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Guitarist playing in a jazz band

Step 1: Listen to great jazz music

In order to become a competent jazz guitarist, you will need to listen to a lot of excellent jazz music.

It is simply essential to get the sound of jazz in your ear!

Listening to a lot of jazz music will help you internalise the sound of swing!

In addition to listening, you should also attend regular performances of live jazz.

By attending live jazz performances, you will become more and more acquainted with the vocabulary of jazz music.

You will also witness first hand how jazz musicians take turns to solo and support each other!

Understanding the language of jazz, as well as the subtle and intricate swing rhythms will help you on your journey to become a competent jazz guitarist.

Here’s a list of high quality jazz artists that you should listen to:

  • Wes Montgomery
  • Charles Mingus
  • Charlie Parker
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Jan Garbarek
  • Keith Jarrett
  • John Coltrane
  • Pat Metheny
  • Miles Davis
  • Thelonious Monk
  • Billie Holiday
  • Bill Evans
  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Emily Remler
  • Larry Carlton
  • Pat Martino
  • John Abercrombie
  • Bill Frisell
  • Mike Stern
  • Joe Pass
  • Barney Kessell
  • John McLaughlin
Jazz cycles

Step 2: Become a master of jazz cycles

Jazz moves in cycles.

Becoming a master of jazz cycles is an absolute must, if you want to become exceptional at playing jazz guitar.

A classic jazz harmonic cycle that occurs over and over in jazz is the: “I IV VIII III VI II V I cycle”.

I require all my jazz guitar students to memorise this particular cycle throughout the cycle of 5ths.

It takes lots of time, and is an arduous task to say the least…

But the result is an excellent understanding of harmony, and a good working foundation of chords and arpeggios.

As the guitar is a transposing instrument and we often rely on patterns, it is also important to get to know each and every key.

Simply moving a chord up and down with no understanding of the context of the key is just not good enough.

You need to develop a feel for the key that you are in.

For example, if we play in the key of Ab major, you should (immediately) know that the relative minor is F Minor.

I would recommend for budding jazz guitarists to also learn chords on the piano in order to get a deeper grasp of jazz harmony.

Remember, we can only play six notes at the same time on the guitar.

On the piano we can play an endless amount (if we use the sustain pedal!).

So spend a good amount of time practising cycles and harmony.

Get to know the “II V I” and “II V I VI” chord progressions inside out.

You will find that harmony in jazz generally moves in fourths.

The “II” chord moves up a fourth to the “V” chord.

The “V” chord then moves up a fourth to the “I” or tonic chord.

Become familiar with how jazz cycles work.

Study, study and study more, and you will eventually understand the inner workings of jazz!


Step 3: Get an understanding of jazz harmony

Harmonically speaking jazz is complex.

In Western music, we harmonise chords in thirds.

Western classical music generally consists of triads and seventh chords.

In jazz, we take this one step further.

Harmonisation will often extend to ninth, eleventh and thirteenth chords.

You therefore, need a solid understanding of harmony in order to excel at playing jazz guitar.

It is also important to understand arranging as well as the range of your instrument.

If you play in a jazz band, you have to take great care not to step on the toes of the pianist.

You have to play complementary chords on the guitar that will make the entire band sound great!

To do this properly, you will need a great working understanding of harmony as well as arranging.

A good exercise on the guitar is to play through the four main seventh chords.

Play through the Major 7th, Minor 7th, Dominant 7th and Minor 7b5 chords.

You should know several voicings for each chord.

This is why great jazz guitar tuition is worth its salt.

With a great teacher, you can get to know these voicings inside out and understand how they work on the instrument.

This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg.

You will need to study harmony in relation to key and context.

Once you understand the beauty and language of harmony, you will then be able to improvise on a much more proficient level as well as provide accompaniment along with the rest of the band.

By having a greater understanding of jazz harmony, you will also be able to create beautiful chord melodies on the guitar and harmonise jazz standards (an important tool in your toolkit as a jazz guitarist).

Jazz guitar player

Step 4: Develop a repertoire of lines and licks

Developing a repertoire of lines and licks is absolutely essential if you want to succeed at playing jazz guitar.

Knowing a good amount of quality major and minor “II V I” licks will definitely help you in the heat of the battle when improvising!

A lot of new jazz guitar players are scared of memorising licks.

They fear that it will make them ‘method’ players.

There is certainly a (small) danger of becoming a method player if you approach learning licks in a ‘squared’ manner.

