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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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…
- 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.
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…
- 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…
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.