A guitar practice routine should differ from one student to another based on a variety of factors such as goals, time spent practicing, musical level, ability to concentrate, and many other variables.
That said, while the more a student advances, the more specific his guitar practice routine needs to become, guitar practice routines for beginners on the electric guitar are quite similar.
Thus, what I will give you will be a sample guitar practice routine for a typical beginner who practices for 1 hr a day.
Use this sample guitar practice routine for beginners to get ideas on how to form your own ideal practice routine.
The amount of time spent practicing each item in this sample routine is unimportant and is only provided to give you an idea. What matters are the reasons for practicing each item.
The less-than-ideal guitar practice routine
A complete beginner would go home after his first lesson with me, playing a simple tune, most of the time incorrectly.
After a week of practice, he returns for his second lesson, usually able to play the tune correctly, and receives his next tune.
When you just have a tune or two to work on, you don’t need a routine because that’s all you have to practice.
What many beginners do wrong is that they just keep piling up tune (riff, lick, song, etc) over another, usually increasing in the difficulty of the music.
While you should keep learning new songs, the more you progress the more you need to take care of learning skills that when combined, give you the ability to play the guitar.
The worst routine for beginners
The less-than-ideal guitar practice routine for beginners can be more efficient, as we’ll see below, but it can still lead you to your goals.
There is a practice routine that is way less efficient though. One that will make you see your goals as very far away and leads many beginners to quit before they reach them.
This is how I began learning to play the guitar. (Thankfully I realized the problem was the way I was being taught, not with me, so I changed teachers. When I made that change, results came almost instantly).
What I’m referring to is starting to learn the guitar by learning to read standard notation.
That is, learning how to read which note is which from the music staff and finding where it is placed on the guitar fretboard.
Learning how to read music and playing it on the guitar has its place, something I discuss in this article.
But it’s not ideal for beginners.
The most important thing for a beginner in the electric guitar is to start getting his fingers to obey his brain, also known as developing muscle memory.
If you’re learning how to read the notes at the same time, this happens:
- You’re spending precious guitar practice time identifying notes, rather than developing muscle memory.
- You need to focus on finding the right note and playing it correctly at the same time. This makes learning much harder. I’ll show you how to avoid this later on in this lesson.
- Your eyes are glued to the sheet when you should be using them to look at your hands. (The reason you don’t see professional guitarists look at their hands when they play is that they no longer need to. But in order to reach that stage they would look at their hands for various reasons including detecting inefficient technique and correcting it, as well as using the visual aspect to help develop muscle memory).
The alternative to learning how to read standard music notation is guitar tabs. Learning how to read guitar tabs is much easier than learning to read standard music notation. This will allow you to focus on the most important things.
Sample guitar practice routine for beginners
This sample guitar practice routine is for a beginner who has already been playing for a few weeks and can play a few simple tunes and riffs. (If you haven’t reached this stage yet, you don’t need a routine. Just keep working on getting your first easy tunes under your belt. Some easy tunes you can start with include Ode to Joy (Beethoven), the Can-Can, Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), 7 Nation Army (White Stripes), Day Tripper (The Beatles) and Come as You Are (Nirvana).
A week, rather than a day
In this sample guitar practice routine for beginners, we’re assuming the student plays for an hour a day, however, rather than as an hour a day, we’ll be viewing them as 7 hours in a week.
This removes the restriction of thinking on an hourly basis and allows us to include all the important guitar practice items at this stage.
That said, if you’re practicing for any significant amount of time, it’s good to vary what you practice in the same session.
4 hrs: Learning tunes (licks, riffs, songs).
Learning pieces of music should take a chunk of your practice at this point, but this shouldn’t be done mindlessly.
If you’re learning an easy guitar riff, your goal should be more than adding another riff under your belt.
The process of learning the riff will involve:
- Identifying notes from guitar tabs and finding them on the guitar.
