20 Guitar Practice Hacks

If you want to learn the guitar and reach an advanced and/or a professional level of playing, it is good to know that you’re in for a long term game.

A short cut that does away with a lot of guitar practice, and for a long period of time, simply does not exist.

That said, if done right practicing the guitar is by no means “hard work”. 

Neither is it something that will only start giving you results after years of practice.

Rather, it’s an exciting journey that gives you numerous benefits along the way.

My first two years of learning the guitar were a struggle and very frustrating.

The reason was that I had a horrible teacher who was teaching me things in the wrong way and in the wrong order.

I only realized this when I changed this teacher with someone who could actually teach. 

After the first lesson with this new teacher, I remember thinking: “The process of learning the guitar is going to be easy and enjoyable from now on”

From that moment on up to the present day 24 years later, practicing the guitar has become an activity I look forward to every day.

The aim of these guitar practice hacks is not to give you short cuts that do away with practicing.

You need to put in the hours, there’s no alternative to that.

The goal of these hacks is to make those hours really count, as well as make the learning process an enjoyable experience that gives you results every time you practice.

1. All your guitar practice time should be focused

focused guitar practice

I used to look at guitar players like Steve Vai and think “How is it possible that someone acquires all those skills in a lifetime, even if he spends every minute of his life practicing?”

Steve Vai has indeed put in a lot of hours every day for a long period of time.

But what made it “possible” to reach his unbelievable level of guitar playing was that he didn’t just put in a lot of hours. 

During those hours, all his attention was completely dedicated to deliberate, focused guitar practicing.

The guitar practice hacks you’re going to learn will show you how to get more out of every minute you put in, but none will work if you don’t get this one right.

Playing the guitar and practicing it are not the same thing.
If you’re noodling aimlessly for an hour on the guitar fretboard, you’re not improving.

But with just 5 minutes (or even less) of completely focused guitar practicing, you can make a small, but significant, step towards your goals.

2. Discover which weaknesses are holding your strengths back

guitar strengths

Unless he’s a complete beginner (who has neither strengths nor weaknesses), when I teach a new student, I have one main goal in mind during his first lesson:

To find a weakness that when fixed, everything else will improve.

For instance once I had a student who:

  • Knew the minor pentatonic scale all over the fretboard
  • Had the name of the notes on the fretboard memorized
  • Knew some techniques, like string bending, slides and vibrato
  • Could play pretty fast

But couldn’t play on time.

As a result of that, his improvised solos sounded like a bunch of notes and techniques thrown in together without making any logical sense.

He was very frustrated since he had put in a lot of effort and wasn’t seeing the results.

Thus, rather than give him anything new to learn, the first lessons were completely dedicated to improving his timing.

As a result of that, his improvisation skills skyrocketed in just a few weeks.

Simply because he could now benefit from the skills he already had.

In these guitar exercises, I take you through different areas of guitar playing to help you discover what your limiting weaknesses are.

Pick the one weakness that’s holding your strengths back most and allocate a lot of guitar practicing time towards improving it.

Repeat the process with any other relevant weaknesses you may identify.

3. Sustained motivation is everything

It is easy to feel motivated for an hour, or even for a day.

It’s much harder to feel motivated every day for months and years.

The main difference between advanced guitar players and others who have never reached any significant level of playing is that the latter quit before reaching their desired level of playing due to lack of motivation.

In this lesson, I show you what to do to become motivated to practice the guitar and stay that way for as long as it takes to reach your goals.

If your dreams are big enough, this will take you a whole lifetime.

4. Micro-practice

There are a lot of things you can do in just 2 minutes.

Memorize a scale or a few notes on the guitar fretboard, play a guitar lick you already know and focus on muting unwanted string noise, learn a bar from the new song you’re learning, train your right hand picking, so on and so forth.

Adding micro-practice sessions to your regular practicing shedule, gives your progress a boost.

The aggregate of those little practice sessions will result in a huge improvement over time.

I cannot emphasize enough that in order to benefit from these micro-practice sessions you need to focus all your attention towards reaching the small goal you set for those 2-5 minutes.

5: Learn everything in depth

It is better to learn one guitar lick in depth than ten superficially.

Let’s say you’re learning a short lick from BB King.

Does it sound like BB King, or does it sound like a mediocre version of him?

