“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Vince Lombardi said it, but it’s especially relevant for musicians who are learning how to practice guitar. We’ve heard this sound advice time and time again from our educators; practice the wrong thing, or practice the wrong way, and you’ll learn how to play it “perfectly” wrong. So, what exactly do we practice, and how specifically should we practice it?
The “what” is fairly easy to answer. TrueFire’s massive library of online guitar lessons features over 1,000 courses and 50,000+ video lessons, across all styles and techniques, and all levels of play from beginner to advanced.
The following 25 Principles of Perfect Practice should help answer the critical “how to practice guitar” question. We’ve tapped several of our top educators and other experts on the subject to help compile this valuable list. You don’t have to follow them all — cherry-pick the ones that work best for you!
p.s. If you dig this guide, you can download a PDF version for free! You might also like Jeff Scheetz’s Smart Practice for Guitar.
How to Practice Guitar
1. Set Up Your Practice Space
If you don’t already have a physical space established where you will sit down and practice guitar, now is the time to set it up. Whether it’s a spare room, a desk that does double-duty for daytime work, a corner in the living room, or up in the attic — set up your practice shed! The first step in establishing the perfect “head space” for practicing guitar!
2. Keep a Practice Journal
Before you even pick up the guitar, grab a pad and a pen and write down the date and time, followed by your practice goals for that session. You’ll be amazed at how this little discipline will help you stay focused and achieve your goals. It’s also a great way to reference what you’ve been working on in previous sessions. You’ll find your practice journal indispensable in just a few weeks! By the way, we have an online practice journal for guitarists, which you can use for free.
3. Use a Calendar
Schedule your practice session just like you would any of your other activities. Earmark specific hours on your calendar for practicing guitar. Set reminders on your phone or do whatever it takes to stick to a regular regimen. Other activities will inevitably encroach on your scheduled practice time, so just reschedule to another day. Don’t get thrown off your practice session goals!
4. Follow a Learning Path
Many students prefer to work with a prescribed regime or learning path, which has been prepared by a qualified educator and designed to focus on the skills you need to develop. That’s one sure-fire way to take your chops to the next level. Don’t have a regimen to follow? Check out our Learning Paths for Blues, Rock, Jazz, Country, and Acoustic!
5. Prioritize Your Practice Activities
Assign practice session activities according to your priorities. For example, if you’ve decided that explore the blues guitar is a priority, pre-determine and prioritize how much of your time will be dedicated to studying the blues. Plot your hours accordingly on your calendar and in your journal. Do not start a new priority, before achieving the current one!
6. Don’t Take On Too Much
Don’t try to do it all at once. You may be interested in soloing, songwriting, recording, expanding repertoire, rhythm playing, ensemble playing, and so on. Decide on just two or three core interests and give them all of your attention for a reasonable period of time. Bouncing around too much, or spending too much time ‘goofing” around will not get you where you want to be!
7. Track Your Progress
There’s nothing sweeter, or more motivating, than seeing a long list of practice session objectives you’ve nailed and checked off your list. So keep a list in your practice journal and do just that! If you’re working with TrueFire courses, there is a progress tracking tool built into each lesson to help you notate lessons in progress or completed. You might also consider adding all of your complete lessons to a ‘completed’ playlist and watch it grow!
8. Create Playlists
By your very nature as a passionate and curious guitar player, you’re going to come across lessons that might not fit what you’re working on currently but a topic you’re very interested in. Create a playlist and stick that lesson in there for the future. You can also use playlists to organize all of your rhythm guitar lessons, soloing guitar lessons, etc. Yes, we have that tool too!
9. Stay Committed
You’ll find that many of our courses are planned very deliberately to bring you from Point A to Point B. Instead of throwing a mix of disconnected material at you, these courses have a full learning arc. Follow these courses from beginning to end. Make that commitment and it will pay off in spades!
10. Take It Slow & Loop, Loop, Loop
With our slo-mo feature, you can slow down any part of a guitar lesson to the tempo of your choosing, without altering the pitch. Increase the tempo incrementally, but not until you can nail a part perfectly at the slower tempo. There’s also a looping tool so that you can set start and stop points around a specific phrase or series of measures. These are your secret weapons!
11. Use a Tuner & Metronome
Whether you’re working with a TrueFire guitar lesson or anything else that has made its way to your music stand, you should always start by tuning your guitar and work with a metronome. Practicing to a steady beat is a must for developing good timing. Good timing will take you very far as a musician!
