Nine quick and easy tips to help you freshen up your guitar practice


10 COMMENTS
Practice2-8184

Playing guitar at home can be pure fun – it’s a place where we can relax, plug in, crank our guitar and amp and just noodle away. But home is also the place where most of us practice. And most of us, for some reason, find this part of playing guitar far less fun. So, if you’re one of the many guitarists out there who feel like you’re not really learning anything or improving when you play at home, here’s a few Blog Of Tone tried and tested tips to make your practice time more inspiring, and more useful…

Pretty much every six-stringer we know finds guitar practice a chore. For many of us, it’s just sitting in a room playing endless scales, learning a few new chord inversions, and then repeating the whole thing again a few days later.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Sure, scales and chords are useful, and we’d advocate that you learn as much as you can on your quest to become the best guitarist you can be. After all, as some rather wise person once said, you’ve got to know the rules to be able to break them.

But for us, it’s the methods of practice you choose, and the way you go about approaching your learning time, that can make or break how efficient your axe training actually is.

So, if you’re in a guitar practice rut, or just need some new ideas to inspire you to play more, here’s our list of cool things you can try in your quest to improve your home guitar practice time.

  1. Plan your practices in advance and set targets

We don’t necessarily mean you should be plotting out what exactly you’re going to be playing in 18 months’ time here, but it can certainly be useful to plan ahead and make a schedule to make sure you get the most out of practicing.

For example, if you’ve got a specific gig coming up in a few weeks, you can plan your practice time around honing your skills for the show: nailing that tricky solo with your eyes closed, playing through the complete set in order, mastering tuning changes quickly and efficiently, walking onstage without falling over, etc.

If you know what you want to achieve with the guitar, it makes sense to plan how you're going to go about learning. The more prepared and structured your planning is, the more you'll focus on what's important for you, and the quicker you'll improve - in theory, anyway.

If you know what you want to achieve with the guitar, it makes sense to plan how you’re going to go about learning. The more prepared and structured your planning is, the more you’ll focus on what’s important for you, and the quicker you’ll improve – in theory, anyway.

Plan it well, and you’ll build up to be on top of your game when it comes to show time.

The same goes for more rudimentary skills. Let’s say you want to master a new scale. Now, instead of just playing it over and over for five minutes every time you practice (although this can actually help your muscle memory!), set yourself a goal of having nailed it within a month.

Keep your plan structured, keep coming back to it in short bursts – alongside the other things you’re currently practicing – and not only will you be actively looking forward to your next practice session more, but you’ll see and hear real progress in your playing.

It’s far more motivating learning things this way than just ploughing through them in one go, forgetting them a day later and having to go back to square one.

  1. Warm up first – fingers, not tubes!

Do some finger stretches and strengthening exercises before you get your axe out, and you’ll reap more instant playing rewards.

Not only does warming up get your hands in the mood, but do it as a routine and you’ll give your hands more dexterity and the increased power needed to play better for longer – handy if you’re looking to play live shows.

Lots of guitarists use scales to warm up, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s actually a pretty nice way to get them over and done with before you start your practice proper.

But there’s also non-guitar things you can do like spinning one of those Powerball gyroscope things or using hand squeezing exercises to build your muscles up. Do this consistently, and you’ll see the benefits in your playing in no time.

  1. Use a metronome

Put simply: if you can’t play in time, you’re in trouble. Use a metronome to make sure you keep to the beat. Trust us, you’ll thank us later! Get into the habit of playing to the relentless click now.

As well as a metronome (left), guitar tablature (center) and a tuner (right) are necessary tools for the practicing guitar player. These days, most of these essentials can be found online and for free, so you've no excuse!

As well as a metronome (left), guitar tablature (center) and a tuner (right) are necessary tools for the practicing guitar player. These days, most of these essentials can be found online and for free, so you’ve no excuse!

Of course, the metronome also has a second great use, and that’s helping you build up playing speed. Let’s go back to that scale learning cliché again: once you’ve learned the notes, start playing the scale at a pedestrian pace, say 40 BPM (beats per minute).

Then, when you’ve mastered that, speed things up a bit, maybe to 45 or 50 BPM. Before you know it, you’ll be cranking out Flight Of The Bumblebee at breakneck speeds! Or maybe not.