However, if you learn your jazz guitar licks inside out, and then you learn how to manipulate those licks in REAL-TIME, you can actually change/amend the licks on the spot. (You should aim to become the Swiss army knife of jazz lines!)

You will then definitely not become a ‘method’ player!

The licks will merely be a part of your improvisation toolkit and will be helpful both in developing your ears and helping you play throughout various chord changes.

Therefore I recommend learning a selection of high quality major and minor “II V I” licks all five positions of the guitar neck.

My all-time favourite book for learning jazz lines is Pat Martino’s “Linear Expressions”.

You can buy Pat Martino’s book on Amazon here.

Louis Armstrong

Step 5:  It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

“It don’t mean a thing (if it ain’t got that swing)!” – the immortal words by Irving Mills.

The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot neglect the swing feel.

Jazz music is all about swing.

You absolutely need to develop a wonderful jazz swing to speak the language of jazz.

I recommend listening to great jazz players to get this wonderful feel.

Emily Remler was a fantastic jazz guitarist (she was renowned for her swing feel!).

Listen to her play “Blues for Herb” on YouTube below:

You will notice that she’s got an outstanding swing feel.

You need to develop that “feel” and work on your swing.

Jazz guitar is all about making your guitar sing and swing!

Listening to great jazz is the first step.

The second step would be practising slowly, and working meticulously on playing in a very relaxed fashion with that cool sound that swings!

Clocks time and calendar

Step 6: Have a structured practice routine

Having a structured practice routine is really the key to getting great at playing jazz.

We all have limited time, and how we use our time is the key to achieving our goals.

When you practice, you should have a goal.

Ideally, you will have a short plan for each and every practice session.

By focusing to get the absolute best out of the time that is available, you will become a success.

You should ideally include multiple areas of discipline in your structured routine.

We should practice technique, lines and licks, chords, rhythm, and also include time for jazz repertoire as well as jamming!

It is also wise to mix your practice up between a strict regiment type session and a more free session.

Also include time to listen to great jazz players.

By listening to great jazz players, you will develop your ear and become a better jazz musician yourself!

Having a plan will set you apart and help you achieve your goals!

saxophone and jazz guitarist performing

Step 7: Learn jazz form and structure

Jazz is all about form and structure.

Playing through a jazz standard and not losing your place in the score is paramount to your jazz guitar playing success!

Great jazz players have a cognitive encyclopaedia of jazz forms and structures.

Learning famous jazz structures such as the blues, and classic jazz standards are an absolute must.

Here is a list of 20 jazz standards that every jazz guitarist ought to know:

1. All The Things You Are
2. Autumn Leaves
3. Cherokee
4. Fly Me To The Moon
5. Have You Met Miss Jones
6. How High The Moon
7. I Love You
8. I’m Old Fashioned
9. Just Friends
10. Misty
11. My Funny Valentine
12. On Green Dolphin Street
13. Stella By Starlight
14. So What
15. Take The A Train
16. The Girl From Ipanema
17. There Will Never Be Another You
18. Giant Steps
19. Blue in Green
20. Lush Life

Learning how to play jazz standards will take lots of time.

As a jazz guitarist, you should analyse the chord progressions and understand the harmonies. Try to understand the harmonic progressions and why one particular chord moves to another etc…

Analyse the form of the standard in question.

Memorise the standard throughout multiple keys.

I would also recommend getting to know the lyrics in order to understand the meaning of the song more intimately.

So to give yourself the edge, do not neglect this all-important area of form and structure.

Spend time getting to know the most important jazz standards inside out!

Master the rules

Step 8: You first have to master the rules to break the rules!

To become great at playing jazz, you first need to master the rules of jazz.

That means you have to take the time to learn chords across the entire neck of the guitar, all the major modes, all the harmonic minor modes and all the melodic minor modes.

You should also have a firm grasp of a large variety of pentatonic scales.

In addition to all this, you need a really good repertoire of lines and licks, and a solid understanding of how to use them over a variety of jazz standards.

You also need to know how to swing and play through structure and form!

As you can see, there is a lot of ground work to do!

Once you have completed the important foundations of playing jazz, then you can look forward to freedom.

Then you can look forward to breaking the rules!

Then you can look forward to playing just ‘using your ears’.

You cannot be a master of the instrument without first being an excellent student.

You need to be willing to do whatever it takes to learn the tools of the trade in order to obtain freedom!

