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Discover 5 ways to stay motivated when practicing the guitar. Improve your practice routine and improve your guitar playing!

Guitar Player

All teachers have had conversations with students about practise routines and we’ve all dealt with students who are feeling less than motivated to practise. Here are 5 ways to stay motivated when practising.
These tips can be used if you are a teacher with a student feeling the pinch of motivational depression or if you are a student looking to give yourself a boost.

1. Progress Chart

For young students, I find progress charts are a great way to encourage them to stay motivated. Similar to one you might find in a classroom. Set the student goals each lesson such as “Practise this chord charge” or “Memorise this melody”. Compliance with the task will result in a positive mark being added to the chart and if the student does not practise the requested piece, a negative mark. Most younger students will see this as a slight challenge to keep up the good progress.

2. The 10 Minute Mindset

Keep practise routines that are achievable. People live busy lives, especially teenage and adult learners. If you tell a 15 year old, or someone will a full time job and a family, to start on Steve Vai’s famous 10 and 30 hour practise routines you’ll be heading for trouble fast.

I often use an approach I like to call the 10 minute mindset. Work on one thing with no distraction for 10 minutes a day for a whole week. If you commit to that solid 10 minutes a day, by the end of the week you should have made some good progress with the item you’re working on. I like to continue the 10 minute mindset beyond the initial stages. If you can convince someone that they will benefit from 10 minutes a day, they might be playing for 20-30 minutes and beyond. This makes the mindset a success. The student is practising for times exceeding 10 minutes, but in their head they are still thinking small chunks, this makes the idea of practise less daunting and very low impact to their lives.

3. Long Term Goals

Encourage your student to consider the long-term goals of what their playing could help them accomplish. If they have the desire to pursue a career in music, perhaps they would see this as reason to put the time and effort into practise. Tell them to consider what they want out of the guitar in the long run. If they want to play in a band, work as a session musician or maybe even teach themselves, emphasise the importance of practising and keeping their skills at a high level. Working as a musician is an incredibly competitive environment to be in, you have to keep yourself on top of your game every day to ensure you’re seen as the best person for the job.

4. Keep it Visible

This seems to be more of a trend with adult learners, but I have seen this behaviour repeated in younger students too. A lot of adults tend to keep their guitars in less obvious places. One thing I realised, simply by asking a group of people in my early days of teaching, was that there seemed to be a correlation between where someone keeps their guitar and how often they practise.

The reply that always stuck with me was a student who kept his guitar in its case at the back of his cupboard. To practise he had to empty the cupboard, take the case out, set everything up and then put it all back away when he was finished. This was not an incentive to practise each day. Keep your guitars where you can see them, I promise you’ll never want to put it down!

Hearing Progress

The ultimate motivator is hearing that the thing you’ve been working on is taking shape. That chord change from a Dmin13 to an F#maj7 has been causing you a lot of bother lately, but it’s starting to get easier now right? What about that alternate picked guitar part? The 3 notes per string at 140bpm lick… that’s definitely getting faster. When you can hear improvement, it will push you to follow it through and commit to the final goal of mastering the thing you’re working on.

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About the Author

Matthew Rusk is a professional musician and guitar teacher from the UK. He has taught hundreds of students from complete beginners to advanced players. He has been providing guitar lessons locally and online, sharing his practise tips, motivation topics and exercises with students far and wide. He has created an online community of like minded music teacher to motivate and encourage individuals of all ages to start learning musical instruments. You can find out more at mgrmusic.com

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!

Guitarist practicing the guitar

Most guitarists could be far better off than they are now if they would only follow a proper practice routine!

Your guitar lessons in London don’t end when we finish our one to one session, you’ll be given lots of material to practice at home. (Such as right and left-hand workouts, scales, chords, note reading, sight-reading, guitar-specific techniques, theory and much more…)

The more you practice, the faster you will develop your skills and the quicker you will become the guitar player you want to be.

Here are some tips for practising guitar at home:

Make Time, or Don’t

The biggest obstacle many guitar lesson students face when trying to practice at home is time. Few of us have extra time on our hands and finding an extra hour a day can be difficult. The great thing about learning the guitar is you can pick it up anywhere. You can watch the TV and work

Few of us have extra time on our hands and finding an extra hour a day can be difficult. The great thing about learning the guitar is you can pick it up anywhere. You can watch the TV and work

The great thing about learning the guitar is you can pick it up anywhere. You can watch the TV and work through the Lydian mode or play some sequences while chatting to friends! (Of course serious dedicated alone-practice time is also required, but if you struggle to find time, doing something is better than nothing!)

There are many other ways you can weave practice into your daily life such as:

Perform a guitar solo for a friend

When you have a friend over, why not show him or her what you have achieved in your guitar lessons by playing a solo or song that you have learned.

The time that you spend performing the solo to your friend will be a very valuable feedback time for you to help you improve your guitar playing in your alone-time practice sessions!

It may at times be painful and even humiliating, but it will DEFINITELY help your progress!

Listen to Your Favourite Music

If you like to spend time watching music channels or listening to music, hold your guitar while you’re doing it. See what chords/melodies/patterns you recognise and play along, you will be amazed just how much you can learn when listening to Wes Montgomery and trying to copy some of his lines! (Or Kirk Hammett if you are into metal as an example!)

Of course, if you can carve out an hour or two a day to practice, you’ll advance at a fast pace. Try not to see it as a chore, as it is not. It’s time for you that is much needed.

Finally, get the best education money can buy and do not forget to practice with proper balance, posture and freedom of movement!

Remember that perfect practice along with excellent quality tuition will bring you the results that you are looking for!

If you practice without quality tuition, you may pick up bad habits along the way!

That is exactly why it is absolutely imperative that you select a top-notch guitar instructor who can help you learn properly!

Make sure you practice using proper posture and perhaps look for an Alexander Technique instructor to help you improve your balance, posture and freedom of movement.

I personally recommend Jackie as she is an expert at the art! – you can visit her website here: http://alexandertec.co.uk/

Finally, look after yourself whilst practising and you will be able to enjoy guitar playing for decades to come!

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.

 

Eventually!

 

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!