  1. Tweak your rig

Use your home practice time to really get to know your music setup, and you’ll play and sound better in any live, rehearsal or recording situation. And during practice too, of course.

At home is a great time to do this stuff, although there’s better places to hone your sound specifically for gigs in a full band situation (read more about that here).

Instead, use the home time to find your amp’s basic tonal sweet spots (they all have them), your guitar’s favored settings and string gauges, and to dial in the best sounds on your FX pedals. It’s all part of that learning process to make you a better player. And, talking of sounds…

  1. Play with cleaner tones

Hmm, this is a hard one, especially if you’re a metal or hard rock freak. But the fact is that turning down the gain and distortion is a brilliant way to expose flaws in your playing that you otherwise wouldn’t notice.

It’s easy to mask sloppy playing with mountains of crunch, so turn it off once in a while and you’ll be forced to improve your fingering, dynamics and overall technique no end.

It can be good to keep your practice space as simple as possible, as in this pic (well, perhaps this guy needs more stuff, but still!). If you want to read more about creating a great guitar practice space, the link's at the bottom of this blog post...

It can be good to keep your practice space as simple as possible, as in this pic (well, perhaps this guy needs more stuff, but still!). If you want to read more about creating a great guitar practice space, the link’s at the bottom of this blog post…

And by the way, AC/DC did alright without loads of gain, as we explained here. If it’s good enough for Angus and Malcolm, then it’ll do for us. Speaking of AC/DC…

  1. Learn from the best

Keep listening to great music, learn from your guitar heroes, and let them inspire you to practice. How many of us started playing because of a specific guitar god (or goddess) we wanted to be like?

Hearing those great tones and trying to emulate them during practice is how we all get started on the path to finding our own sound, and learning the techniques of our heroes is a brilliant and fulfilling way of getter better on our instrument. But, that said…

  1. Get out of your comfort zone

Along with cutting down on distortion, nothing will help hone your chops better than leaving that comfort zone. If you’re a metal guy, play country. If you love jazz, try punk. Indie fan? Give djent a go.

Playing different styles of music during practice will open you up to new techniques, ideas and playing approaches, and will force you – and your fingers – to think and act differently. It might be difficult, and you might not like the other genres you’re playing, but it’ll broaden your playing palette a lot, and quickly.

Want to go one step further? Pick up an acoustic guitar instead of your normal electric, or even try another instrument altogether. If it’s fun, and it inspires you, it’s worth it, and you’ll come back to your standard axe with a renewed lust for life.

Now, this looks like a great and well-equipped practice room! But if you're stuck in a guitar rut, try something else for a while before coming back to your standard routines, and you should notice a huge difference.

Now, this looks like a great and well-equipped practice room! But if you’re stuck in a guitar rut, try something else for a while before coming back to your standard routines, and you should notice a huge difference.

  1. Record yourself

We recommend that bands do this with rehearsals too, as listening back on your playing afterwards with an open mind is a great way of hearing what works, and what doesn’t.

And yes, it can be painful.

With smart phones and tablets, recording your playing has never been easier. You can even video yourself to check back on your fretting and picking techniques, not to mention to monitor the quality of your guitar faces.

If what you hear during playback doesn’t sound good, well, that’s the perfect motivation to have another crack at something. Note down what didn’t work, and think about how you can change it.

But don’t be too hard on yourself – even the pros make mistakes! And, most of all…

  1. Have fun!

If your practice is not enjoyable, there’s no point doing it. You’ll get frustrated and demotivated, and you’ll end up putting the guitar down, maybe for good.

So do whatever you can to make sure your practice time is fun. Don’t take something too seriously if it’s not going to make or break you as a player. If you’re drowning in theory, put your favorite song on and rock out to it instead.

There will always be another day to practice.

So, that’s your lot for today. This was by no means an exhaustive list of creative practice techniques, and we’re interested to hear how you all beat the blues when learning.

What are your tips for keeping things fun and fresh? Leave your comments below, and let’s see if we can’t improve the list for next time…

 

First published: April 24 2015. Most recent update: September 28 2015.

