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How Long Should I Practice Guitar Each Day?

I ask your forgiveness in advance: I am that guy who, when asked a simple question, gives a big, long rambling answer. I aspire to be more Zen-like, and answer with short cryptic phrases involving nature words. But I’m not there yet.

Almost every beginning student I work with asks very early on, “how much should I practice?”

What they are looking for, I think, is a numerical answer. They want me to say, “You should practice 30 minutes every single day” or “45 minutes, four times a week.”

But I cannot, in good conscience, give those simple answers.

How much guitar practice? It Depends.

It depends on what you are setting out to do.  (world domination, or simple enjoyment?)

It depends on how much time you have available an want to practice.  If you are working full time and have 5 children under 8 years old, it will be different than if you are retired and have leisurely days.

It depends on how much mental energy you’re bringing to the table on any given day.  It’s not all that fun to practice when mentally exhausted.  Forcing practice at these times doesn’t excite us to play more tomorrow.  On those days, a short practice (or none) is just fine.   (If this happens frequently, perhaps practicing in the morning is a better option for you.)

It depends on HOW you practice.  As they say, “Digging all day is only worthwhile if your hole is in the right place.”  (We certainly want our hole in the right place….)

 

Classical guitar goals

How much time to allow for practice depends in part on what you are setting out to do.

If you sit down to practice with some solid goals, then you can simply work until you meet them.

You may have weekly goals. Either your teacher set them for you, or you decided on them yourself. If so, then it’s time to put on your “project manager hat”

Break your practice up into reasonable bits that will allow you to accomplish your goals in a week, and go at it.

If you don’t have any specific practice goals, then I recommend you get some. This is where having a practice notebook comes in extremely handy.

Guitar practice is a mental AND physical game.

There’s more to practicing just the number of minutes you sit down and do it.

The most important factor, says me, is the quality of focus that you bring to the table in your practice.

If you show up and bring your A-game, you can often get twice as much done in half the time.

If you sit down the practice, and you are distracted, thinking about all of your chores that you need to do, what so-and-so said about so-and-so, and that big sandwich waiting for you in the refrigerator, then it’s a different story.

One of the benefits of a regular practice is that it gives us the opportunity to hone our skill of focus. Practice allows us a venue to train our level of awareness.

Many people practice meditation for this exact reason. This is why, after a good practice, you may feel as though you have been meditating. We can get many of the benefits of mindfulness meditation from a focused practice. Pretty cool!

Note: I am not suggesting that guitar practice is a substitute for meditation, just that we can experience SOME of the same feelings and benefits.  If you meditate, don’t stop just because you read this little article!

Interval training

Another interesting thing to take into account when talking about practice, is the way that the mind remembers things.

Try this:  Look at this number for a full 5 seconds, then look away and remember as much as you can.

1745396702846583658708783418552

 

The mind prefers beginnings and endings to middles. This means that, given a list of numbers, we will typically remember the first few in the last few, but forget also the stuff in the middle.  Did you remember the first and last few of this number?

This could be a weakness, or we could choose to use this tidbit of information to make our practice much more effective.

Regardless of how long we practice for in total, it helps to frequently switch up the type of work we are currently doing.  This creates more beginnings and endings.

For instance, when learning a new piece of music, we could sit down and grind on it for a half an hour or 45 minutes, or we could do it differently.

Short, Focused Bursts

Instead, we could choose to focus on a small bit for a shorter amount of time, say five or 10 minutes. Then, we could change gears and move to something else. This could be within the same piece of music, or another “zone” of our practice (such as arpeggios, scales, or sight-reading).

If you really wanted to work effectively, you would then go back and review the small section that you were previously working on before moving on to something else.

Like a cat

If you have ever seen a cat stalk and catch a mouse, they do this.  They pounce on it, and get the job half done.  Then they move away and ignore it a little bit, licking themselves and feeling smug.  Then they come back and play with it a bit more.  Lather, rinse, repeat until they finally just eat the thing.  Circle your piece of music like a cat!

OK, so how much do I practice?

I still have not given an answer to this question, because there is none.  No single correct answer anyway.

My basic answer is:

Practice as much as you can while staying focused and enjoying the process.  

 

On guilty feelings

One of the worst things you can do for your guitar playing is to feel guilty all the time for not practicing more.  Of course you would like to practice more than you do.  We would all like that.  Join the club.

“Be grateful for whatever time you do get to practice.”

Instead, feel grateful for the time that you are getting to practice.  Classical guitar is a beautiful instrument that challenges our mind and our body.  It is a joy to learn and grow on.

Guilt is unnecessary baggage: don’t do it.

Wrapping it up

So here are your concrete takeaways from all this:

1. Make some goals

First, determine some concrete goals for the week, or some landmarks that you could hit within a week. It may be getting to a certain point in a piece of music, scale tempos, or anything else on your radar.  Write them down. They don’t really exist if you don’t write them down. You may think they do, but they don’t. Sorry, but you won’t remember them. Nothing personal.

2. Bring your A-game

Next, commit to bringing your A-game. Think of your practice time as an opportunity to hone your abilities to focus like a laser.  Show up with a good, positive outlook, clear mind, relaxed body, and general sense of “Up” (up is an attitude.)

