bottom.

Super Low Volume Practice Programs

Standard 10 Minutes A Day (about 30 minutes per week)

Pick 2 to 4 days a week and just play whatever you can think of for about 10 minutes. If you are still in your first few years of guitar, you’ll probably improve just by increasing your basic familiarity with your instrument.

Standard 1 Day A Week (about 30 minutes per week)

For those who only have 1 day a week with significant down time.

Slow warm up: Take your time. Play some simple scales, exercises, or just a song that’s fairly easy for you.

Song play-through: Play through your new song or piece 1 to 3 times (or even more if you have the time.)

Polishing: Find the challenging spots, and give them a little extra focus in isolation, in other words just those parts, not the whole song.

Review: If you have time, play the whole song again.

3 Low Volume Suggestions For Weekly Practice Approach

Repertoire Focus With Some Sight Reading & Technique (50 minutes total per week)

Day 1: Practice technical exercises relevant to your repertoire, right hand patterns, left hand patterns, etc. (about 10 minutes)

Day 2: Practice ironing out details on difficult or new sections in your repertoire (about 15 minutes)

Day 3: Practice sight reading at a level just below your peak capabilities just to keep that skill sharp (about 10 minutes), OR preview upcoming sections of your current repertoire to see how much more you can figure out (about 10 minutes)

Day 4: Practice the big picture, play your repertoire piece from beginning to end or at least as far as you can go (about 15 minutes)

If you want to develop technique more, dedicate day 3 to technique along with day 1. If you want to develop sight reading more, dedicate day 1 to sight reading along with day 3.

Technique Focus With Repertoire Review & Exploration (50 minutes total per week)

Day 1: Practice your latest technique developers, scales, etc. focusing on control (about 15 minutes)

Day 2: Play through some old repertoire from your binder (about 10 minutes)

Day 3: Practice your latest technique developers, focusing on speed or endurance (about 15 minutes)

Day 4: Start looking up the chords or videos to a new song that you want to learn, or just exploring music to ask your teacher about in your next lesson (about 10 minutes)

Repertoire Focus (50 minutes total per week)

Day 1: Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 10 minutes)

Day 2: Play the whole song or as much as you can (about 15 minutes)

Day 3: Again, don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Keep working on the hard parts. (about 10 minutes)

Day 4: Play any parts of the song that you want to play, include some stage presence or bowing practice (about 15 minutes)

3 Medium Volume Suggestions For Weekly Practice Approach

Repertoire Focus With Some Sight Reading & Technique (2 hours total per week)

Day 1: 

  • 10 minutes of technique practice (scales, chords, strum patterns, etc.)
  • 10 minutes of sight reading practice at a slightly easy level just to keep you sharp
  • 10 minutes of repertoire/song practice

Day 2:

  • 10 minutes of trying to learn new sections in your repertoire/song
  • 10 minutes of trying to polish the toughest parts that you’ve learned so far in your current repertoire/song
  • 10 minutes of just playing as much of your repertoire as you can

Day 3: 

  • 10 minutes of technique practice (scales, chords, strum patterns, etc.)
  • 10 minutes of sight reading practice at a slightly easy level just to keep you sharp
  • 10 minutes of repertoire/song practice

Day 4: Use your best judgement and work on your current repertoire/song in whatever way makes the most sense to you (30 minutes)

Technique Focus With Repertoire Review & Exploration (2 hours total per week)

Day 1: 

  • Practice your latest technique developers, scales, etc. focusing on control (about 10 minutes)
  • Practice your latest technique developers, focusing on speed or endurance (about 10 minutes)
  • Play through some old repertoire from your binder (about 10 minutes)

Day 2: 

  • Practice your latest technique developers, scales, etc. focusing on control (about 10 minutes)
  • Practice your latest technique developers, focusing on speed or endurance (about 10 minutes)
  • Start looking up the chords or videos to a new song that you want to learn, or just exploring music to ask your teacher about in your next lesson (about 10 minutes)

