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How To Organise Your Guitar Practice

Keeping up with practicing in the first few weeks of learning guitar is easy enough. If you’re anything like me you won’t really want to do anything else anyway! Every day you get a little better, or learn something new, and even sore fingers can’t stop you. But sooner or later you’ll hit your first brick wall.


I remember mine pretty clearly. I’d happily sat with my shiny new red guitar, learnt a bunch of basic chords and melodies and thought I was ready to try something a little harder. So I had a go at Scar Tissue by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I got through the initial riff, albeit a little sloppily, and then got to the chorus. The chords changed way too fast for me and there was no way I was going to be able to play it. I had no idea how to improve the way I played it so I just stopped. After a few days of not playing very much I tried a few other easy songs and got through them just fine, but any time I came back to Scar Tissue I came up against the same problem.


What I wish I’d known at the time that I now apply in my guitar tuition today is the importance of taking the time to break down the individual issues that are contributing to a particular difficulty and take them on one by one. What was really happening when I was unable to play that chorus was that I was unfamiliar with the chords being played, I didn’t have the dexterity to move between them quickly and my hand positioning on the guitar was all wrong as well.

Had I sought out a decent guitar tutor to help me with my playing at the time they would hopefully have told me to sort out my hand positioning first. After a week or two of working on that then perhaps I would have been in a position to work on dexterity and getting to grips with that chord change, and then finally the speed would come through practice. It would have taken a few weeks, but ultimately the long, methodical approach creates quicker results in the long run.


If you’re struggling with a particular thing on guitar it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly how to improve without seeing you play. There is no one size fits all approach to guitar practice, but there are a few helpful things to try every time you sit down to play.


  • Work out the things you need to improve on and focus on the most important one first.

  • Focus on long term improvement by working on one element of your playing at a time. Your picking will never improve if you’re still also struggling to coordinate your left hand and vice versa, but if you work on them separately it won't be long before they're both improved.

  • Take the time to play something you enjoy and can already play to remind yourself of how far you’ve come and maintain the fun of playing guitar.

  • End on a high. If you finally nail a difficult part, make that the last thing you do in your practice for that day. Nothing will encourage you to start your next practice more than knowing your last one ended well.

  • Each time you learn a new technique take a little time to enjoy it. The temptation can be to finish learning a new guitar technique and then move on to the next one. This can mean that most of the time you spend playing guitar is spent hearing yourself play badly as you try to master ever more complex techniques. There are hundreds of songs that use slides, hammer ons, fast picking, finger picking etc. Each time you learn one of these techniques try learning a few songs that use them before you move on. You’ll find new ways of applying them, reinforce your learning and have a lot more fun than if you’d gone straight in to slogging your way through another difficult technique.


Martin Sean McConnell Guitar Tuition 06/07/15


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