Ruthless Practice

Earlier I wrote about whether or not practicing tremolo is worth the time. My answer was similar to how I approach all my practicing: ruthlessly.

Your time, my friend, is valuable. Your practice time is even more valuable. You’re busy, and that hour or two of guitar each day is hard to fit in. Practice time is so valuable that you have to find the few most effective things and only use them.

Be ruthless with your practice time. Treat it like an experiment: change a few things at a time, cut what doesn’t work, and keep what does. Never stick with a method or an exercise or a routine because an expert (including me) told you it was the best. You are your own teacher and expert in the practice room. Evaluate constantly, take notes, and keep the most effective things.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Adam

    An “hour or two” of guitar per day – just out of curiosity, is that the amount of practice time you prescribe your students? I know that required practice time varies according to a person’s goals, but if a student (let’s just say, “hypothetically speaking,” a 27 year old law student) hopes to one day competently perform advanced pieces from the guitar’s standard repertoire, what kind of hours should they be logging?

    • Christopher Davis

      I practice about three hours/day. What I recommend to students depends on their age.

      3-4 hour efficient practice should be enough. Of course, more might be better.

  • Mikkel

    I generally practice about 5-6 hours a day, but more than “actual” skill advancement a lot of time is also spent building and managing repertoire. Having to keep a 90+ minute program (almost there!) up to date and ready is very time consuming and besides that I’m also working on a guitar concerto (fpugh in my case). I reckon that 3.5 hours or maybe even less a day would be enough if I stopped practicing and playing pieces when I was in process of learning new ones. I only spend about 1 hour maybe a bit more on purely technical exercises and etudes.

  • Jakes

    Only 1 hour on technique. Better watch out. I find this far too little. There is a reason why Asians are so good… you know. 🙂

  • Mikkel

    Well you develop technique through pieces as well, just take a piece with a lot of appergios in it for instance. You naturally enhance your technical development by practicing, isolating and working on the right hand separately. On the contrary I would say that if you spend too much time on technical exercises your playing becomes lacking, devoid of subtle nuances and sophistication. While you learn to play fast and secure, the technique that is communicated by means of expression and interpretation sometimes come through as lacking. This is the case in my opinion with some of the present asian concert guitarists, while their technical ability is amazing and impressive they come through as boring (cool to watch on video but not so fun on cd). I think to be honest that the only two Asian guitarists worth mentioning are Kazuhito Yamashita and Norihiko Watanabe. But then again I’m not Asian so I’m surely not familiar with everyone.

  • Weston

    I practice about 2-3 hours a day but am finding that I get a bit burned out if I don’t take a day or two off every other week. For me personally it can be counterproductive to practice too much. When I stop enjoying what I’m doing, lose interest, or lack inspiration it shows in my playing and translates into poor execution and performance. I was wondering, does anyone have any practice methods to memorize modes and more importantly how to put modes into use? Whether you’re writing a specific piece of your own, or you’re playing in a duet and have an opportunity to solo, etc. I want to learn and utilize the modes so bad but I don’t know how to incorporate that into my practice time. By what means that is, anyone?

    • Christopher Davis


      Modes for Composing: Pick a pitch center (any pitch) and use a collection of pitches around it. That’s kind of a simplistic explanation, but it’s what I usually think about. If I’m writing something “in A” I might use a “lydian dominant” (mode of the melodic minor scale) as my pitch collection A B C# D# E F# G A. So I’ll use those pitches in whatever the piece is I’m writing, while emphasizing the pitch center A (dominant tonic root motion, repetition of A, pedal points, etc.).

      For soloing it’s a different story. I use a different method that doesn’t require memorizing each mode individually. It’s a bit too long for here, but I’ll try to write a post about it next week.


  • Tristanography

    I aim to practice 2-3 hours a day – I have noticed steep improvements in adding extra hours – I structure my practice into technique and songs – what percentage of each would you recommend ?

    i have been playing 2 years if that helps