- Take a small group of notes/chords from the riff and play them on the guitar. (If the riff is very short, you can do this with the whole riff, but if not, you can take any number of notes from it)
- Memorize these few notes (so that you don’t need to look at the tabs).
- Practice them correctly up to speed. Look at your left hand and your right hand in turns and look out for inefficient techniques you may be using (ex: Pressing notes with the flesh of your left hand fingers, rather than your fingertips, or wide inefficient movements with your picking hand).
- Confirm that you’re playing on time with a metronome.
- Repeat steps 2 – 5 with the next group of a few notes.
- Connect the two groups of notes.
- Keep repeating until the end of the riff (or musical piece).
By the end of this process, you’ll be able to play the riff accurately, but you will also have:
- Practiced how to read guitar tabs fluently.
- Trained your ear
- Developed muscle memory (when you repeat a movement on the guitar, performing that movement will become easy to play, even if it’s on a different place of the guitar, in a different rhythm, or with minor variation. In short, the more movements you practice repetitively, the easier learning new music will become).
- Practiced how to play on time.
An intermediate and advanced guitarist may spend less time learning music and focusing on specific techniques or applied music theory, but at this stage, learning pieces of music should take most of your time.
Make sure you do it the right way and get the most from every piece of music that you learn.
1 hr: Learning chords
Building a chord vocabulary is very important at this point.
How large your chord vocabulary should become will depend on your long-term musical goals (for instance you’ll need a larger chord vocabulary if you specialize in rhythm guitar rather than in lead guitar, or if you play Jazz rather than Rock).
However, the most common chords, namely major, minor, dominant 7th and suspended chords are for everyone to learn.
The first chords you should learn should be open chords, that is, they have one or more strings played open and do not need a barre to be formed. Once you become fluent in open chords you should start learning barre chords.
Barre chords are a bit harder since you need your index finger to form a barre. The good thing about them is that they’re moveable. (For instance, you don’t need to learn a different pattern for G major, A major and B major, you just move the barre to its respective root note).
The process of learning new chords involves two parts:
- Memorizing the chord shape.
- Being able to change from that chord to other chords fluently.
1 hrs: Technique
There are many techniques you can learn to make your electric guitar playing sound good. The most common include vibrato, string bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and slides.
Which techniques should you learn?
If you don’t have a guitar teacher to guide you as to what order you should learn techniques, I suggest you follow the guitar riffs or licks that you’re learning.
If you’re learning a lot of blues licks, you’re surely going to encounter string bending and vibrato a lot. If you’re learning Heavy Metal riffs you’ll find a lot of palm muting being used.
When you realize that a technique is being used regularly in the music you’re playing, isolate it from the musical context and practice it on its own.
30 mins: Rhythm and strumming
Learn the elements of rhythm in music and strum along to them.
Since the focus is on the rhythm you should not be changing chords here. In fact, you can practice rhythm on a single note, chord, or muted strings.
While in the “learning tunes” section of this guitar practice routine for beginners I suggest you only use the metronome to confirm that you’re playing the lick or riff correctly, during this section of your practicing you should be using the metronome most of the time.
30 mins: Fretboard mastery
This is something you should practice for just a few minutes every day.
Fretboard mastery means learning the notes and the relationship between them on the fretboard.
The reason I only allocate a short time to fretboard mastery is that as a beginner your focus should be on acquiring the basic technical abilities so that you can play the guitar.
An intermediate or advanced student may give this area of guitar playing more time, once again, depending on his goals.
At this stage, I suggest you start by learning the name of each note on the first 12 frets of the fretboard.
Your guitar practice routine
As explained at the beginning of this lesson, a guitar practice routine varies from student to student. And for the same student, it will vary from one period to another.
My goal with this sample guitar practice routine for beginners is to give you an idea of how to think when you’re drafting a routine.
Rather than just piling licks and riffs in your repertoire, you should make sure that you’re working on the important elements that lead to good guitar playing.
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