4 Habits For Effective Practicing

There’s a common saying today that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. If we do the math on this and assume you practice a skill for 2 hours a day every day of the year it will take you 13 years to master that skill.

And that’s if you can practice 2 hours a day every single day.

But what if there was a way to practice that could cut the time needed to achieve mastery down significantly? By implementing good habits into your practice time you can actually see and feel yourself getting better at guitar at faster rate compared to those who don’t.

Now I know what you’re thinking- how do I know if the way I’m practicing utilizes good habits? While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some key principles that you can incorporate into your practice time immediately in order to see rapid improvement.

#1 - Outline What You Will Work On

Think about it, you wouldn’t build a house without first thinking through what pieces you’ll need and how they fit together. You don’t write a book without first writing down your main areas the story will go through. Likewise, if you divide up your practice time into specific sections you’ll be able to focus on certain skills and avoid getting distracted and diminishing your improvement.

Typically, if I’m going to practice for an hour (which is enough to really work on one song in detail) I will spend 5 minutes doing basic warm ups and stretches for my fingers and about 10 minutes working on technique. The technical practice will change depending on my current weak areas. I might focus on my right hand or left hand accuracy, my speed, my tone, new chord shapes, or something else. Since I’ve only got 10 minutes for this section I will usually pick one or two per session.

The remaining 45 minutes are spent working on the song. But this doesn’t mean I just play the song over and over again. Rather, if it’s a song I can already play, I will play through it once or twice then work on specific sections. Maybe there’s a problem area that I miss a lot of notes in or a section that I focus on the phrasing of. During those zoomed in sections I’ll also stop to work on techniques related to that passage. I might stop to spend 5 minutes on hammer ons so I can nail the slurs in that part of the song. Once I’ve done this I go through the song again making sure I implement the things I just practiced.

#2 - Use A Metronome

“I didn’t rush, you’re just behind!” Well, the metronome doesn’t lie and it turns out I do actually rush...a lot. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to use a metronome. Not only will it help you develop your internal sense of rhythm but it also helps you learn to stay on tempo without it. Plus, if you can learn to keep the beat AND still fill your music with expression you will begin to enter into the world of the masters.


#3 - Break Things Down

I alluded to this above but good practice must include being able to break down tough sections and attack it one piece at a time. A good example of this is if I’m going to be playing rhythm on a song I will usually attack it with this model:

  • Listen to the song once

  • Make sure I know all the chord shapes

  • Play along with the song just strumming the beat to find where the changes are

  • Build and incorporate my strumming patterns

  • Work in rhythmic embellishments

By breaking the song or passage down in this way I make sure I have each building block in place and add to them piece by piece. That way I have a strong foundation for everything I do in the song.

#4 - Put A Timer On It

I’m guilty of skimping on this one- but set a time limit for yourself in practicing. I know you might be thinking “but I want to practice more than that!” and that’s great! You can always add time if needed but setting the clock for 30 minutes or 1 hour or whatever to work on something will help you stay focused because you really don’t have all day. I find when I don’t do this, I’ll start working on a song, drift over to a technique, start noodling, next thing I know I’ve spent the last 20 minutes not working on the song I sat down to improve!

This list is not exhaustive and is not meant to be the end all be all of practicing but these principles have helped me a lot over the years and I hope they help you too. Happy playing!