Once you are free and your knowledge of the instrument and jazz is intuitive, then you can let go and just improvise.

Then you can break the rules and make your jazz guitar dreams come true!

Never give up

Step 9: Success comes to those who do not give up!

Becoming successful has a lot more to do with resilience than pure talent.

Those who (eventually) achieve greatness, are those who do not give up.

If you really want learn how to play jazz guitar to a high standard, then you need to follow the recommendations in this article and put it into practice (over an extended period of time).

Most people are able to follow a solid practice schedule for a year or two.

Practising for a long period of time such as 3 to 7 years is however, outside of most people’s domain (because human nature usually gives up!).

Breakthroughs come to those who persevere for the long term!

In order to understand the art of playing jazz, you need to give things lots of time and be prepared to have plenty of failures along the way.

The greatest jazz musicians were once failures.

In fact, Charlie Parker had a symbol thrown at him during his teens by Jo Jones for messing up on stage.

He responded with confidence and vigour and said “I’ll be back!” as he left the club.

Charlie Parker then practiced and practiced and practiced some more.

He practised and persevered until he mastered the art of jazz improvisation!

The pattern is quite evident for everyone to see.

First you fail at playing jazz, by trying to play without being truly ready (this is actually an important step!).

Then you return back to your practice room and practice a heck of a lot.

Eventually, you succeed and become successful!

That ladies and gentlemen, is the path to becoming a successful jazz guitarist!

Believe in yourself like Superman

Step 10: Believe you can and you will succeed!

If you really want to succeed at playing jazz guitar, you need to believe in yourself.

By believing that you can achieve your musical dreams, you call the things that are not as if they were.

In other words, you make your future success a reality today.

The future is generally unknown, but you can influence the future.

If you believe that you can learn and master jazz guitar, then you will make much more effort during your private practice time!

Remember that faith and action goes hand-in-hand.

If you believe in your jazz guitar future, then you will practice your II V I licks.

If you believe in your jazz guitar success, then you will memorise a large library of chords that you can call upon at will when needed!

If you truly believe, then you will devour Pat Martino’s Linear Expressions and get to know the lines inside out!

Basically, you will do whatever it takes to make it happen!

I leave you with an important thought:

If you struggle to believe in yourself, and you feel that you cannot succeed get someone to believe in you!

A great guitar coach can help you achieve your goals!

Believing in yourself and your abilities is not a natural process for everyone.

You may think that you are not talented.

I guarantee you that you are!

All you need is excellent jazz guitar education and a willingness to put in the time and effort required to become a success.

So, if you need help in the “psychology-of-playing-department”, get in touch and we will do our best to help you succeed!

Remember you are a success busy happening!

Go and make your boldest dreams a reality!

Discover how to become a super persistent guitar student and achieve ALL your musical goals!

Never Give Up

Learning to play the guitar is wonderful.

It is an exciting new journey full of adventure when you are just starting out.

Once you have played the guitar for a little while, it can then at times become challenging.

As human beings we thrive upon a new product, a new idea, a new movie… The word ‘new’ has an amazing appeal and we love anything that is NEW!

The problem is, that when we first start learning the guitar, the whole process is new and wonderful but in time new will become old.

Therefore, learning to play the guitar requires dedication and persistence beyond the initial honeymoon period of NEW!

Time and again in my guitar studio in central London I see human behaviour and psychology at work.

Most students behave in the same way… the first 3 months is exciting, then gradually learning becomes more of a chore and less fun.

The truth is, learning to play the guitar does not always need to be 100% fun.

Fun is obviously important, but there is a time for serious study and serious study requires persistence and the ability to at times do things we do not really like.

Of course, overall playing and practicing guitar should be fun, but you also need solid discipline to keep going when things get a little tough!

Let’s say you set out to learn a Metallica guitar solo note-for-note.

The first few months of learning the solo is fun and an overall pleasant experience.

By the fourth month things get pretty difficult.

That is when most people give up.

The secret is then to persist and continue practicing the solo especially the difficult bits until you really master each concept within the solo.

Take for example sweep picking.

You may be terrible at sweep picking right now, but with dedication and practice, you can increase your sweep picking abilities!

Therefore it is essential that you cultivate the habit of continual perseverance and persistence!

When you keep improving a little bit each day, it will all add up to a big change over a period of a year!

The big question is how do you cultivate this wonderful habit?

The key is starting small and build up your ability to persist and practice guitar on a consistent basis.