I don’t mean getting a different sound because you have different gear or amp settings.

Rather, your string-bends are inaccurate, you’re not on time, you’re not accenting the same notes he does, your vibrato is weak or there’s unwanted noise coming from the strings you’re not playing.

Why is this a guitar practice hack?

Because when you’ve fixed all these inefficiencies in one (or a few) licks, all the other licks you play will start sounding right with more ease.

If you, say, learn how to mute unwanted strings from buzzing, you will easily apply this to anything else you do which will in turn, sound better.

On the other hand, if you learn a 100 guitar licks without fixing that problem, anyone listening to all 100 of them will notice there are one or more things that don’t sound right.

6: Set goals and schedule your practice

It’s much harder to achieve your goals if you’re not specific on what they are.

If you practice things randomly, rather than in line with your short, mid and long term goals, progress will be slow.

The guitar practice generator is a very useful tool which will show you exactly what you need to practice right now in order to reach your musical goals.

7: Learn as much music theory as you need and apply it

When I started out, I used to study a lot of music theory since I wanted to become a complete musician, rather than just a guitar player.

Though I learned a lot, and I’m grateful for that, it would have been much better if:

a) I learned less music theory that wasn’t related to guitar playing (like figured bass, learning to read notes on the Tenor clef or the instruments of the orchestra).

b) I actually applied what I was learning from music books to the guitar.

In this lesson I show you how to take a music theory concept and apply it to guitar playing.

The moment you start applying every music theory concept you learn to the guitar, music theory will magically become fun!

As well as much more useful.

8: Use the metronome strategically

Would you imagine a carpenter who never, ever, uses a hammer? 

Or, on the other hand, a carpenter who uses a hammer all the time, in everything he does?

You would imagine neither, right?

The hammer is a useful tool a carpenter cannot do without. But no carpenter spends all his time with a hammer in his hand either. There are many other things he needs to do that don’t require the aid of a hammer.

Yet, many guitarists have this all or nothing approach towards the most important guitar practicing tool, the metronome.

Some never use a metronome at all – and develop a bad sense of timing, while others use it all the time – to the point that it makes things much harder to learn.

When you’re learning something new, don’t use a metronome.

You need to concentrate on hitting the right notes, using the right techniques and playing them at more or less the right time.

Only when you get these right you should switch on your metronome – and check if your timing is right.

Note: If you’re learning a fast solo, you don’t need to reach the speed of the actual song, or even get close to it, to start using the metronome.

For instance when I learn the fast parts from solos played by shredders like Randy Rhoads, first I get them right with the metronome at half speed or even less.

Once I can play it perfectly at half the speed with a metronome, it will be much easier to take it up to the original speed. (Ok it’s not that easy if we’re talking about a Randy Rhoads shred, but I think you get the point).

9: Invest more in education than gear

Once I was in a band and we needed some quick cash to pay the garage rent and record a song.

We were all hard up in money so we considered selling some gear we weren’t using.

Nearly all my bandmates found something to sell, but the only gear I had were the two guitars, the one amp and the one guitar pedal that I was using at the time.

What I did have instead was hundreds of guitar books, DVD’s and magazines.

There wasn’t much money to be made from selling second hand books, and anyway, I didn’t want to part with my books.

I did wish I had some gear to sell but at that point I also noticed something that made me feel good.

All my life I had been investing in educating myself and unlike acquiring gear, that’s something that stays with you forever.

Don’t get me wrong. If there’s an effects pedal and you think buying it will make your practice more enjoyable, go ahead and buy it if you can afford it.

Just keep in mind that high quality education will take you much further than all the gear in the world.

Also, you should never buy useless gadgets like finger muscle builders or portable guitar necks.

There are other ways you can practice the guitar when you don’t have a guitar on you, as we’ll see in a guitar practicing hack later on.

10: Study with a guitar virtuoso

Guitar virtuosos are guitarists who have the ability to express themselves in any way they want without any limitations as to what techniques they use, musical concepts they apply, or how fast they play.

Many students imagine people with such a level of skill to be all rich and famous Rock Stars and out of touch with us common people.

Truth is that many guitar virtuosos are not only reachable to us common folks, but also teach.

This is partially because they may not be as rich through selling records and performing as many people imagine, and thus need to augment their income from teaching.

