How to Make the Most of Short Practice Times

Life can get busy. With work, family, friends, and all the rest, finding time for guitar practice can be difficult.

So we often have only short bursts of time for guitar. How can we make the most of these? How do we continue to see improvement and growth, using short practices?

Actually, if we do it right, short practices can be even more effective than long ones! If we stay keenly aware of the time and use our best focus, we can level-up in leaps and bounds.

The Guitar Practice Conundrum: Much to Do, Little Time

If we only needed to practice scales, there would be no question of what to do in practice. We would just play our scales.

But classical guitar is a multi-faceted jewel. We have many challenges and skill-areas. And each of these is worthy of practice time.

So the big question is: What do we practice in our short practice times?

Tip: Know the Main Practice Areas

To plan our practices, it helps to know the major areas of guitar practice. We can include each of the following in our guitar practice schedules. By touching on each, we form a well-rounded routine.


Classical guitar technique is the study of how we use our hands to meet the demands of the music. This includes mastering the movements and habits. And it also means mastering the abilities to change volume (dynamics), accent notes, or change the tone quality. In short, technique is the “how” of playing.

New Notes

We stay more engaged and satisfied in our practices when we learn something new. A measure or two each practice on a new piece of music will keep us motivated, and help us build a repertoire.

Detailing Current Pieces

In our pieces, there are bound to be tricky spots. “Detailing” is one label for working out these tricky spots and polishing our music.

Maintaining Older Pieces

And once we’ve learned the notes and smoothed the bumps, we need to maintain our music. This way, we always have pieces we can play at a moment’s notice (aka our “repertoire“). Practice can’t be all practice – we also need to play!

Tip: Set Your Priorities

So in small practices, it becomes more important to set priorities. We don’t have endless time to meander from piece to piece or exercise to exercise. We are called upon to be more strategic with our time.

We don’t have to do everything all the time

We can focus on quality over quantity. Where we may do all our scales in a longer practice, in a shorter one we may choose just one scale shape on which to work.

Using this strategy, we can give high-intensity focus to the small details of that one item. This intense focus on the details will elevate everything else we do.

Touch on each practice area

In a short practice, it can be tempting to spend all the time on the newest piece of music. Or we may feel we should ignore our pieces and work only technique.

But we do best touching on each of the four areas listed above. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, we continue to learn and improve in that area.

Don’t duplicate work

In our strategic short practices, we can avoid duplicating work. For instance, let’s assume we have two pieces of music, each with fast scale passages.

We may not need to practice both of these scale passages, as well as scales in our technique practice. We can instead use one or both of these AS our scale practice. Then we can use our technique practice time for other patterns or movements.

Likewise, we could slow practice one of these two scale pieces. Then we could use a different practice method on the next, such as speed bursts. This way, we’re not doing the same practice with different notes.

In one practice, we can use several different practice methods and skill-building exercises. And we make the most of our time by keeping the variety high.

Be Grateful for the Time You Have

It’s tempting to begrudge our short practices. But this not only gets us down, it shortchanges our practices.

It takes discipline and personal control to sit down and have a strategic short practice. It’s much easier to surf the web or watch TV for 20 minutes.

So instead of disparaging the short practice window, we can be grateful for the time we do have. We can pat ourselves on the back for showing up and doing the good work.

In busy times, all practice is bonus practice. It’s reason for celebration and cheer. We’re moving forward on personal endeavors instead of martyring ourselves to the chores of life. So high-five and “Go team”!

Allen Mathews

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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