Perhaps you can only manage 20 minutes of dedicated, persistent practice each and every day.

Start there and then build towards doing 30 minutes, later 45 minutes and eventually 60 minutes per day. (Of course you can do much more than 60 minutes per day, but that is already a fantastic goal!)

If you are faithful in little, you will be faithful in much!

So the secret is to START today with what you can!

Do not try to overdo it…. do what you can manage and then build upon that!

In addition to a set schedule, great guitar education will definitely help you succeed!

During your guitar lessons, you can speak to your guitar instructor and share your frustrations. He or she can then kindly guide you into developing your ability to persist.

In my own guitar studio I always encourage my students and I help them get back on the path to dedicated, serious daily practice wherever possible!

Practice the same thing day in and day out

The most successful guitarists in the world has a set practice regime.

Sure, it will vary a little from time to time, but a set DEDICATED practice routine is what made them into the giants they are today!

I always advise working out left and right hand technique and then moving unto the different parts of music playing.

Always warm up prior to developing your playing and do take frequent breaks.

From time to time, you can also turn up the volume and just jam the guitar.

But if you really want to be a successful player, then you have to cultivate a SET practice regime day in, day out!

It should be a little boring at times… repetitive exercises is the key to great technique.

You should also consider keeping a journal.

You can then jot down your speed, knowledge and most of all you can COMPETE with your journal.

Competing with yourself is a BIG secret.

If you compete aggressively with yourself then you will make MASSIVE progress.

From time to time you will need to adjust your goals and practice material. That is absolutely fine.

Just stick to a set logical methodology of practice.

Try to practice every day (5-6 days a week) and be SUPER consistent!

If you follow the advice in this article, I guarantee that you will get closer to your ultimate guitar dream sooner than later!

I wish you the GREATEST SUCCESS in your guitar journey going foward!

Did you know that you can make tremendous progress in your guitar journey by practicing without a guitar?

All you need is to develop your visualisation by learning how to see the fretboard in your mind’s eye!

You can then practice during your lunch break or when commuting.

Adding extra practice to your schedule will result in a compound effect and in time YOUR guitar playing will become awesome!

Watch this video to find out more about how you can do just that:

If you really want to EXCEL at your guitar playing, then the key lies in being a great guitar student.

By really LISTENING to your guitar instructor, you will make MASSIVE, LASTING progress and learn in the quickest method possible.

Learning the guitar takes time… music takes time… our brains need time to understand the complete picture.

By being a great guitar student, you will BEAT time and become better at playing the guitar SO MUCH FASTER.

In this awesome video, Stefan Joubert explains what it takes to be a great guitar student and become great at playing the guitar!

Man-strugglingYou may have been playing the guitar for a number of years, but you still feel that your progress is too slow, and in fact you feel as if you are not going anywhere.

The good news is that this is quite common and the great news is that there is a solution to your problem.


Please do remember that I am generalising this article and that obviously your situation may be different.

But what I have seen from past experience is that most guitar learners who are practising the guitar are not making progress, primarily due to the way they practice the guitar.

You are most probably playing along to your favourite recording, trying to jam guitar riffs and songs.

While these activities in and of themselves is actually beneficial, that cannot be your main method of practising the guitar.

You need to have a structured, methodical approach when practising your guitar.


The first step towards success in your guitar playing is to recognise the fact that you need to have a great guitar instructor or mentor.

You need to find somebody who can help you get past the issues you are facing.

If you are unable to afford the services of a great instructor, then you will need to be that instructor for yourself. It is possible, but it is a lot harder.

Alongside your guitar instructor/mentor, you should fix most of your problems If you are serious about practising correctly and you work assiduously towards your goals.


The way to practice correctly is to have a structured approach. You need to do the same thing day in and day out.

There are many different ways of practising, I suggest the following:

Start out by practising your right hand technique.

After that work on your left hand.

After you have done that, you may synchronise both hands.

Now you have covered both hands. You have dealt with the technical side of playing the guitar.

Your next problem is knowledge.

I suggest a clear, step-by-step approach on working to memorise the guitar fretboard.

In this area you can practice arpeggios, scales and modes across the guitar neck anchoring it to the root notes.

I cannot give you specific arpeggio or scale to practice as that will depend on what you know already, or where you are in your guitar journey.

After you have fixed some of your knowledge issues, it is time to work on your improvisation.

Have structured and disciplined exercises to improvise along with.