I don’t think that’s the main reason why many guitar vitruosos teach though.

They do it because they love teaching.

They’re passing the torch to the next generation and building a legacy.

They get a thrill from watching their own students grow musically, perform and sell their own records.

If you’re lucky enough you may find a guitar vitrtuoso who teaches in your area (or even further away, one of my former teachers used to travel from my country Malta to Italy once a month to study with the guitar virtuoso who could give him exactly what he needed).

If that’s not possible, you can also find one who teaches on the Internet. I have personally studied with guitar virtuoso Tom Hess and my progress on the guitar as well as my music career, started moving way faster since I did.

Some words of caution before choosing the option of studying with a virtuoso:

  1. If you’re a beginner, consider this option later on. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a virtuoso who teaches beginners.

Also, you don’t really need a guitar virtuoso to teach you at this level.

It’s more important that your teacher is good at teaching, rather than being a highly advanced guitar player or a virtuoso.

  1. Only do this if you’re ambitious.

As explained above, guitar virtuosos don’t just teach for the money. 

They want to work with enthusiastic and ambitious students, rather than waste time with unmotivated students simply because they’re getting paid.

  1. They’re not cheap

Are you willing to pay a bit more to get a much better result?

I personally am. At least when it comes to reaching my main goal in my life, that of becoming a successful musician.

Some people see it differently.

Just be prepared that learning with a virtuoso may be a little more expensive than learning from the guy next door who just strums a few chords.

That said, thanks to technology guitar virtuosos can use teaching methods that don’t require them to be present with you all of the time, thus making the expense much more manageable.

11. Take reasonable challenges

Some guitar players never move out of their comfort zone – they just practice what they can already play. 

They learn a lot of different songs that use the same musical concepts and techniques they already know.

Others – and I used to fall in this category – always want to learn new things and take big challenges.

In both cases, progress is slower than that of someone who:

a) Learns new things that are just a little above his present level of playing abilities.

b) Applies what the new things he learns to what he already knows.

For instance if your legato technique is still weak, you shouldn’t be trying to learn sweep picking anytime soon. 

Rather play things you already know such as exercises, riffs, scales and arpeggios, and use as many hammer ons and pull offs as possible.

12. Practice without a guitar

In guitar practicing hack 9 I told you not to spend money on useless gadgets like guitar finger builders or pocket guitars.

One reason this stuff is bought is that students want to practice the guitar even when the guitar is not at hand.

The good news is that you can still do this, and in a much more effective way than making push ups with your fingers.

There are two ways you can do this:

a) Learn and understand music theory concepts from books or the Internet, and then apply them to your instrument when you have a guitar available.
b) Practice the guitar in your head. In this lesson, I give you a step by step process to show you how to do this.

13. Start improvising early on

Improvising, that is, creating music on the spot, can seem intimidating at first.

The art of improvisation can be taken to very high levels if the music has a lot of chord, key or rhythmic changes.

However you can start improvising now using just the minor pentatonic scale and the most commonly used guitar techniques such as string bending, legato and vibrato.

In this lesson I show you how to start improvising using only these basic elements.

14. Silence is music

When I was starting out in guitar improvisation I used to throw in as many notes, and use as many techniques, as possible.

To me it (kind of) made sense, but to anyone listening, it sounded like someone speaking without ever stopping to take a breath.

That’s uninteresting and tiring to hear even if one is reading the best prose.

The same applies when you’re improvising music on the guitar.

Rather than focusing on what notes to play, focus on what melodic phrases you’re going to create.

And keep in mind that in the same way a speaker takes a small time to breathe between a sentence and another, the same applies to playing music.

15. Use directional picking

Alternate picking is fine if you’re playing:

a) A slow piece of music

b) Notes on the same string.

If you’re trying to play fast, and the notes you’re playing don’t find themselves on the same string (as happens in most cases), directional picking is much more efficient.

In this lesson I give you guitar picking exercises to practice as well as explain how directional picking works.

16. Learn 3 note per string scale patterns

Many students use the CAGED system to learn scales.

While you definitely do end up learning scales using CAGED, 3 note per string patterns are easier to learn and use.

The reason for this is that you play the same amount of notes on each string.

The only disadvantage 3 note per string scale patterns have is that you would at times need to stretch your fingers a little.

