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Organize your practice routine with 3 simple rules

The word “Practise” is a continuous chorus we all as musicians hear in each stage of our playing.

Whether it’s the first months we picked up an instrument or after 20 years of being a professional musician, there is always something to practice and usually, a sense of guilt when your programmed practice of the day is skipped.

Truth is, with life getting busier and busier, even professional musicians don’t get time to really “practice” in-between shows and rehearsal. While the rest that has a full-time job along with music find it hard even to pick up the guitar at night, let alone practice.

In this article, we will share 3 tips on making your practice time productive and satisfying, no matter how much time you have to do so.

How much time should you practice every day?

In a conversation between 2 jazz players, the younger one asked the older: “Is it better practice 1 hour each day, 6 days a week or practice 6 hours, only 1 day a week?”

The older player takes a deep breath and with complete confidence in what he’s about to say makes his bold statement: “It’s better to practice 6 days a week, 6 hours every day.”

The moral of the story is that the more time you spend with the instrument, the better you will get. It’s that easy!

Getting back to real life there are many reasons why it’s not possible to practice 6 hours per day, or maybe even 15 minutes some days of the week.

Generally, you should try to practice as much as you can and be consistent with it. If you can only do 30 minutes every day, fine. If you can only do 15 minutes, then keep that up.

Now, two important pillars that make a good practice session are:

  • How you organize each session
  • How consistent are you with the sessions

As you may have noticed, the length is not the most important aspect of practicing. If you truly want to make practice sessions longer, organize your daily routine so that you make up enough time.

The 3 Rules of an effective practice session

Even if you have only 15 minutes per day to practice or a full 3 hours, you might not improve much or not feel satisfied if you’re not structuring your practice session.

Each player has a different approach to learning the instrument, and while that is true some basic principles apply to everyone who wants to get better at any craft.

  • Don’t practice what you know, practice what you don’t know 

In the latest Rick Beato interview with Pat Metheny, the legendary jazz guitarist and composer pointed to an interesting topic among many others.

While discussing how Pat approached practicing he stated that he always stayed ahead of other musicians because he always aimed for what couldn’t do and eventually reached it.

As Pat stated, even if you know a song, there is always more to learn. Try playing it in all 12 keys, or play the other instruments with the guitar. The more you “conquer” a song or technique, the more satisfied you will be.

As obvious as it might sound, many musicians often get stuck in repeating the same exercises and studying the same concepts over a long period. Think of a guitar player that continuously has a 30-minute routine of practice that includes the same alternate picking exercise, same scales, and leads even after being fairly good in them.

Before you point out a structure for your practice routine, first write down what you can’t do and what you want to be able to do. Even if it’s a piece that is far above your actual level of playing, aim for that or something in that range.

The main thing you should get out of this tip is to put down long-term (monthly or yearly) goals on things you are not able to play and stick to those.

Related: 5 steps to learning the guitar fretboard

  • Practice a maximum of 3 things per session

The analogy on this is going to the gym. In every gym session, the instructor separates the days into leg day, chest day, and a mix of a couple of different exercises aimed at improving one or two specific parts of the body

The same concept applies to practicing your instrument. The more you focus your effort on specific parts of your playing, especially considering the limited time, the better you will get.

What you should do is micro plan every practice session having in mind the major musical goals you already wrote down based on the previous tip.

For example, I personally as a session guitarist struggled to play over difficult chord changes and write interesting parts in some songs where the general guitarist approach to soloing failed.

My big goal was to be able to improvise and write guitar parts over difficult and unusual chord changes.

After setting that up I laid out a practice routine of 45 minutes per day where I practiced 3 things that would help me achieve that. The 3 things I would practice were

  • Finding major, minor, 7th chord triads over the whole fretboard
  • Spread Triads on the whole fretboard
  • Playing and recognizing the notes/intervals of the chords while soloing over them

Along with these 3, of course, came some technique exercises. For example, the spread triad exercise had to be alternate picked using a metronome at different speeds.  Spread triads required some hybrid picking, which I was working on at that time too.

So even though my main goal aligned with the chosen 3 exercises in my 45-minute routine, along with that came technique practice, playing on time practice, and general ear training associated with recognizing the intervals of the chords I was playing.

If fretboard knowledge is a goal for you too you should try out the Free Trial that Fretboard Geek offers. Free access to 20 drills for mandolin, guitar, bass, and violin players and an easy interface make your practice even more efficient.

  • Don’t noodle, always play music

The first 2 tips can be applied in a structured pattern in your practice time. This one is more a mindset and approach to playing your instrument that will help you improve inside and outside your practice time.

One common time-waster for musicians, especially self-taught ones like guitar players, is noodling. In this context, noodling refers to picking up a guitar and playing the same old licks, songs, scales, and patterns where your hand takes you.

Related: Is music theory helpful for improvising guitar solos?

By replacing noodling with playing music, each time you pick up your instrument can turn into a fun “practice” session without actually practicing at all.

You can tell the difference between playing music and noodling while you are doing it. Playing music refers to listening to what’s happening around you, thinking out musical ideas in your head, and then transmit those into your playing.

This approach to playing will train your ear and mind to become better and that will make you a better musician, and you can apply it each time you play, inside or outside your routine practice time.

So the best thing to do is when you notice you are noodling, stop playing and think about what you will play next. Usually, the best way is to just listen to what others are playing or if you are playing alone, imagine what others would play.

The conclusion

How much time we practice is not always ours to decide, but how we practice is.

Despite differences in genres, instruments, and playing styles, there are better choices to be made that make practice more efficient and satisfying.

Apply the above tips in the way that you find works best for you and measure your improvements. Even if you don’t measure improvements in written or video/audio form you will know and feel that you are making progress.

A great way to improve if you are a bass, guitar, mandolin, or violin player is to try out the 20 drills Fretboard Geek offers. Everything from music theory, to ear training and practical fretboard knowledge all in one web app.

About the writer

Altin Gjoni is an Online Session Guitar Player devoted to the cause of serving the song through his playing and serving the music industry as a marketer and content writer.

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