Making a practice schedule that works

Updated: Aug 2018

No matter what happens throughout the day, one thing I always try and make time for is practicing guitar. It's therapy, it's a way to be creative, and so much more.

In fact, that’s what this whole post is going to be about. While my practice routine changes from time to time depending on different things I’d like to focus on, it always sticks to the sections of time system.

I’ll spend 15 mins on something here, maybe 30 mins on something else, but never stay on the same thing for too long. I like to try and stack practice habits together. If I’m working on sweep picking, but also want to learn a bunch of arpeggios, I’ll try and link the two together.

If you take nothing else away from this post, know that it pays off if you know what you're going to practice when you sit down. You're mindfully practicing at that point, and you'll be getting better each time you sit down to play.

This is just my practice schedule, and as I said it changes from time to time. Take bits and pieces away from this, and adapt it to how you practice. Change sections, times, and more based on how much time you have. Make it your own!

Here’s a breakdown of my current practice schedule:

1)Downward pickslanting/dexterity exercises (15 minutes) — I’m a big fan of Troy Grady and his Cracking the Code system. Not many things have made such an impact on my playing as studying his research into picking techniques.

I’m working on downward pickslanting a lot this year. You can check out Troy's courses on Gumroad. He also has a ton of content on YouTube so you can get an idea of what his method is all about.

After working on my right hand, I move to left hand dexterity exercises to get both hands warmed up and in sync. Currently I'm using a product I made this year - 50 Amazing Finger Exercises.

2)Sight reading (20 minutes) — Sight reading has always been important to me, and I have a number of books I’m using to keep my sight reading fresh. Sight reading is one of those things that I’ve found diminishes if you’re not practicing it regularly.

Here are 2 books I’ve been using lately for sight reading:

3)Transcribing (20 minutes) — I think transcribing is just as important as sight reading, if not more important. It helps you develop a great ear, and will help you out if you’re playing with a band in a live situation.

I’ve been changing it up and transcribing an instrument that isn’t guitar (like sax or trumpet). Here’s the book I’ve been using. Take it in small chunks, and you can get it done!

4)Improv (25 minutes) — Around this time in my practice routine I’ll want to forget about some of the more standard practicing I’ve done and just play for fun to see what I come up with.

I’ll put on a number of backing tracks and mix it up with soloing off the cuff and incorporating techniques, scales or other things I’ve learned while practicing. This helps cement what you’re learning in a real context — playing music.

5)Using Drone notes (15 minutes) — I love the sound of using drone notes in music. You’ll find examples of drone playing in Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin, Big Wreck and lots of other artists’ songs.

Tim Pierce is a fantastic guitar player, and I recently found a great drone / common tones lesson from him on YouTube. I’ll usually use this 15 minutes to learn a new technique. In the past this section has been taken up by sweep picking. I’m putting that on hold for a little while to learn how to get more drone notes into my playing.

6)Mixolydian mode (15 minutes) — Modes are a mystery to a lot of guitar players. At the end of the day, they can be a helpful tool in providing your playing with different feels while you’re soloing. Try and work on a mode a week until you have all of them under your fingers for one key. Start with the key of C since it has no sharps or flats.

After that, move on to applying the modes to other keys. Which is your favorite? If you like the sound of a certain guitar player, search the internet for what modes they use most, and make those the first modes you try and tackle.

This entire practice schedule clocks in at under 2 hours. If I don’t have a full 2 hours to practice (which is often), I’ll try and take the sections I didn’t work on the previous day and start with them the next time I sit down to practice.

What do you like to practice when you sit down? Set goals for yourself so you’re not just mindlessly playing, but also include time to just have fun and play. I’ve found that the more I learn, the better those times I’m ‘just playing’ become. Let me know what you think by reaching out on Twitter or Facebook.

This is a slightly edited version of a post that originally appeared in the Chasing Sound Six String Sunday newsletter. Want the best in what the guitar world has to offer each Sunday? Sign up below!

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