12. Play Over Jam Tracks
More fun than a metronome, but just as effective for developing good timing is to practice over a jam track. Pick any of the free jam tracks that we have in our library. We have all styles, tempos, and keys. Working with jam tracks also gives you a real-world context for playing with other musicians so that you can also work on ‘locking in’ with the rhythm section.
13. Get In The Game
Don’t get trapped in the vacuum of working alone in front of your screen. Music is a language — use it! Anything and everything you learn MUST be applied in a live musical context as soon as possible. First, get your chops together using jam tracks, then run — don’t walk — to your local jam and get up on the stage! Sure, it will be a little nerve-racking but the rewards are priceless!
14. Know Thyself
If you’re taking music seriously then you probably have a vision for who you want to be as a guitar player. Use your practice time to get that vision into focus. As the revered instructor and author Douglas Baldwin told us, “Learn to pursue what YOU need to practice, not just what you THINK you should practice.”
15. Build Your Lick Vocabulary
Licks are like words and phrases in sentences. The bigger your vocabulary of licks, the more you can express yourself. All of the greats have their own vocabulary of licks and phrases — so should you! Once you have command of a new lick; twist it, turn it, and make it your own. That’s what the greats do and so should you. Check out our Licks You MUST Know series!
16. Work On Your Rhythm Chops
One of the biggest mysteries is why guitar players spend 90% of their time working on their soloing chops when they actually wind up playing rhythm 90% of the time. Here’s a fact you should know — a player with stronger rhythm chops will always win the gig away from the player with stronger soloing chops. Don’t let that happen to you!
17. Hit the Guitar Gym
Developing solid guitar techniques is directly subject to the quality and intensity of your practice regimens. Integrate various technique workouts into your practice sessions. Work on your picking, legato, hammers, pull-offs, and all of the other right or left-hand techniques that are characteristic in your preferred style. Pump it up with our Guitar Gym series!
Repetition is the key to burning concepts into your mind and increasing the “muscle memory” in your fingers. For material that seems daunting at first, start slow and build the tempo. Repeat until you can play the material in your sleep. And then repeat again!
19. Explore a Different Style
Rock, jazz, funk, blues, and country are just a few styles that influence and compliment each other. You will become a better, more versatile player when you start mixing in other influences. You might just learn a new bag of tricks. And your audience’s ears will thank you for it!
20. Listen and Observe
One critical aspect of musicianship is one of the hardest things to do — listening. Listening and observing what the other payers are doing is crucial! Your playing isn’t worth squat unless it makes harmonic and rhythmic sense within the musical setting. You also can learn a great deal from other players in the band. How the piano player phrases a line, where the drummer increases the dynamics, or where the bass player drops the beat. Listen!
21. Bust Out of Your Rut
Spend at least five minutes every single practice session playing something you’ve never played before. How long can you go before you fall into your well-worn licks, tricks, and grooves? Try something new and you stand to add something new to your bag. This is a trade secret of many of the greatest jazz players in history. Worked for them, might work for you too!
22. Record Yourself
Find an easy way to record yourself performing the material you’re working on. Listen back to it and be truly objective. Rushing some of the lines? Pushing or dragging the tempo? Is a segment of the piece giving you trouble? You’ll hear all kinds of things that are not apparent while you’re actually playing the material. You might also be quite impressed with yourself! Start with our FREE download of Intro to Home Recording for Guitarists!
23. Attempt Something Difficult
Every so often, try reaching over your own head. Test yourself with something that strikes you as impossibly difficult. Sure, you’ll find it humbling. But soon you’ll realize that it’s not as unapproachable as you think once you break it down into bite-size segments, slow it down, and work it up to speed. Reach for the sky!
24. Be Social
You’d be amazed at just how much you’ll learn by interacting with other students. Guitar players love to talk to other guitar players, and they all have something insightful to say. Chime in on our social media channels, or jump in our Discord Server, which is essentially a guitar forum. Read Riff Journal, our digital magazine, for even more insight and lessons from a wide variety of sources. Mingle!
25. Find Your Mentor
Every player needs a mentor, someone to tell them what they’re doing right or wrong. Find a teacher that you can consult with when and as needed. You don’t have to take weekly or even regular lessons. What’s important is having an instructor that you feel you can connect with, and feel confident in their ability to guide your progress. Check out our Private Lesson educators if you don’t already have someone you’re working with.
Ready to put these 25 tips for learning how to practice guitar to work? Create a TrueFire account now and start your 14-day All Access trial for free!