What to Include in Your Guitar Practice Schedule
Here’s a scenario:
- You schedule a guitar practice with yourself (or just want to play).
- You pick up your guitar and sit down.
- You start thinking about what you should be doing.
- You dabble with a little of this and a little of that.
- You finish your practice session feeling like you weren’t very effective and that there was something you missed.
Has this ever happened to you?
It’s very common. It’s what often happens when you don’t have a guitar practice schedule or plan.
Why Plan Your Guitar Practice?
There are myriad reasons to have a basic (if not detailed) plan or schedule for your guitar practice routine.
The kind of thinking it takes to plan your guitar practice, both in the short and long term, is a different sort of thinking than it takes to actually practice.
Planning takes the role of a manager, while practicing is more the role of a laborer. Both are needed, but they’re different.
To make the most of your practice time, it helps to already have the manager’s work done so the laborer (worker bee) can sit down and get right down to the nitty-gritty.
With all the decisions we are forced to make throughout the day it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Guitar can be a time to get out of the daily details of life and immerse in something personal.
If you’ve already planned your practices, you can enjoy shutting off the decision-maker brain and just enjoy the act of playing and practicing.
And practicing without a plan is like taking a trip but not considering the destination when booking travel. It may well be enjoyable and scenic, but if you want to get someplace specific, it will take longer. A good teacher can help you with this.
Planning also allows you to consciously build skills over the course of weeks and months, instead of bouncing around between many skills and improving little at any one.
Perhaps most importantly, it feels good to know what’s ahead of you.
You can just go along for the ride, comfortable that everything is serving a purpose and has been intentionally chosen.
Hold on Loosely
Of course, even with a schedule or practice plan, some days you’ll feel like doing something different, and that’s fine.
The practice plan is there as a tool. It’s what your “manager” thinks is the right way to go. If your “worker” feels like goofing off today, who cares?
Of course, if a worker goofs off every day, nothing much happens. But it’s nice to know that you’re not beholden or bound to your plan. It’s there if and when you want it.
What to Include In Your Guitar Practice Schedule
While depending on your disposition and preferences, you may like to plan each small detail of your practice every time, or simply keep the broad strokes in mind.
This is up to you. It’s a beneficial exercise to plan a few very detailed practices, just for the experience of getting very granular in your analysis of each skill and project (piece of music) you’re working on.
What follows are the broad categories. You can find a much deeper exploration of each of these (and more) in the free course: The 5 Ingredients of Great Practice, which also has downloadable practice planners and evaluation resources.
Zone 1: Technique
Technique is the “how” of playing classical guitar.
Scales, arpeggios, sight-reading, exercises, chords, etc.
This area is the one that will allow you to play faster, more complex music.
Depending on your current level and desires, you could spend up to half your time in this area alone, with great benefit.
Plug: The Woodshed has some of the most detailed and user-friendly technique resources available.
Zone 2: New Notes
In addition to sight-reading, which I consider more in the technique area, it’s good to always be learning new music.
I suggest seeking to memorize everything you learn. Even if you don’t actually memorize it, intending to will help you to learn new things quickly.
This also keeps your practice fresh and lets you feel that you’re making progress in a tangible way.
Just a couple of measures a day, and you’ll have a massive repertoire in no time.
I recommend using this 7-step process if you need to work on learning new music.
Zone 3: Tricky Spots
As you learn new tunes, and within your current tunes, there will inevitably be some tricky spots.
These take a problem-solving attitude, patience, and frequent repetition.
I suggest keeping a list of all the tricky spots in your pieces, and spending just 1 to 5 minutes at most on each when you practice guitar.
The goal here is to identify the problem, and play through the solution slowly and without error.
It’s the daily correct run-throughs that will train you to play them with ease. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the problems will work themselves out.
Zone 4: Repertoire Maintenance
If you keep a running list of your tunes, you can touch in on each periodically and keep a large repertoire in your hands.
You don’t have to play everything every day. And pieces you learned more recently will likely need more frequent work than older ones.
For more, here’s a whole article on maintaining repertoire.
Zone 5: Performance Practice
At the end of your practice, you may like to have a full performance practice of a piece or two.
If you want to, you can do this for a video or audio recorder to listen to later (just for practice feedback so you know what’s working and what isn’t). Very helpful and informative!
The basic rules are:
- No stopping or going back. Just like a real performance.
- Full expression and musical intention. Your absolute best.
- Beginnings and endings matter. Just like at Carnegie Hall.
- Be compassionate. No judging or self-criticism while playing.
Zone 6: Other Skills
As an extra zone, you can also consider incorporating other aspects of your musical growth as you are learning guitar.
This area can include such learning as:
- Sight-reading Practice
- Music History
- Music Theory
- Critical Listening
- Reading Biographies
- New Practice Skills
- Tutorial Videos
- Replays of Masterclasses by great musicians on other instruments
- Anything else that contributes to your musical development
As you can see, many of the possibilities in this zone do not need an instrument in hand. So instead of TV or Netflix, an evening could broaden your musical understandings.
You can be as organized and methodical (or not) as you like for this zone. As a lifelong endeavor, you’ll likely go in and out of phases of study in these areas. And that’s just fine.
Of course, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
If you hold too tightly to your plan and neglect your daily fluctuations in energy, focus, and mood, it won’t be very fun.
And if it’s not fun you won’t do it for long.
So take it all seriously, but not too seriously. This is a journey, with many, many steps.
Do your best in the moment and strive to get better at it all over time.
Other than that, leave yourself alone. Make sure to be nice and accommodating. You’re spending time on something meaningful to make life better. That’s the main main goal of practice.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.
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