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Guitar Practice - How Much Should I Be Doing ?

I often get people complaining to me that they are no good on the guitar and that however much they try to play a particular piece of music they just can’t get it right. They will often give the excuse that perhaps their fingers aren’t long enough or maybe they’re just not naturally talented. The one reply you can give to just about any excuse a person makes on why they can’t play is…

‘If you can’t play it, you are not practicing enough’

Simple as that. It sounds pretty obvious, but it’s true.

People often have misconceptions about how much you need to practice to achieve a certain standard. Playing the guitar might look easy and if you are willing to put the practice in then it can be, but those of you who don’t put in the hours will find that even the most basic moves can be a complete nightmare.

There are many different standards or levels you can associate with guitar playing and jumping from one level to the next can be a real chore. Once you’ve made that jump and stayed there for a while, you’ll wonder what you found so difficult in the first place.

The real problems only start to arise when you take your level of playing to extremes and decide to become ‘really good’. Once you rise above a certain standard, improving on what you already know becomes much more difficult.

The good news is you don’t have to be ‘really good’ to be able to hold your own, impress your mates or play in a band. You just have to be reasonably capable and be comfortable with basic strumming techniques, chords and picking.

For those of you who aren’t quite sure how much you should be practicing in order to achieve your intended standard or whether or not your playing is improving at an acceptable rate, here’s a few guide lines on the sort of hours you should be putting in, in order to achieve certain levels of ability.

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Average Standard of Play

A complete beginner guitarist intent on becoming reasonably capable of playing with basic open chords, alternate picking, messing with barre chords and a few simple solos should be practicing around 30 mins to 1 hr every couple of days for the first few weeks. As your hands and fingers strengthen and the tips of your fingers harden, your practice should increase to at least 1-1.5 hours every two days. If you can increase this to a daily routine, you will be flying in no time. Keeping up this routine for around three to four months should turn a complete beginner into a semi competent player.

Note: Practice means actual playing. Not learning. If you are learning new riffs or chords, add this to your practice time.

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Good Standard of Play

Stepping up a level and and achieving a standard of play good enough to perform in an average band means a commitment level of around two hours a day probably 5 days a week. After a year or so at this rate, you should be more than capable of pulling off most moderate solo’s and chord progressions required in 70% of songs out there.

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Really Good Guitarist

Practicing at a rate of 2.5 to 3.5 hours a day, six days a week will put you in the top 10% of guitar players and set you up for guitar guru status within a year or two. At this rate not much should phase you and you should easily be able to achieve the standards of most guitarists you’ll see on TV and crack at least 90% of songs and solo’s out there.

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Guitar God

Anything above 4 hours a day will set you on fire and put you among the top 1 or 2 % of guitarists. Players like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai etc. think nothing of a six hour guitar session and this sort of commitment will allow your playing to achieve almost inhuman standards. Very few people can commit to this sort of practice but those who do can achieve anything.

I once had a friend who had only been playing the electric guitar for a year. He was one of the best players I have ever seen. He would spend 4 or more hours a day on his guitar and lock him self away for hours on end ripping up the fret board mimicking the solo’s of the greatest players in the rock and metal world. You couldn’t even drag him out for a beer. I had owned a guitar for 4 years, picking my guitar up once or twice a week for half an hour or so and barely had 1% of his skill.

Realising what it actually meant to practice properly and consistently on a daily basis and being shown how to practice was a huge turning point for me. It catapulted my own playing to new levels within weeks of establishing a daily regime.

You will find that the better you get, the quicker you will pick things up and the more easily you will learn new songs, solos riffs scales and techniques.

Be advised that playing the guitar is like going down the gym. If you practice regularly your hand and finger muscles will grow stronger and your skills and co-ordination will improve dramatically. If you stop practicing or slacken your regime for any length of time, even a week or so, your strength and timing will quickly drop back to previous levels and so will your skill.

You will find there are many guitarists out there who vary greatly in their skill levels from month to month depending on their lifestyles and the amount of practice they put in. The same goes for me. You are only ever as good as the practice you have been doing in the last two weeks.

The most important thing for beginners to realise is that nobody is born a good guitarist. The only way they become good players is by putting the hours in. My friends often say to me ‘Oh it’s easy for you because you have a natural talent for the guitar’, and I say to them ‘That’s rubbish. I owned a guitar for 4 years and was completely useless before somebody showed me what it really meant to practice’.

Start slowly, and build it up over a period of time. When you run out of things to practice, learn something new and difficult. Once you’ve played it a thousand times, it won’t be difficult any more.

Posted 05.11.08
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