Day 3: 

  • Practice your latest technique developer using your own best judgement about prioritizing speed or control (about 10 minutes)
  • Find some old repertoire that used to be tough for you and see how much of it you can still play (about 10 minutes)
  • Continue exploring new possible repertoire by either looking up chords, videos, or just listening and imagining which songs would be most fun for you (about 10 minutes)

Day 4: Use your best judgement and work on your current technical exercises or song list in whatever way makes the most sense to you (30 minutes)

Repertoire Focus (2 hours total per week)

Day 1: 

  • Pick a technical exercise that you think will help you on your repertoire and play it (about 10 minutes)
  • Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 10 minutes)
  • Play the whole song or as much as you can no faster than you can go smoothly (about 10 minutes)

Day 2: 

  • Practice sight reading at a level that isn’t too easy or difficult for you just to keep sharp (about 10 minutes)
  • Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 10 minutes)
  • Play the whole song or as much as you can attempting full speed or close to it, paying attention to difficult passages, include stage presence or bowing practice (about 10 minutes)

Day 3: 

  • Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 10 minutes)
  • Play the whole song or as much as you can attempting full speed or close to it, paying attention to difficult passages (about 10 minutes)
  • Use speed bursts or analysis of technique to practice difficult transitions or passages in your repertoire (about 10 minutes)

Day 4: 

  • Play any parts of the song that you want to play. (about 10 minutes)
  • Think about ways to make different parts of the song sound more expressive or fun (about 10 minutes)
  • Have fun! Do whatever you feel like. Review old songs, exercises, etc. (about 10 minutes)

3 High Volume Suggestions For Weekly Practice Approach

Full Musicianship: Technique, Theory, & Sight Reading (4 hours total per week)

Pick at least 2 aspects of your technique to work on and at least 2 exercises for each aspect of your technique that you are developing. Pick at least 2 aspects of your theory to develop and 2 exercises (may be a written exercise or app) per aspect. 

Days 1 & 3:

  • Technique aspect 1, exercise 1 (about 10 minutes)
  • Technique aspect 1, exercise 2 (about 10 minutes)
  • Theory aspect 1, exercise 1 (about 10 minutes)
  • Theory aspect 1, exercise 2 (about 10 minutes)
  • Get out old repertoire and look at the sheet music while you play it, even if you already have it memorized. (about 10 minutes)
  • Get out some repertoire that you’ve never really completely learned. It could be completely new or just something that you’ve only explored in the past. (about 10 minutes)

Days 2 & 4:

  • Technique aspect 2, exercise 1 (about 10 minutes)
  • Technique aspect 2, exercise 2 (about 10 minutes)
  • Theory aspect 2, exercise 1 (about 10 minutes)
  • Theory aspect 2, exercise 2 (about 10 minutes)
  • Get out old repertoire and look at the sheet music while you play it, even if you already have it memorized. (about 10 minutes)
  • Get out some repertoire that you’ve never really completely learned. It could be completely new or just something that you’ve only explored in the past. (about 10 minutes)

Full Musicianship: Repertoire Exploration (4 hours total per week)

Day 1:

  • Do a quick technique or theory warm up. (about 10 minutes)
  • Listen to a few songs and consider which songs are most interesting to you. Make a list of about 4-10 songs. You’ll review and revise this list each week. (about 15 minutes)
  • Try playing some parts of some of the songs. Consider which ones feel the most reasonable and the most fun for you. You’ll share your insights with your teacher in your weekly lesson. (about 15 minutes)
  • Pick a song or two that seem reasonable and fun. Be proactive. See what you can look up and learn or figure out for yourself. You’ll review this with your teacher. (about 20 minutes)

Day 2:

