Goal Oriented Guitar Practice

See a more updated version of this theory: Goal Oriented Guitar Practice (revisited)
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not a huge fan of practice schedules.  A lot of folks out there think they need absolute structure to their practice time:

10 minutes arpeggios
20 minutes scales
30 minutes etudes
5 minutes checking cell phone
20 minutes repertoire

There’s only question to ask yourself:  are you improving?  If yes, continue with current practice routine.  If no, why? Lack of improvement could be any number of things, but that’s another blog entirely.

I believe that musicians should have a time only schedule.  That is, “practice X hours/day.”  This leaves a lot up in the air.  Some time should certainly allocated to technique.  I like to do that right away in the morning, for about a half hour–this is more to prepare my hands for the rest of the day than anything.  After that I have a series of small goals to accomplish throughout my practice.

We often have the difficult sections of a given piece marked, or the parts that give us trouble blocked off in our minds.  So work on them!  Make it a goal for a unit of practice to perfect a small portion and reinsert it back into the context of the piece.  I tried writing these goals down in a sort of practice journal, but I work better with the mental list instead.  However, a practice journal can be a useful tool.

This allows a lot more flexibility than a strict schedule, and keeps practice interesting.  And it works!

What’s your practice routine look like?

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Mike Gover

    To each his own but I’m more of a practice log kind of person. I spent years practicing X number of hours but the lack of focus resulted in less improvement than could have been possible. As an amatuer with about an hour a day to practice I find a short warmup (5-10 minutes) of fundemental skills followed by focused practice goals/directives works best. If not I catch myself wandering about “playing” guitar rather than practicing.
    A well thought out practice schedule can provide variety and help maintain a larger repertoire on a limited time budget.

  • CD

    I should probably clarify that I do follow some sort of schedule. But I also have the luxury of three+ hours/day of practice if I need it.

    My own schedule is more time only, so three hours is the goal/minimum. I spent about a half hour on technique and adjust the rest according to the needs of the pieces I’m working on.


  • How To Practise

    Hi Chris,

    Some good points. I’m totally in favour of goal oriented practice and really don’t like any mention of time (even the vague limits you set yourself). I would rather a pupil practised until they have reached the goal they set themselves for that practice session – the amount of time spent is irrelevant.

    I’ve added your site to my feed reader so will follow your updates with interest. I’ve also added you to the list of links at my site – perhaps you might like to reciprocate 😉

  • Logan Moon

    As an instructor during the lesson it has to be structured. But its important that when you first start (later on a lot more) to play a min. of 15 mins. i say that little because your fingers hurt. But for people playing in bands and or teaching you need at least 3+ hours of practice a day.

    I defiantly agree though. Once you start practicing that much. you need goals not timed schedual. 30 Mins of warm up is what i do to. Then say ok i want to do this today on the guitar, work on it till you do it and then move on to your next goal.

  • Misty Fain

    I really like your site. I like your advice. I think that what you say about getting caught up in the flow of a song and not focusing on correct form is what has kept me from developing good guitar playing. I have always said, ”Oh, I’m not a guitar player… I just play to back up my singing.” WRONG. I love guitar! I love Bass Guitar, too! This site is encouraging. I’m glad that Karolina O’Donaghue introduced me to your facebook page. Rock On!!