And if you liked this post, try these too:

Leave a comment

Tm on April 24, 2015 Reply

Loved the article!! I find ,that sometimes when I’m practicing,It just ain’t clicking!!! What I do then is go back to an old favorite tune & play it. If Even that-doesn’t feel good-then it’s time to set down my axe & walk away. Sometimes for an hour or two,sometimes till tomarrow. This works for m-maybe it will work for others out there!!

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on April 24, 2015 Reply

    Thanks a lot Tm! Yes, that’s happened to us a few times, and that’s a great tip – knowing when to walk away and try something else for a bit… Sometimes you come back fresher than before, ands all is good again. And sometimes all it takes is a runthrough of Back In Black and we’re good to carry on! That’s the beauty of guitar 🙂

Jakk on April 26, 2015 Reply

This article is epic! It has inspired be to just practice anything and everything I know.

Another tip is; if you have access to some form of MIDI software, create a simple backing drum track with a few odd time and tempo changes then simply play along, it also boasts a massive confidence boost within your own mentality because you feel you are playing your own song. Which does feel great, am I right?

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on April 26, 2015 Reply

    Thanks a lot Jakk! Yes, that’s another cool tip. Creating your own backing tracks also helps you learn more about stuff like song composition, which should in theory help you as a writer, and in terms of playing guitar parts that benefit the song, rather than just endless solos 😉 And it does feel great too! Glad you enjoyed the blog, and thanks for your input…

Tyler Bennett on April 27, 2015 Reply

I have a digital recording/sequencing studio, but I’ve found a loop pedal to be a tremendous practice aid. Sometimes it’s too much work to assemble backing tracks, etc. on the computer. But it’s always quick and easy to throw down a few bars on the looper and then lead over the top of it. This even makes scales more fun, imho, and doubles as a metronome of sorts. I sometimes even find myself accidentally (gulp) writing, this way.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on April 28, 2015 Reply

    There’s no shame in using a looper for this sort of thing! 😉 Well, assuming you’re OK with timings, and the loops work properly 🙂 But this can be a great way of making practice routines more fun, and for writing too – it’s very useful if you’re trying to come up with leads over your backing track, for example. Good tip, thanks for sharing! Oh yes, and as a final point, there are a number of amazing acoustic players out there who use loops live to stunning effect, building up huge arrangements on one guitar. Cool stuff, and very inspiring…

Bob on April 27, 2015 Reply

Good article, I agree with you on this.. First thing to do is warm up those hands, can’t stress that enough. with me if I don’t I find my fingers are lagging behind not to mention missing notes. and it doesn’t matter how well i know the song I’m playing. then I make time every day to play at least 30 minutes. I step out of my comfort zone and play other styles. I mostly play with backing tracks or original recordings without the guitar parts. I also have a few songs I play where it’s just me. this puts variety and keeps the boredom away. works for me. I have never used a metronome to keep beat and I probably never will. some may frown on this but that’s okay. playing with backing tracks helps me there. when I learn new songs I take it in small chunks learning the key and the chord progression then onto the solo. sometimes watching someone else play it helps but having said all this I have my bad days also where I’m frustrated, you know those days where my guitar wants to be a pain and not cooperate, we have all been there so I walk away for a couple hours. I guess I find if I switch things up a bit and stay out of a strict routine and not do things the same every time when it comes to just practicing, it makes more fun. after all playing guitar is suppose to be fun not a boring chore.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on April 28, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for the cool feedback, Bob! Seems like you’ve got those practice routines pretty nailed down, and like you say, no metronome for you is no problem if you’re also playing along to backing tracks. Sounds like you’re mixing up your playing time well too, so hopefully those frustrating days are an exception (for us, they tend to come and go in phases!).

    Just out of interest, you make a good point about watching others play, and we thought we’d ask: do you like video lessons as a learning tool? Or do you learn by ear or through tabs, or some other way? For us, we use a mixture, but sometimes just going to YouTube to find out how something is played seems to be the easiest way. That said, we’re sure that learning by ear is probably the best way to improve as an individual player… Would love to know your thoughts!

Peter Pan on June 14, 2016 Reply

Great Article! Thanky a lot

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on June 15, 2016 Reply

    No worries – thanks for reading 🙂