5 Effective Guitar Practice Habits That Make You A Better Guitarist

By Tom Hess

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How you do during guitar practice determines how good of a guitarist you become. When you have effective guitar practice, it becomes fun and your playing improves very quickly (even if you don't have a lot of time to practice).
Watch this video to see what effective guitar practice means:

Your guitar practice habits control how effective guitar practice is. 
Here are the most effective guitar practice habits to develop, so you improve ultra fast and enjoy the process of becoming a better guitar player:

Effective Guitar Practice Habit #1: Focusing On The Right Things At The Right Time

The better you can focus, the more effective guitar practice becomes. Focusing on the right things at the right time helps you solve your guitar playing problems and develop new skills. You can learn (and improve) this skill, even if you lack it naturally.

Make Your Guitar Playing
Feel Incredibly Easy
Master Fretting Hand Finger Independence For Guitar e-Guide

By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Tom Hess Music Corporation who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.

How to focus correctly on fixing your guitar playing problems: Stop mindlessly repeating exercises over and over. Instead, isolate the specific notes that give you trouble. This helps you identify why your guitar playing breaks down and fix your mistakes more easily (more on this below).
Example: The phrase below contains a challenging position shift (circled in red):
How To Improve Guitar Technique
Only 50% of the notes (12 out of 24) are hard to play. The remaining 50% are easy to play. Repeating the entire phrase over and over wastes 50% of your guitar practice time on the notes you can already play well! Isolating the problem literally doubles the efficiency of your guitar practice time in this example. Think about that…

Common mistake to avoid: Not isolating enough notes. Isolate your problem using just the right amount of context. “Context” refers to 2-4 notes before and after the hardest part of the phrase. This helps you identify the cause of the problem and fix it. It also makes it easier to integrate the problem back into the phrase once it is fixed.

Watch this effective guitar practice video to learn how to correctly isolate your guitar playing challenges, so you can master them quickly:
How to focus correctly on developing new guitar playing skills: Break down each guitar playing skill into specific elements to focus on. Make a list of nuances for the picking hand technique, fretting hand technique, 2-hand synchronization, consistency of playing, cleanliness of playing and integration with other guitar techniques. Select one or more elements to focus on in each guitar practice session.
Want to take out all guesswork from improving your guitar technique? Download this free guitar technique checklist that tells you what questions to ask yourself to make sure you are practicing correctly. (It’s free and no email address is required). Print it out and use it for effective guitar practice to improve faster.

Guitar technique practice checklist

Download free guitar technique cheat sheet

Effective Guitar Practice Habit #2: Attention To Detail

Many guitarists practice with an unfocused mind. Some do it because they don’t know what to focus on. Others think that practicing = repeating something over and over. False! Mindless repetition only makes you better at repeating your mistakes.

Effective guitar practice is about:

  • Focusing on the right things, in the right order and in the right way.
  • Drilling perfect technique into your muscle memory, so you always use the right technique when you play.
  • Achieving specific goals with each guitar practice session (more on this below).

Question: “Tom Hess, what do you mean focus “on the right things, in the right order, in the right way?”

Answer: The “right things” are guitar playing elements that must be mastered to solve your guitar playing problems. Examples include: learning to collapse the first knuckle of the fretting hand fingers to do finger rolling; pushing the pick through the strings correctly when sweep picking; muting string noise using your picking hand’s thumb. Note: these elements do not need to be guitar technique related. The “right things” also include fretboard visualization, music theory knowledge, ear training skills and guitar phrasing nuances (to name a few).

The “right order” is the priority in which these elements need to be mastered. Some guitar playing elements are more urgent to master than others. The priority is determined by your skill level, your musical goals, your available guitar practice time, your personality and many other things.

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Fact: the order in which you practice and develop your skills matters greatly. Many guitarists have no idea in what order they should develop their skills. This is one reason why most struggle to become great musicians. (Self-taught guitar players suffer the most from this problem.)

To perform effective guitar practice, carefully listen to the notes you are playing and observe your technique. This tells you if you are practicing correctly or incorrectly, so you can make the right adjustments to keep yourself on track.

