Practice Habits for Beginning Guitarist's

So you've finally got that guitar that you had your eye on for so long. Now you’re ready to start sanding down the frets with your fingers. As a beginning Guitarist, it is crucial to practice consistently to progress, develop good technique and proper playing habits. So many young musicians have asked me questions such as “How often do I need to practice to get good?” There is only one answer to that question. The only way to improve is by putting in the time and effort. Guitar is just like going to the gym. If you only work out for an hour a day, you get one hour’s worth of results. That same philosophy applies to guitar playing. The more you practice the more you will build up muscle memory in your fingers. The best way to improve quickly and efficiently is to develop a solid routine that you follow religiously every time you pick up the guitar. A rough outline for a good routine will include exercises that utilize Alternate Picking, chords and switching between chords, as well as creating your own music.

You have your guitar in tune and you’re ready to rock. It's time to build up the strength and coordination in your picking hand. The best way to do that is by using a technique called “Alternate Picking.” Alternate Picking involves picking downward and upward strokes in a continuous alternating pattern. If this technique is played at a high speed or on a single note it is commonly referred to as tremolo picking or speed picking. It’s a great idea to practice this technique as much as you can. I would recommend a minimum of 15 minutes daily practicing this technique. A great tool to help you with Alternate Picking is a Metronome. A metronome is a device that creates a regulated audible and/or visual pulse to establish a steady beat, or tempo. It is an invaluable practice tool that goes back hundreds of years. Musicians that practice Alternate Picking or any kind of exercise with a metronome have a better sense of timing and increased coordination than musicians that do not use them. If you do not own one, a metronome is available at jampages.com or you can choose to buy one at a local music store. I recommend the use of a digital metronome that can divide beats for you to aid you in learning 8th notes, 16th notes and triplets.

Below I have included 2 exercises that will help you develop alternate picking as well as strength, stamina and coordination in your fretting hand.

Example one is an exercise that utilizes open strings. This exercise is a great warm up.

Example two is a simple pivoting exercise. Pivoting is a left hand technique in which one finger stays on a certain fret while your other fingers follow a sequence of notes around that specific note. In this exercise I have included two similar patterns that use pivoting in each measure. In this example you will repeat each measure twice.

Example #2

Once you have your picking hand and fretting hand warmed up, it’s time to move on to chords. A chord is a combination of 3 or more different notes played simultaneously. It is very important as a Rhythm player to practice your chords, and master switching between them. It is a great idea to practice chords two at a time. For example: practicing from an A Major to C Major as in Example 3 or E Minor to D Major as in Example 4. Chords require patience and diligence in practicing. But the results of your hard work will show when you’re able to switch between random chords at will. It is a great idea to practice chords and switching between them as much as you can every day. I would recommend at least a half hour daily working with chords. Once you have mastered your chord changes it is vital to study chord progressions.

A chord progression is a series of chords played in a sequence. Most chord progressions use a strum pattern. A strum pattern is a series of rhythmic or down and up strokes with your picking hand.

Examples 3 and 4 are simple chord switching exercises.

Example #3

Example #4

Example 5 is an example of a simple chord progression. The strum pattern is down, down, down, up, down up. This pattern applies to all of the chords in this progression. The order of the chords is as follows: A Minor, C Major G Major and D Minor.

Example #5 

Let’s move onto open jamming! Now that you have learned your chords and how to play a chord progression, you’re ready to start writing your own music. For the last part of your routine, I recommend you spend at least 20 minutes for open jamming. It is very important as a musician to try to make your own music.

By writing your own songs, it will help you memorize chords, scales and it sharpens your technique as well as your creativity and style. It is also important to be yourself and create music that you enjoy playing. The best way to write a song is to start with a chord progression. Then try to come up with a few different progressions and combine them to create a song. Once you have written a few songs’ you are ready to start a band and perform your music in front of a crowd of people.

Another important topic I would like to stress to beginners is to remain loose and relaxed at all times. It can get frustrating at times when you’re trying to play something and you just can’t seem to play a riff or finger a chord. When frustration occurs, take a breather and relax for a few minutes. Shaking your hands out for 30 seconds also helps loosen muscles that are tightening up in your hands. Running your hands under warm water as well as massaging with hand lotion and sanitizers can soothe pains that are associated with being a beginner guitarist. When your mind is clear and your body is relaxed it is much easier to play the guitar. It is best to stay focused and have fun at all times.

So far I have walked you through a basic outline for a practice routine. I have recommended a minimum of at least 15 minutes a day practicing Alternate Picking. Then after you've warmed up, practice your chords and switching them, as well as chord progressions for at least a half hour daily. Finally, improvising your own music is the final part of your routine. You can improvise as long as you want but I recommend a minimum of at least 20 minutes daily creating your own music.

Here is a few extra tips and pointers I have found personally to be useful.
  • It is very important not to try to progress too quickly; by trying to cram in too much it could overwhelm a beginning guitarist. I recommend to all guitarists starting out keeping things simple in the beginning and slowly build up your technique and speed before you try to challenge yourself.
  • It is good to practice first with a clean guitar sound. Always learn a song or exercise with a clean sound. Using distortion can mask mistakes you are making. Then when you’re all warmed up and have the music under your fingers properly, your playing will be cleaner and smoother once you kick in the distortion.
  • It is a good idea to learn how to read tablature. Once you can read tablature, you can learn just about any song there is. There are many sites on the Internet as well as printed books with tabs that teach a variety of songs.
  • Get some backing tracks and or practice playing with a band. Not only is it a lot of fun to play with other musicians, but it also helps with developing a sense of timing and feel for the music.
Practice all of your techniques, chords and scales as often as you can. If you study hard and become a dedicated musician, someday you will be as good as your favorite guitar players and you'll be ready to conquer the globe!


Dy-sphoric said...

...another great article for this beginner to read. Thanks for posting.

Marc said...

You may want to consider putting up a "print friendly" button or possibly an export to PDF option on these articles. They're good, it's just not always possible to practice in front of the computer.

sarge1875 said...

@ Marc - You should be able to copy and paste the article into MS Word. I just tried it and it copied the whole article with the tabs.

At this time blogger has no way that I know of to host a PDF doctument.

Kyle said...

It's so true that many players play way too much, way too often. To play less can create such a powerful impact on the listener

Rob said...

I wrote a similar article about my 3 point practice plan- because it's so important to plan your practice time if you want to get the most out of it and improve!

Anyway, I agree 100% with the advice you're giving here, and you're right about people asking "how much should I practice?". Some people reckon it's about 10,000 hours, but really it's how much effort you put in to it, and how well the time is structured.