We know sitting down to practice isn’t the most exciting idea in the world – sometimes we’d prefer to just jam, or play through songs we already know because it’s easy and feels good.
Unfortunately, without regular, focused practice you’ll likely see your guitar development take a nose-dive.
In this article, we'll go through five practice methods for you to incorporate into your daily or weekly routine.
- Some of these may seem very basic but we often breeze over the fundamentals because they’re not exciting.
- This can leave you with poor technique, making it harder to learn new and more advanced skills.
There’s no shame in going back to basics, in fact, if you’re struggling to learn something complex, it’s probably because of a fundamental technique that needs work.
#1 – Practice with a metronome
The importance of this cannot be understated. When you practice to a metronome you internalize musical timing.
- Both beginner and advanced players should include regular metronome sessions in their practice routine.
- Some players struggle to maintain a steady pace without external assistance like a metronome or drummer.
- Just a few minutes of metronome practice a few times a week can make a huge difference.
A metronome isn’t only good for working on timing, but also a great tool to practice different time signatures.
- Most Western music is in 4/4 time signature, but odd-time signatures like 7/4 can be challenging to play without practice.
- Genres such as Jazz, big band, progressive rock, and classical music often use odd time signatures and tempo changes.
- Practicing these irregularities is crucial to keep up with such genres since they may not come naturally.
With our flexible, online metronome, you can change tempo and time signature.
Jam tracks vs. metronome
One does not exclude the other, but they serve different purposes.
- Jam tracks are undoubtedly more fun, but the metronome might be more important to get the foundation of timing.
- The metronome forces you to work on your instrument alone. There’s no music guiding or influencing you to do something a certain way.
- Jam tracks are there to incorporate what you’ve learned into a musical context, which is the next step.
- Use both, for different reasons – when you’re learning something new, start with the metronome, then move on to a jam track to put it into context.
You can find jam tracks on our website and YouTube channel.
#2 – Start slow to get fast
On the note of playing to a metronome, always start slow when you’re learning something new.
- One of the more common mistakes we see with new guitar players is the desire to be speed demon right away.
- The saying “don’t run before you can walk” is important to apply to learning any instrument.
Whenever you’re practicing something new you need to slow down to really absorb all the nuances of what you’re playing.
- Listen to to quality of each note, how does it sound and feel?
- Focus on your economy of motion – are your hands or fingers moving more than they need to?
Practicing slowly allows you to find all the tiny errors in your technique and correct them – so that when you need to play fast, there’s nothing slowing you down!
#3 – Transcribe music by ear
Transcribing music is one of the best things you can do to develop your overall music skills. Tabs are a great way to learn songs but doing it by ear helps develop a vital skill.
- When transcribing something, you must practice active listening – focusing on specific details of the music
- Start by trying to work out more simple, single-note melodies.
- Then over time, you’ll learn how to recognize more complex sounds like harmonies, triads, extended chords, etc.
You don’t need to transcribe full songs, or even guitar parts exclusively.
Whenever you hear something that grabs your attention, pick up your guitar and try to figure out what you just heard – doing this regularly will make you a very well-rounded musician.
#4 – Learn the CAGED system
The CAGED system is a way to navigate the fretboard. It starts with the most common open chord positions that most guitarists already know.
This is probably the best method for learning chords and scales in different positions all over the neck
- CAGED is an acronym for the open chords the method is based on – C, A, G, E, and D.
- If you know those chord shapes you’re ready to start learning the CAGED system!
- Moving these shapes up and down the fretboard is like filling in the colors of a coloring book – it’ll show you patterns you didn’t see before.
For a brief introduction to the CAGED system, take a look at this blog post.
- Knowing the notes of each fret on the Low E and A strings will make learning the CAGED system much easier too.
- That’s where all the root notes will be located, and they’ll determine which chord you’re playing as you move each shape up and down the fretboard.
The CAGED system is a game changer. It doesn’t tell you what you should play, but it shows you where you can go.
It’ll also teach you how scales and chords are related and where each chord exists within a scale. Often we learn them separately, but here you’ll finally combine them.
We have a free introduction to the CAGED system on YouTube, that we encourage you to check out:
Members of Pickup Music can start the CAGED Pathway and learn how to master this system.
We also have a podcast episode dedicated to this wonderful system.
#5 – Warm up before you start playing
This may be obvious to some of you, but it might’ve flown under the radar for others.
Warming up your hands before playing is essential! You shouldn’t attempt to play anything challenging until you’ve had a chance to warm up.
There are a number of good reasons to warm up before playing guitar.
- More overall agility in your fingers – better control, movement, and speed.
- It puts you in the right head space. Playing guitar requires focus and discipline – starting with a warmup routine encourages this.
- Perhaps most importantly – it reduces the risk of injury.
You wouldn’t expect a runner to run a marathon before warming up, would you?
You can tailor a warmup routine to your own style and mold it around what you’re currently learning – for example, many of the things we’ve looked at today can be made into a warmup exercise.
- Play melodies, riffs, and chord progressions at slow tempos that you slowly increase.
- Work the parts out in different keys and time signatures.
- Apply the CAGED system to play chords in different positions across the fretboard.
Before you even pick up the guitar, however, you might want to try doing some finger stretches, too.
Bonus advice to get the most out of your playing
Set goals. It’s simple, but super impactful. Once you know what you want to achieve, you’ve got something to work towards.
- You can break down the goal into smaller milestones. Suddenly you have a clear path on how to learn something specific.
- The reason so many players feel like they plateau in their playing is simply because they don’t know where to go.
We have a free blog post on how to set guitar goals and make a schedule.
It may not seem very exciting to have to follow a schedule when it comes to guitar but a little discipline will go a long way!
- It’s better to actively practice something for 20 minutes a few times a week than it is to aimlessly play for a few hours every day.
- Sitting with the guitar and noodling for hours is fun, but it won’t take you to the next level.
Final words on practicing guitar
Everyone hits a wall from time to time, inspiration and motivation aren’t always going to be there, which is why we need a routine to help keep us moving in the right direction.
If you write down your goals, make a schedule, and incorporate what we’ve discussed in this article you'll start seeing progress fast.
One of the reasons we lose motivation is due to a lack of consistency and structure. If you want to learn more about why many guitarists don’t see progress in their playing read this.
At Pickup Music, we offer courses for guitarists of every skill level - from beginner to advanced. Sign up to our membership site and a 14-day free trial with complete access to courses and pathways.
CAGED Learning Pathway
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Dr. Molly Miller
Dr. Molly Miller is one of Pickup Music's most popular instructors. Her acclaimed 3-month CAGED Learning Pathway has helped hundreds of students unlock their fretboards and reach their playing potential.Explore Lessons