Plugging your axe into your amp, turning up to 11 and playing like a guitar god is more fun than should be allowed, but learning the six-string ropes isn’t. In fact, guitar practice can be downright awful if you don’t keep things fresh and exciting. Read on, then, if you want to inject some inspiration into your playing at home time and make your practice sessions genuinely fun!
Practice makes perfect. We’ve heard that old chestnut many times, just as we’ve heard myriad people tell us that you need to put in at least 10,000 hours of hard work before you can master a certain skill.
But there’s a problem, and it’s this: as guitarists, we’re not usually interested in how long it takes. We just want to nail that solo!
Unfortunately, the hordes of cliché-quoting folks are right. It’s simple, really: to improve our guitar skills, we need to practice. The big downside of practice, though, is that it can be mind-numbingly dull.
But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re struggling to keep yourself inspired to practice, try using some of the following tips – it could do wonders for your playing!
Don’t start by just walking over to your guitar, picking it up and thrashing away. There’s a time and a place for that, of course, but it’s best if you know beforehand what you want to achieve from your practice session.
You can plan ahead by the day, the week, month, year, or whatever. But our experience is that you’ll be far more motivated to practice if you set yourself guitar goals and then look to accomplish them in a targeted way.
What is it you want to nail next? It could be a new scale, or some tricky chord augmentations, or even a specific piece of music.
If there’s something like a particularly tough solo that you just can’t manage, break it up into sections, and learn bits of it over the course of a week or two. Then, slowly start putting the pieces together, and enjoy! The closer you get to mastering it, the more you’ll want to come back for the next try.
Following on from that, what’s also important here is consistency. Guitarists like Steve Vai used to practice for hours on end every single day, and although most of us simply don’t have the time for this, there’s something to be said for having a steady routine when it comes to practice.
It’s often said that playing for 15 minutes each day is better than one 3-hour stint on a Saturday morning, and we agree. If you keep the practice up, and keep your sessions regular, you’ll stay in the groove far better and your muscle memory and technique will develop steadily. You’ll also be able to take breaks before you get overwhelmed with new ideas.
Playing less often – but for longer, more intense periods – can be helpful for some people, but it’s not ideal in the long-term. And if you miss one session, and then another, coming back to where you were – let alone making improvements – will be difficult.
Not got 15 minutes a day to give for practice? Then make that time! Put your phone away for a while, turn off the TV, or get yourself a dedicated guitar practice space away from all the distractions (read all about how to do that right here).
While keeping steady practice slots is a good thing, though, you should try and make sure that you shake up the content of your sessions on a regular basis. Really mastering certain techniques takes a lot of time and effort, but if you focus on one small aspect of playing over and over again, you’ll be putting down your guitar in a state of bored frustration in no time.
If you’re struggling in this regard, try making a plan of the different things you’d like to improve or learn, and spend equal amounts of time on all of them. You don’t want to be flitting between learning scales, improving your picking technique and working on your timing all in the same intense half-hour session.
Instead, work on one technique at a time, and then come back round full circle. Do one on the first day, then another on the second, and so on. Variety is indeed the spice of life, and the more you rotate between the various techniques, the more you’ll improve as an all-round player.
By the way, make sure the goals you’re setting are realistic and manageable. There’s no point in saying: “OK, today I’m going to learn Eruption by that Van Halen dude.” Assuming you’re human, there’s not a chance in hell this is going to happen. Take it easy: start with the opening bars of the piece you’re learning, and build it up from there, only moving on to a new section when you’ve mastered the previous one.
When you’re done, you’ll be able to rock out to backing tracks, like we’ve done here in this short and rather silly illustrative video:
But practice is not all about practice, either. Sometimes it’s about the perks.
We’ve all hit walls in the past where we just couldn’t face another tedious guitar practice. And while the techniques outlined above will be your savior on most occasions, sometimes you’ve just got to do something extraordinary.
We’ve written in the past – right here, in fact – about how buying expensive new gear won’t make you a better guitar player. This is true, of course, but there’s nothing like a shiny new toy to inspire you back into playing. It might be a short-term solution, but a droolworthy new guitar, amp or accessory could be the catalyst that gets you back into playing again.
If you’ve got all you need, but feel like something’s not quite right, give your guitar to a tech for a professional setup. A bit of guitar TLC can give your instrument – and therefore your playing enjoyment – a whole new lease of life, as we describe here.
And finally, if none of the above is doing you any good, get out of the house and get playing with some likeminded musical friends. Playing at home can teach you many things, but making music with others is the ultimate way to get your chops into shape.
And, after all, isn’t being in a band why most of us do this in the first place?
We’re sure there’s plenty of other things you can do to keep your motivation levels up, so let us know your tips in the comments below! We’d love to know how you all keep dragging yourself back to the guitar grindstone when there’s probably more fun to be had elsewhere…
First published: October 24 2014. Most recent update: October 16 2015.