Practice specific issues around The subject of improvisation. Focus on areas that you struggle with. Focus on fixing problem areas.

When just starting out, you can simply take a minor pentatonic scale and practice in a freestyle by just jamming in and out of the different different box positions.

If you are a more mature guitarist, you will need to work on selecting notes against the harmony in order to produce the most advantageous sound.

If you are a professional guitarist, you can work on something like giant steps throughout all 12 keys. Because of the symmetrical nature of the composition, you will practice all 12 keys a few times through!

The key here is to have a structure and you see the keyword that just keeps coming back – ‘structure’.

If you simply operate out of jamming and playing along with the riffs, don’t expect to develop great guitar playing. At best you will get a so-so level of guitar playing.


Firstly start studying with a guitar mentor that works well with your personality. Don’t just select any guitar mentor – select someone that you can actually get along well with.

If you cannot afford a guitar mentor, you will seriously need to become your own mentor – unfortunately this is very difficult to do. (If you are passionate you will find a way. If you are privileged to live in a beautiful country such as the United Kingdom, there is really no excuse.)

Make sure your guitar mentor understands structure and discipline.

Study on a weekly basis or a daily basis alongside your mentor and practice in a disciplined approach.

If you do this, it will only be a matter of time before you will become the guitarist you have always dreamed of becoming!

» Find out more about the guitar courses that I offer in London for serious guitar students here

10 Guitar Improvement Rules by The London Guitar Institute

You’ll Learn To Live By – and Love! – as a London Guitar Institute Student

Guitar improvement article by Stefan Joubert
(The London Guitar Institute’s Head Guitar Teacher and Guitar Virtuoso –

Rule #1: You will have a Very Clear Goal of What and Why You’re Practicing.

Excellent guitar playing doesn’t just happen out of the blue. A tremendous amount of effort and time needs to be put into learning technique, sound, effects, scales, chords, lines, vibratos and other valuable guitar-based assets. The first rule is to have crystal clear goals when you practice your guitar. Typically a session can be broken down into a couple of areas of improvement such as right-hand picking, vibrato and bends. Whatever you decide to work on – always have a clear picture of the whats and whys of your practice session. It’s most useful when you combine that mindset with what you’ve been learning in your lessons the past few weeks.

Rule #2: Improvement happens in tiny-increments, but the FAITHFUL will win.

Do not expect significant improvements overnight. A war is won with a lot of strategies, patience and persistence. Churchill did not achieve victory in WW II overnight – he believed, continued, worked relentlessly and sometimes failed – even to the point of despair – BUT in the end, he won the war. It’s a bit like that (at times) with serious guitar improvement.

A great example of this is when you are eager to learn how to play fast. It’s a worthwhile goal and playing fast can sound terrific, but it will take a lot of strategy, patience and persistence. At times it will feel like you will never achieve your goal, but if you stick it out – in the end, you will win!

Rule #3: You will stop playing immediately if your hands or muscles hurt.

A common mistake some guitarists make is to practice even when it hurts. If your hands every hurt – take a break – also take the day off, but never risk your hands for improvement – it will not be worth it.

Rule #4: You will warm up every time before you start playing the guitar.

Warming up is essential, and it gets your blood flowing through your arms. When you warm up properly, you reduce injury by a very very significant amount. Always warm up before you dive into the passion of playing the guitar!

Rule #5: You will NOT be afraid of trying something new.

Trying a new lick or line or even a guitar piece in a completely different style to yours is perfectly alright! Only playing and practising one method is rarely a good idea. All the greatest guitarists borrow ideas from various genres. Take a look at Robben Ford – he is an excellent blues guitarist, but he certainly knows his bebop lines. Another great experimental giant to study is Steve Vai – a great example of a guitarist who can play many styles on a virtuoso level. Do you think Mr Vai would have been half the guitarist he is today if he was scared of trying new things? NO WAY! I would suggest you try at least a new line or lick (during your musical dessert time) and incorporate other styles into your playing!

Rule #6: You will play with others.

There are thousands of guitarists who have excellent technique, but no sense of rhythm or “feel” for playing with others. They are unfortunately half-way-there-guitarists. If you want to make serious improvements in your playing make certain that you PLAY WITH OTHERS in a setting that’s not always comfortable for you! By doing so, you will learn a whole lot of things that you will never be able to learn while practising in the comfort of your private guitar practice studio!

Rule #7: You will have a Guitar Mentor.