When your mind strays, notice it and gently bring it back to whatever it is that you are working on. Do it over and over again. Be gentle with yourself. This is a learned skill and a muscle that has to be built.

Stay focused on the goals you set at the beginning of the week.

3. Structure your time

Then, alternate your work so that you give your mind plenty of “beginnings and endings”. Return frequently to anything new that you were working, especially if your goal is to memorize it (which I highly recommend, as a rule).

If you are practicing for a long time, remember to take breaks.  Stand up and move your body.  Drink water.  Your brain and your body will love you for it!

4. Be grateful

Guilt gets you nowhere.  Be grateful for the time you get to spend playing on a wonderful instrument.  Appreciate that you make time for yourself and that you bring beauty and music into your life.  Congratulate yourself for all your good work!

Over to you:

Now, please scroll down and let us know how much you usually practice and why in the comments.  I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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3 Responses to How Long Should I Practice Guitar Each Day?

  1. mark June 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    Good afternoon Maestro Mathews! Once again, thanks for this wonderful article! The reason I practice is simple: I love it. I love everything about the guitar; the way it feels in my hands, the way it sounds, even the way it smells (yes, mine has a solid cedar top and mahogany back and sides and it just smells wonderful)! As far as how I practice, well, to be honest, before discovering CGS, I never really had much organization in my daily practice routine. But I guess I’ve gotten a little more OCD in my old age because I took to your lessons like a fish to water.

    Your checklist “My First 20 Hours of Practice” has become my daily practice template. Since I hadn’t played guitar for nearly a decade, I realized early on that re-building the fundamentals was crucial to my development. And, since the reason I stopped playing was due to an accident that severely damaged the nerves in my left hand, I realized that I have to take things very slow.

    With that being said, I begin every practice session with a warm-up period. I play the Chromatic Scale for about 15 minutes. However, after the first 5 minutes or so, I start to alternate my left-hand fingerings (ie: 1,3; 2,4; 1,2; 2,3; 3,4; 1,4). My main focus here is to get my fingers working independently. Starting slowly at first, and concentrating on tone more than speed. Precision in technique is more important than speed, in my opinion. Once my left hand is adequately warmed up, I then practice my right-hand alternating fingering pattern (some days it might be P-I-M-A, other days it will be a different pattern; I always decide ahead of time which pattern to work on).

    My practice hour is broken down into roughly 5 parts for a grand total of 60 minutes.
    Warm-up: 15 minutes (ex: practice above mentioned warm-up while chanting the notes aloud)
    Scale practice: 10 minutes (ex: practice the E-major shape scale pattern today)
    Chords practice: 10 minutes (ex: practice the basic Open A-Chord family)
    Arpeggio practice: 10 minutes (ex: use CGS chord chart for E-major scale; practice P-I-M-A)
    CGS video lesson: 15 minutes

    By the way, I take a 5 to 10 minute break in between sections. Or, sometimes, if I don’t have enough time all at once, I might have to break the practice up into a few blocks of practice time (ie: an AM and a PM practice session). Nonetheless, by the end of the day, I see to it that 100% of my goals for that day have been achieved. Of course, this is just a guideline. I’m not training for Carnegie Hall or the Met. Right now, I’m just focusing on re-building my chops—while, at the same time, learning much neglected skills (like sight-reading musical notation).

    This is very exciting for me because every practice is different! Yes, it’s an ongoing process, but with all the resources and materials that you’ve made available to us here on CGS, we have a virtual online classical guitar university right at our fingertips! I look forward to the day when I will start building my repertoire, but for now, I am enjoying just working on re-establishing the fundamentals. In my younger days, I just wanted to “play songs,” and rarely practiced scales, arpeggios, or even learned how to read musical notation; but now (that I’m older and wiser; yeah right! Ha!), I’m really enjoying my time just working on technique and the fundamentals.

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Thank you sincerely for CGS. It’s been a godsend for me!

  2. Brian Hunker February 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    I usually spend about 3 to 4 hours each day practicing guitar. I spend about 1 hour in each of these 4 general styles: Classical, Jazz, Rock and Folk Fingerstyle). I also try to spend 30min to 1 hour working one additional instrument (drums, piano and voice). I am a professional musician so practice is a major part of my “work day”.

    As a guitar instructor I often feel pressured by the thought that I am still not practicing enough. Like if I could only practice guitar for 10 hours every day I’d finally somehow “complete” my mastery of the instrument this year. As each year passes I’m slowly learning that mastery itself is a path and there is no end. Still, letting go of the guilty feelings is a challenge for me.

    This article gave me some great tips that about how to improve the way I structure my time and focus. I definitely have the tendency to spend too much time hammering away instead of the real work of sharpening my focus. The tip of “creating lots of beginnings and endings” was a revelation. I’m going to restructure my goals for next week’s practice accordingly!

    Brian
    Coral Gables, FL

    • Allen February 21, 2015 at 11:25 am #

      Thanks Brian, Thanks for the note! That’s a lot of practice! I’m glad you found something useful here!
      Cheers,
      Allen

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