Which is not really a disadvantage since it’s good to learn to stretch your fingers on the guitar anyway!

Note: This does not apply to pentatonic scales, which are played using 2 note per string patterns.

17. Frequent other musicians

musicians

During my guitar learning process I have spent four years attending the Malta School of Music, the biggest music school in my country at the time.

It was free, the teachers were good and I’ve learned a lot during those four years.

But the biggest benefit I got from attending that school was that I was surrounded by music students and teachers all the time.

Being around so many like minded musicians skyrocketed my level of motivation. In fact I was practicing a real lot during this period because I felt like a musician, and wanted to become a good one at that.

Another benefit was that I learned a lot from other students, especially those who played a different instrument than mine.

Frequenting musicians is even more beneficial if you want to play in a band or build a career in music.

Whether it’s a Rock club, open mic shows or a music school, if you don’t have friends who are musicians, or studying music, go where the musicians go and you’ll start achieving your musical goals much faster.

18. Write songs

Songwriting and playing the guitar are two different skills that cross each other’s path a lot.

Some guitar players have a high level of technique but cannot write a song.

The reason is that they spent all their time practicing the guitar, but never trained themselves to write songs.

If you’re a guitar player, there’s no reason on earth why you shouldn’t become a songwriter too.

And no, you don’t need to know how to sing.

In this lesson I take you through a step by step process to writing your first song on the guitar, even if you can only play a few chords.

I would also like to add a little piece of advice a guitar teacher had given me a long time ago:

To best way to learn a new chord is to write a song with it

19. If you’re intermediate plus, teach

I started learning the guitar because I wanted to become a Rockstar, and fell in love with teaching it along the way.

Teaching the guitar has a lot of benefits, which include:

  • You see guitar playing from a different perspective. You will start noticing small inefficiencies in your own practicing or playing, the same ones your students are doing, even if to lower extents.

    This will in turn improve your own progress.

  • It’s fun if you take it as a passion, rather than just some extra income.
  • You can actually make good money from teaching, money that you can invest on other areas of a music career (such as recording an album, or touring)
  • My favorite – Some of your students will become good musicians and go places. 

For instance right now I’m teaching a 10 year old kid who has been learning the guitar for just a couple of months. 

Every week he comes up with a guitar riff and a guitar lick of his own. 

I see his riffs improving literally every time we meet.

I know for a fact that if this kid keeps going at this for a couple of years, I’m going to be his biggest fan when I see him performg to cheering audiences.

Do you think that giving lessons to  kids (and adults) like him feels like work, even though I’m getting paid for it?

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than doing what you love doing and seeing results!

  • You can practice more. If a student comes late or a lesson is cancelled what’s the most obvious thing to do if you have a guitar in your hand?

While you should never teach the guitar if you’re a beginner yourself, if you’re an intermediate student you can always teach the guitar to beginners.

Just make sure you never get greedy and try to teach students things you’re not yet confident in.

For instance if your string bending is not yet accurate, there’s nothing wrong in teaching beginners how to play open chords.

But if your student wants to improvise and use guitar techniques you aren’t yet fluent enough in, refer him to a teacher who can give him what he needs.

  1. Develop an ideal guitar practicing mindset.

Learning the guitar is not hard work, but it can be if your mindset is not in the right place.

Your mindset affects the quality of your guitar practicing, the quantity, as well as how much you enjoy the process.

In the book 5 Steps To An Ideal Guitar Practicing Mindset I have analyzed thousands of hours of my own guitar practicing and identified where I was improving fast, and what caused that fast progress.

Which I then condensed into a step by step formula on how to develop a guitar practicing mindset that leads to quicker results and a more beautiful experience.

Conclusion: Implement one guitar practice hack right now!

Each one of these guitar practice hacks is aimed at giving your progress a boost and getting fast results.

If you try to implement them all at once though, there’s a risk you’ll only do so superficially and not gain the intended results.

Thus I suggest you take just one of these guitar practice hacks and implement it into your playing the next time you go to practice, preferably right now.

I would also suggest that you start with the first hack. Focused practicing is literally a game changer.

From then on though, you don’t necessarily need to implement these hacks in any particular order.

Choose what applies to your particular situation right now, and take your guitar playing to the next level!


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