It’s imperative if you want to become the best you can be to have a guitar mentor, preferably an instructor who can follow your progress weekly and walk the guitar journey with you!

I’m not just saying this as the head guitar teacher of the London Guitar Institute, and it has been my own experience as well. It’s been my observation that when I used to learn the guitar with an excellent mentor, my playing improved four-fold (meaning I got four-years of guitar experience in one year).

There is absolutely nothing that can replace the value of a guitar mentor or coach to help you reach the stars!

Rule #8: Giving up is not an option.

If you’re serious about learning the guitar (whether it’s for your pleasure or a serious endeavour), then you cannot and MUST not give up! There are going to be times when your progress will be frustratingly slow. There will be times when it will feel like you are going nowhere. Guess what! – We’ve all been there. All the greatest guitarists on earth have been at precisely the same dreadful situation. The solution – NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVING UP!

Rule #9: You will practice the guitar without a guitar.

Doing things the typical average guitar player is NOT doing is precisely what I suggest!

Have you ever find yourself queuing at the airport? If so what did you do with your ‘wasted time’? The best way to improve faster than ever before is to turn some or all of your ‘wasted time’ (time where you are waiting for something, but doing nothing) into productive ‘photographic memory’ practice sessions.

How does that work? – well, you practice new patterns in the eye of your mind – visualising the guitar, your left and right hand and practising without a guitar!

Rule #10:
You will improve your guitar playing in a systematic, organised fashion that looks after each of the technical units much like our own bodies.

We have fingers, toes, arms, knees, eyes, ears etc… In guitar playing we have the left hand and the right hand and then subdivisions of those such as (right hand) picking, strumming, sweeping, fingerpicking, tapping, controlling the volume and (left hand) fretting, vibrato, hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, bends, bends and vibratos, slides, double stops and much more.

You will be dedicated to practising each of those units (over time) and perfect your understanding on how they operate. If you do that, then you’re 99% ahead of all guitarists trying to improve their playing today!

(The guitar virtuoso Stefan Joubert wrote the above article for the benefit of helping guitarists around the world grow. He is currently teaching at The Dubai Guitar Institute and also offers online guitar lessons over the internet for anyone who wants to improve their guitar playing skills.

He has developed a tremendously unique style of playing by placing the guitar on his knees like a piano and playing on the fretboard with both hands. His videos have received millions of views on YouTube. Contact him at

If you would like to study at the London Guitar Institute, please get in touch with us on 0207 127 0717 or visit our contact page at

Learn the secrets of how to practice effectively and efficiently!

Mike Practicing Guitar

The adage “practice makes perfect” only holds if one knows how to practice.

The correct saying should be: “PERFECT practice makes perfect”.

One of the biggest obstacles to becoming a proficient guitarist is not knowing how or what to practice. Practising is as much an art as learning the guitar itself.

Masters of the guitar know how to practice effectively; they know how to break down their time into workable segments to work on different areas of their guitar technique and performance.

Guitarists who struggle to improve their playing probably have a lack of understanding of how to practice effectively.

Efficient and effective practice can increase your guitar skills and knowledge more than fourfold in a single year. Basically, by practising the guitar efficiently, you would gain four years of learning in one.

So you might wonder – how do I practice effectively, what is the secret?

Well, firstly it will depend on your current level and your what your goals are going forward.

I will demonstrate three scenarios with practice schedules based on three different levels of guitar playing:

Beginner guitarist
A beginner learning how to practice the guitar

Scenario 1: an absolute beginner

In this scenario, we have a complete beginner who has just picked up the guitar about three months ago. He is working in a professional insurance company and has remarkably little time to practice. The best suggestion would be to manage three sessions of 45 minutes weekly.

By following a practice schedule, he will progress in the fastest way possible.

Schedule A: No schedule
Time available for practice 45 minutes

  • No warm up
  • Practice/play favourite repertoire – 24 minutes
  • Practice some chords – 5 minutes
  • Practice/play some more repertoire – 16 minutes

Now analyse the effectiveness of Example A:

Firstly there’s no warm up – no time to acquainted with the instrument again. This leads to frustration as one’s hands are just not warm enough to produce a decent enough sound out of the instrument. The second issue is that the student goes directly to his favourite repertoire aka the “musical dessert”. This method is not sound as more severe problems are to be resolved elsewhere.

Practising his chords for 5 minutes is not a bad thing, but it in Scenario B (the scenario to follow) it’s structured before the student enjoying his “musical dessert”, and hence the focus on the chords (i.e. problem) will be far more effective than in Scenario A.

