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5 Best Guitar Practice Habits

As it is important for students who want to get the most out of their guitar lessons to have long term goals about what they want to achieve as guitar players, it is equally important to develop great practice habits to ensure success. A practice routine is one of the most important parts of learning an instrument. Even after you’ve achieved a certain level of success, it’s important to still practice new concepts to maintain your chops! Here are five practice habits that I feel will greatly improve your chances of success at guitar!

  1. Practice a piece of music, a riff,  a lick, etc,  slowly and correctly, the first time. 

It’s important to make sure that you’re practicing your music with the right notes, rhythm, and fingering at the outset in order to keep you from having to relearn it later. You want to be sure that you’re not practicing mistakes and putting them into muscle memory, which makes it tough to break out the mistake. This will save a lot of time. Practice your music slowly, double-check the rhythm, and listen to a recorded version of the piece several times. If what you are playing doesn’t sound like the recording, then you need to find out the issue before you practice it over and over.

2. Practice a minimum of 15 minutes a day

This one I tell my students all of the time and the ones that abide by this guideline do better than the ones who don’t. Practicing a minimum of 15 minutes everyday forces you to pick up the guitar like the pros do, and streamline your practice session. Daily practice helps you remember the concepts and techniques far more than a marathon practice on a single day.  Most people have 15 min free at some point in their day. When you only have 15 minutes to practice, you better make sure that you stay focused on the task at hand. Be sure to set a timer and when 15 minutes is up, stop!

3. Plan out what you are going to practice.

For this it is good to have a log-book of some kind to keep track of what you’ve been practicing. Often times we’ll cover a variety of concepts in the guitar lessons and you want to make sure that you get to them all during the week or so between your lessons. It’s a great idea to plan out a week of 15 min practice sessions so that you are sure to cover all the new concepts and whichever old ones that are necessary.

4. Practice in 15 minute increments.

This goes right along with the previous two habits. If you decide to practice longer than 15 minutes on certain days, it is still a good idea to break down your practicing into 15 min blocks of time so that you’ll be sure to take a break and move around between blocks as well as stay focused on what needs to be done to move your playing along.

5. Practice the difficult passages of a piece of music more often than the easy parts.

I have found this habit to be a great time-saver. Look over your piece of music and identify what passages are causing you the most trouble, circle them on the page, or if you’re learning by ear, write down the time that the trouble spots occur in the music. Practice only those passages during your practice session, then try the whole piece.

I hope this helps jumpstart your guitar practice and I hope to have more practice tips on this blog in the future!


25 songs for beginner guitarists

So you’ve just decided to start playing guitar, or you’ve tried to learn before and you didn’t get past the first few pages of Mel Bay’s Guitar Method book 1. I don’t blame you. While I have absolutely nothing against Mel Bay (one of the biggest publishers of guitar books), starting with a method book, while informative, may not be the best approach to keep your interest at the early stages.

While there are many great beginner choices, I’ve decided to go with songs that are relatively easy to play and are popular. So you can get a lot of mileage out of these. I’ve omitted “Smoke on the Water” for reasons you can imagine!  I’ve also chosen tunes that are in a variety of genres so as a budding guitarist you can be versatile in your playing. I hope to expand on each genre in subsequent posts.

Here they are, in order of easy to more challenging:

  1. Jambalaya on the Bayou – Hank Williams – (Country)
  2. Horse With No Name – America – (Classic Rock)
  3. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles – (Rock)
  4. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes – (Rock)
  5. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
  6. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan – (Rock)
  7. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly – (Rock’n’Roll)
  8. Old Joe Clark -Traditional – (Bluegrass/Old Time)
  9. Yellow Submarine – Yellow Submarine – (Rock)
  10. Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley – (Folk-Rock)
  11. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash – (Country)
  12. Sweet Home Chicago (basic version) – Robert Johnson – (Blues)
  13. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show -(Bluegrass)
  14. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Bob Dylan – (Folk-Rock)
  15. Redemption Song – Bob Marley – (Reggae)
  16. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day – (Rock)
  17. One – U2 – (Rock)
  18. About a Girl – Nirvana – (Grunge Rock)
  19. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana – (Grunge Rock)
  20. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd – (Rock)
  21. Sittin’ on Top of the World – Various Artists – (Blues)
  22. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran – (Pop/Rock)
  23. Malagueña (Flamenco)
  24. Blue Monk – Thelonius Monk -(Jazz)
  25. Blackbird – The Beatles – (Rock)

There are many many other songs I could list here, but hopefully these will spark some ideas. The tunes above will be easy in their original key. With a lot of songs, you can make them easier by changing the original key to G or C, simplifying the strum pattern, and/or simplifying the chord voicings.

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To Read or Not to Read Music

Should I focus on learning to read music in standard notation for guitar?

Learning to read music will open many doors in learning guitar, but it is not required to play the instrument and become an effective player. Learning to read standard notation will make you better able to communicate the language of music, and help your ability to learn pieces faster, but like anything in music, it takes time and consistent practice to get efficient at it. It can be difficult in the beginning if you’ve never read standard notation before, which is why I don’t push my students to learn to read music in the beginning stages. There are plenty of guitar techniques to master that don’t necessarily require reading music, but I do instruct students to learn to read rhythms, tablature, and the note names on the fretboard.

It is true that many great guitar players are not great readers of standard musical notation, or do not read music at all.  This is in part due to the fact that modern guitar player has a few other tools other than standard notation at his or her disposal to communicate how to play a piece of music: By ear (audio), by sight (video), and tablature.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

  1. By ear (audio)
    • Pro: develop your listening and ear training abilities
    • Con: It can be tough for beginners and intermediate players without any ear training or music theory background
  2. By sight (video and audio)
    • Pro: a little easier than learning from only the audio, you are able to see exactly where to play the notes and chords.
    • Con: Still tough for beginners and can be frustrating.
  3. Tablature:
    • Pro: Know exactly where on the fretboard to play the notes
    • Con: Often tablature does not convey the rhythm, so you often have to figure that out by ear.

As I mentioned above, tablature is more specific in that it tells you exactly which frets to play the notes or chords. When something is written in standard notation for guitar, unless it conveys which position to play, you have a few options of where to play the notes on the neck. Tablature takes out the guess-work and in general it is easier for most people to read.

I highly encourage my students to explore all the ways to learn music on the guitar: sight, sound, tablature, and standard notation. Doing so will make you a well-rounded, effective guitar player and musician!