Effective Practice Routines

Let’s talk a bit about practicing. I know there is a lot that can be said, so I’m going to try and make this concise.

Many students and professionals are trapped in the routine of blankly playing through what they’re trying to learn, with no success.  The “zombie” approach (as I like to call it), fails at doing anything except making you feel terrible about your playing.  Mindless practice is not fun or engaging, wastes time,  reinforces bad habits (since you’re not paying attention), and makes you feel discouraged about you’re progress.

So now what?

If you want to succeed at practicing, you need to be fully aware and deliberate in your approach.  Now, I do make an exception to the “mindless” sort of “auto-pilot” approach when dealing with muscle training.  As a guitarist, I know there are a lot of finger exercises and patterns that can be effectively practice on auto-pilot. Mainly exercises that are designed to reinforce muscle memory such as, speed drills, fingering exercises, patterns, etc. Aside from that, there are a number of steps to consider when trying to get the most from your routine..

  1. Focus – for practice to be effective, you can’t be distracted.  You need to devote your full awareness to the task at hand.  Make sure when you’re practicing, that you only do it for as long as you can stay focused.  I’d say anywhere from 10min up to 50min at a time.  I know some practice for longer, but I never practice more than 50min without taking a break to stretch and give my hands a rest.
  1. Timing – everyone has points throughout the day or night, where they’re most productive.  Practicing during these peak periods of production and creativity (if you can arrange it), will ensure you’re getting the most out of your time.
  1. Organization – don’t rely on memory to keep track of your progress. Use a planner and keep a daily record of your goals and your own objective view of your practice session.  It’s much easier to practice when you can see what needs to be done, to reach a specific target.


Goal – Play 1st two solos of “sweet child of mine” in sync with music

Method: 1) Warm up with pentatonic shape used for solo (asc/desc and sequences). 2) Review each phrase with metronome. 3) Practice entire solo with music

Example Observations – I’m not properly articulating all the bends ie. Pre bend, bend release, gradual bend etc. Also, my pitch during the bends isn’t precise

  1. Analysis – You need to be a good at problem solving your progress.  When you’re challenged or stuck repeating something without any progress, you may need to switch gears.
  • Identify what the challenge is
  • Identify why you’re encountering the challenge
  • Think of some solutions
  • Implement the best option
  • Re-evaluate your progress and repeat if necessary

Keep in mind, that this process is more for experienced players, who are at the point where they are build repertoire consistently.  If you’re beginner or younger student, this approach would need some tweaking.  We’ll explore how to do that in another post though.  Happy Practicing!