Lastly, the student gets back to playing his repertoire as it brings him joy and happiness instead of frustration. Working on a problem can usually bring a lot of frustration before the solution is found. Therefore, the student prefers going back to the “musical dessert” instead of working on solid food. This is usually counter-productive unless a “fun session” was pre-arranged.

I believe that there is a time for the learner to have fun on his instrument, but once again this ought not to take precedence over the regular practice sessions that the student must benefit from.

Schedule B: An exact schedule
Time available for practice 45 minutes

  • Warm up – 5 Minutes
  • Practice new chords – 10 Minutes
  • Practice scales/arpeggios (relevant ones such as a basic minor pentatonic) – 10 Minutes
  • Practice strumming relevant to chord repertoire – 5 Minutes
  • Practice repertoire – 15 Minutes

This is an example of a well-thought-out practice schedule suitable for a beginner in a particular set of circumstances.

The first thing I genuinely appreciate is the fact that the student takes five minutes to warm up before starting with his various other activities.

After the initial warm-up, he goes straight into practising new chords. Although it might be frustrating and challenging, he continues for 10 minutes and faithfully applies himself.

He then continues unto scales, meticulously practising them at 60 BPM (beats per minute). This leads to obtaining a more excellent command over the fretboard that will compound and explode over several years!

After practising his chords, scales and arpeggios, he moves unto strumming that’s relevant to his chord repertoire. By practising with the right hand alone, he gets a full view of what’s going on. This enables his strumming hand to work like a well-oiled machine, ready to strum any chord pattern that comes its way!

ONLY right at the end does he enjoy his favourite musical dessert – the repertoire that he so badly wants to play! In fact, it’s easy for him – his right hand is strumming faithfully while his left-hand plays the chords without much hesitation – THANKS TO STICKING WITH A DISCIPLINED PRACTICE SCHEDULE!

Practising in this way will yield a harvest over several months/years that far outweighs the proceeds of Scenario A!

I recommend any student (whether absolute beginner, amateur or professional) to practice the guitar with a schedule and not without. I believe there are times when practising without a program can be justified (as playing music should not be arduous at all times), but (in my opinion) 85% of the time a reasonably strict schedule should be adhered to, to obtain the best results possible!

Intermediate level guitarist practicing

Scenario 2: an intermediate guitarist (five years of experience)

In this scenario, we have an intermediate guitarist who has five years of guitar learning experience behind him. Currently, he owns a Gibson Les Paul. His favourite guitar hero is the classic-guitar-tone-master Slash. He has learned the solo to “Sweet Child O’ Mine'”and knows quite a few things about lead guitar.

His weakness is a lack of theoretical knowledge, and his knowledge of scales is limited to the minor pentatonic scale. His chordal expertise extends to power chords as well as the primary major/minor/dominant chords in open and barré form.

He wants to progress and understand the instrument to a much higher level. He has about 15 hours a week to practice. He’s currently practising about two hours daily.

By following a practice schedule, he will progress in the fastest way possible.

Schedule A: No schedule
Time available for practice 120 minutes

  • No warm-up – 0 minutes
  • Picks up a guitar magazine and tries the latest riff – 20 minutes
  • Works on his bending vibrato – 10 minutes
  • Plays the Sweet Child O’ Mine solo bit – the part where he struggles – the part where Slash plays a fast harmonic minor sequence up the neck. He does this without any metronome or guitar journal – 30 minutes
  • He takes a small break for coffee – 10 minutes
  • He gets back to the fast bit of Sweet Child O’ Mine – 25 minutes
  • He memorises a lick from his guitar magazine – 15 minutes
  • He practice playing fast (without a journal or any time-keeping device) – 10 minutes

In this example, our intermediate guitarist has spent most of his time on his favourite Slash solo. While it’s a beautiful solo, and a cool thing to play, he did it without any plan or journal. There were no notes (historical notes) to state what top speeds he reached today or which exact parts he struggled with. It was merely a trial and error give-it-a-shot type of practice session.

Working for 10 minutes on his bending vibrato is a delightful idea, but without any structure, it will not yield the best returns.

He tried the latest riff out of a guitar magazine – this is once again part of a “musical dessert” and not “solid meat”. This is the sort of thing to keep at the end of a session as a reward.

Haphazardly memorising a lick from a guitar magazine does not mean much. It might be useful, he might forget it tomorrow. Who knows? – only time will tell.