Want to learn how to develop this habit and make your guitar playing feel very easy? Download this free guitar technique eGuide to learn how to master fretting hand finger independence and never struggle again to improve your guitar technique.
Important: Paying attention to details can become a bad thing. Some guitarists get stuck in endless paralysis by analysis. They become afraid to do things wrong. This fear prevents them from practicing and keeps them stuck.
Attention to detail does NOT mean never making mistakes. It means being aware of what happens during guitar practice and correcting mistakes if they happen. It is similar to making steering adjustments while driving to keep your car on the road.
5 Guitar Practice Habits

Effective Guitar Practice Habit #3: Make It Easy

Great guitarists make their playing look easy…because it is easy (for them). Effective guitar practice is about training your guitar playing to feel effortless. Look for ways to simplify everything about your guitar playing (without sacrificing musical expression or phrasing).

One way to simplify your guitar playing is to use the most efficient fingering possible. Don’t take fretting hand fingering for granted. Think it through and simplify it as much as you can. Improving your fretting hand fingering can be a big shortcut to mastering what you are practicing.

Effective Guitar Practice Habit #4: Ask The Right Questions

Guitarists who make fast progress ask the right questions to setup effective guitar practice. They understand that:

  • There is always a reason why they currently can’t do something on guitar.
  • There is a specific path to follow to play guitar the way they want.

Their questions help them understand the causes of their guitar playing problems. Their practicing eliminates these causes and improves their guitar playing.

The right questions focus your mind on the results you want. They are specific, empowering and objective. Here are examples of the right questions to ask:

“How can I learn to do X effortlessly and fluently?” (“X" being the guitar playing skill you want to develop.)

“What must I improve in my guitar playing or practicing to master X?”

“How can I maximize my guitar practice time to get results faster?”

“How should do I perform guitar practice effectively to play consistently without mistakes?”

The best guitarists don’t always know the answers to these questions…but they commit to finding them out. Asking the right questions is the first step to success. You develop self-reliance and confidence in your ability to reach your goals.

Guitarists who struggle to make progress fill their mind with complaints and negativity. They ask disempowering questions (and make negative statements) that kill their motivation, such as:

“I suck!”

“How long does it take to get past this plateau?”

“Am I too old to play guitar well?”

“What if I don’t have talent?”

“How do I find motivation for guitar practice?”

“I can’t do as much effective guitar practice as I want, this is why I can’t reach my musical goals.”

These questions and beliefs slow down your progress, kill your self-confidence and keep you stuck.

Effective Guitar Practice Habit #5: Do Guitar Practice With A Purpose

See each guitar practice session as a step towards your larger musical goals. This helps you stay focused on the big picture and improve your guitar playing quickly.

Here is how to develop a sense of purpose for effective guitar practice:

  1. Visualize yourself already having reached your ultimate musical goals. Think about it often (while driving, while walking, while falling asleep, while taking a shower, etc.). This increases your motivation and helps you do the steps below.
  2. Break down your ultimate goal into smaller goals. These smaller goals should be stepping stones towards playing guitar the way you want. Plan these goals for each year, quarter, month and week of your practicing. This musical goals manifestation page tells you what skills are needed to master the guitar.

    Tip: “mastery” refers to learning skills in isolation, applying them to music and integrating them together.

This effective guitar practice video explains how musical mastery is achieved:


Question: “Tom Hess, I don’t know how to break down my big long-term goal(s) into smaller goals. What should I do?”

Answer: Work with a guitar teacher to go through this process with him/her. A great guitar teacher helps you set and achieve goals the way a sports coach guides an athlete to victory in competition. This takes out all guesswork from the process for you and leaves you free to simply do guitar practice and enjoy playing.

  1. Plan your guitar practice schedules for several days at a time. This helps you see each guitar practice session as a small stepping stone towards musical mastery.

    Creating practice schedules for one day at a time makes it hard to see how each guitar practice session moves you towards your goals. This decreases your motivation and your practicing becomes less effective.

Tip: You don't need a lot of guitar practice materials to practice guitar with purpose. You can develop many skills with a single guitar practice item by changing what you focus on.

You now know effective guitar practice habits that make you a better guitarist quickly. The next step to becoming a better guitarist is to learn how to apply these habits to improve your fretting hand technique and make your guitar playing feel easier than ever before. Download this free guide to fretting hand technique mastery to learn how to make your guitar playing feel effortless and finally master all the licks, solos and riffs you’ve been struggling with.

Tom HessAbout Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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