  • Do a quick technique or theory warm up. (about 10 minutes)
  • Review what you practiced in your previous practice session. Often your brain will adapt overnight and you’ll find the second day easier. (about 20 minutes)
  • Review repertoire from several months back and consider what you could have done better. Test yourself and see if you can still play it. You may find improvement just by way of being a more experienced player. (about 15 minutes)
  • Start imagining which sections of your new repertoire have unique challenges that you will need to turn into technique drills as you go. See what you can work out for yourself, and discuss it with your teacher every week. (about 15 minutes)

Day 3:

  • Begin thinking about which technique and theory drills you’ve practiced in the past. Make a list of which drills are most relevant to your current repertoire. (about 10 minutes)
  • Pick a drill or two and begin practicing it seriously as a warm up. (15 minutes)
  • Continue reviewing your new repertoire sections that you’ve been teaching yourself. (about 20 minutes)
  • Continue reviewing old repertoire that never really made it, but might be reasonable at your current stage of development. (about 15 minutes)

Day 4:

  • Just have fun and play whatever seems productive or interesting to you. It could be new repertoire, exercises, old repertoire, etc. (about 1 hour)

Full Musicianship: Dialing In New Repertoire Focus (4 hours total per week)

Day 1: 

  • Pick a technical exercise that you think will help you on your repertoire and play it (about 10 minutes)
  • Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 20 minutes)
  • Play the whole song or as much as you can no faster than you can go smoothly (about 20 minutes)
  • Have fun! Review your old repertoire, play your favorite technical exercises, or play your favorite parts of your current repertoire (about 10 minutes)

Day 2: 

  • Practice sight reading at a level that isn’t too easy or difficult for you just to keep sharp (about 10 minutes)
  • Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 10 minutes)
  • Play the whole song or as much as you can attempting full speed or close to it, paying attention to difficult passages (about 10 minutes)
  • Use speed bursts or analysis of technique to practice difficult transitions or passages in your repertoire (about 20 minutes)
  • Replay the whole song (about 10 minutes)

Day 3: 

  • Pick a technical exercise that you think will help you on your repertoire and play it (about 10 minutes)
  • Don’t let yourself play the easy parts of your repertoire. Find the hard parts and work on those only. (about 10 minutes)
  • Listen to someone else that you respect playing the song and think about what makes it sound good (about 5 minutes)
  • Play the song for yourself while listening to how you sound. Make it sound the best that you can. Are you hitting too many strings? Could you use more vibrato? Tighten things up. (about 15 minutes)
  • Have fun! Review your old repertoire, play your favorite technical exercises, or play your favorite parts of your current repertoire (about 20 minutes)

Day 4: 

  • Play your new/current repertoire using your best judgement for the day as to what approach would be best (about 30 minutes).
  • Have fun! Review your old repertoire, play your favorite technical exercises, or play your favorite parts of your current repertoire (about 30 minutes)

Composer Program

Use this kind of approach for a couple weeks here and there. This will help get a few projects going. Once you have a few projects going, you should focus on completion of your favorite 2 or 3.

Day1: 

  • Practice the scales and chords in 2 or 3 keys. (about 10 minutes)
  • Pick a key and attempt to improvise something interesting in it using either the scales or chords, or a combination of both (about 10-30 minutes)
  • Just play some music and have fun with it.

Day 2

  • Practice 2 or 3 rhythm exercises. (about 10 minutes)
  • Pick a rhythmic concept and improvise with it (10-20 minutes)
  • Write down or record anything that you come up with (about 10 minutes)
  • Play some music and have fun with it.

Day 3

  • Pick 2 or 3 different texture styles to explore and practice (about 10 minutes)
  • Pick a texture style and improvise with it (10-20 minutes)
  • Write down or record anything that you come up with (about 10 minutes)
  • Play some music and have fun with it.

Day 4

  • Pick 2 or 3 songs to analyze form wise, texture wise, etc.
  • Start improvising ways of arranging multiple parts to create a whole song. 
  • Write down or record anything that you come up with (about 10 minutes)
  • Play some music and have fun with it.

Rock Band or Ensemble Program

Maintenance Program

Virtuoso/Shredder