This sort of method is brilliant if you want to stay in a rut and develop terrible habits. He’ll complain about his picking technique and the fact that he struggles to know what to do next.

The big issue at stake here is probably the lack of a terrific guitar teacher and mentor. A lot of intermediate guitarists could become proficient guitarists if they had an excellent teacher. Practising in the above way will only lead to deep frustration and slow progress is inevitable.

Schedule B: An exact schedule
Time available for practice 120 minutes

  • Warm up – 10 minutes
  • Work on his right-hand technique – 20 minutes
  • Work on his left-hand technique – 20 minutes
  • Practice sequences in all five pentatonic positions. (SLOWLY) – 20 Minutes
  • Takes a break – 10 minutes
  • He works on a selected part of the Sweet Child O’ Mine Solo (documented in his journal) – 20 Minutes.
  • He practices his speed picking and co-ordination (documented in his journal) – 20 Minutes.

WOW! – He’s had a bit of a workout! BUT here’s the secret – he was working on solid meat all the way. It’s arduous work to continue working on solid meat day after day, but the best guitarists develop their technique in this way.

His technical exercises are documented into a practice journal and subdivided into his rough speed (the maximum speed he obtains in a particular exercise – roughly) and exact speed (the maximum speed he obtains for a specific exercise – perfectly clean)

After a couple, of years of practising with a precise schedule most of the time, this intermediate guitarist will become a semi-pro, and if he continues, he will become a professional (virtuoso) guitarist.




Well done to him is all I can say!

Lady playing jazz guitar

Scenario 3: an advanced guitarist (eight years of experience)

In this scenario, we have an advanced guitarist.

She is familiar with improvising in the blues and pentatonic scales as well as most of the modes of the major scale. Having achieved a high level of experience in rock and metal guitar, she is now interested in learning how to play jazz.

She currently lacks the knowledge of knowing how harmonic structures of jazz work. Her improvisations are not “swinging” enough, and she still has a lot to learn in terms of playing over moving chord changes.

By following a practice schedule, she will progress in the fastest way possible.

Schedule A: No schedule
Time available for practice 120 minutes

  • No warm-up – 0 minutes
  • Picks up the guitar and plays through a few II V I changes – 45 minutes
  • Works learning memorising new chords – 25 minutes
  • She has a small coffee break – 10 minutes
  • Practice improvising over a famous standard – 20 minutes
  • Plays a few of her favourite lines – 20 minutes

I wouldn’t say it’s a lousy schedule, but it can be arranged better.

It’s always more prudent to warm up as it will improve the entire session.

Starting with the II V I changes can be a brilliant idea, if planned and practised every day at the same time.

The same applies to everything else our guitarist has done here.

Planning is the key to become a consistent and excellent guitarist over time!

Schedule B: An exact schedule
Time available for practice 120 minutes

  • Warm up – 10 minutes
  • II V I Lines (four beats per chord change) – 10 Minutes
  • II V I Chords (four beats per chord change) – 10 Minutes
  • II V I Lines (two beats per chord change) – 10 Minutes
  • II V I Chords (two beats per chord change) – 10 Minutes
  • She has a small coffee break – 10 minutes
  • Practice her repertoire – 35 minutes
  • Memorise new chords 15 minutes
  • Practice improvisation – 20 Minutes

I honestly prefer this schedule. It’s well thought-out and will undoubtedly produce the desired results. Significant improvement comes with proper planning and skilful work. Her II V I’s were practised to perfection. (“II V I” is the most respected progression in jazz as almost everything moves in the direction of fourths).

She had a small coffee break and after that practised her repertoire, chords and improvisation. You will notice that she hasn’t spent much time practising left or right-hand coordination. Technical exercises are always a sound idea, but as our guitarist in this scenario has quite a high level of technical skill, it’s probably more prudent for her to concentrate on the musical side of things.

As I said before, a proper schedule will improve your playing much more than practising in an impromptu style. If you want to become an excellent guitarist, then be disciplined in your approach; otherwise, the hope of success will be dim.

Even if, you only intend to play the guitar for your pleasure, practising your instrument with a schedule will get you the best bang for your buck. Your return on time invested will far outweigh your return on impromptu practice time divested!

For a guitarist with an extraordinarily limited amount of practice time available, it’s undoubtedly imperative to follow a practice schedule as carefully as possible. As a dear friend used to say, prioritise ruthlessly!