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Guitar Practice Routine: Exercises to Level Up Your Playing

You got into guitar playing with enthusiasm, and in three months you went from a level one noob to a level 10 player. However, now you’re stuck at level 10.

Maybe you’ve been noodling on your fretboard for a while, which is great for exploring but it won’t help you level up. Or maybe you’ve been spending 90% of your practice time watching practice tutorials on YouTube.

It’s time to create a more solid practice routine. “Practice makes perfect” is probably the most cliche line you’ve ever heard, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. It works, but only if you’re practicing the right thing.

What exactly is the right thing to practice for guitar? In this article, we’ll help you build a 1-hour guitar practice routine with exercises to level up your playing.

Exercises to Level Up Your Playing

Ready to take on some guitar exercises? Below, we’ll cover exercises for technique, theory, and repertoire.

Technique Exercises

Technique exercises are the most boring yet the most necessary exercises for guitar playing. They also require at least four weeks to build up the basic skill required and to see the first signs of improvement, and at least two more years to master them to perfection.

The Spider Walk Exercise

Honestly, this might be one of the most annoying technique exercises ever. This is a left-hand technique exercise that involves playing four chromatic notes on each string with your four fingers.

Your fingers are supposed to make the smallest movements possible, and when you move to the next string, you only move one finger at a time while the others remain in place. It will look like a spider walking, hence the name

Your first time trying this exercise will have you so focused on how you move your fingers that you might get a headache. However, this exercise makes the biggest impact if you’re diligent with it. It’s good for improving your fingering technique and increasing your speed in the most effective ways.

guitar practice routine

Alternate Picking Exercise

There are many different versions of picking exercises that you can find online, but they all center on the same thing.

The alternate guitar picking exercise is very good for beginners. This exercise involves picking a single string down and then up alternatively. You usually use a pick for this exercise, though finger picking is also possible. This exercise makes your right hand stronger and helps you play twice as fast as if you picked in one direction.

Once you get used to the alternate picking, you can incorporate it with a scale pattern to upgrade the exercise. This will help you improve your hand synchronization as well. Keep increasing the speed the more you get used to it. BERNTH has a really good tutorial on YouTube for this exercise.

Finger Picking Exercise

Finger-picking exercises are a little different from picking exercises, and you’ll be using more than one finger for them.

You’ll use your thumb and three fingers named 1,2, and 3, respectively, from your index finger. You can hold any chord, but the main focus is the finger-picking style.

You’ll use your thumb to pluck strings E, A, and D. Your index finger will pluck string G, your middle finger plucks string B, and your ring finger plucks the high E. You can alternate picking each string individually and pluck all the strings at the same time with each finger on its designated string.

Rhythm Exercises

Rhythm is a very key part of guitar playing that’s often overlooked. The best way to practice rhythm for a beginner is to try playing different strumming patterns.

However, rhythm involves a lot more than just strumming, so you should also include other techniques like muting and using a metronome. You can find many different strumming pattern charts online like the one below:

guitar practice routine

Rhythm exercises are also a good way to learn something new to spice up your playing. You can try incorporating some simple guitar percussive styles in your exercise such as the thumb slap. Or if you’re more advanced and feeling ambitious, try some flamenco rhythm.

Theory Exercises

Next up, we put together a list of effective theory exercises. Take a look at our favorites below.

Triad Exercise

Triads are to guitar playing what spices are to food. They’re also a great way to help you master your fretboard. A triad is just a three-note chord with the root 3rd and 5th notes.

This is a more intermediate exercise, but you can still try it as a beginner, though you’ll need to learn the triad shapes of one scale like the C Major scale.

Like with every exercise it's always best to start small. For now, we’ll start with the triads for a 1-4-5 progression which is one of the most common progressions.

The triads will be focused on three stings most of the time, so we will use the D, G, and B strings.

You’ll start with the triad for chord I in root position. If you move up four frets with the same shape, you'll get a chord 4 triad. Then move one fret up to get the triad for chord 5.

Play 1- 4- 5- 4- 1 until you get used to the shapes and sounds. You can then find the shape for the other inversions and practice them in the same way. Once you get all the inversions down, you can now try mixing up the triads and inversions.

This exercise will help you memorize triad shapes. Triads usually have the root position, first position, and second position. Focus on the major triads first until you have them mastered.

Scales Exercise

Scales are very important in any guitar practice routine because they are what the music is built on. The first thing would be, of course, to learn what notes are in the scale and how to play the scale.

Scales also have shapes that can be repeated across the fretboard for each key, so you can work on one scale and replicate what you learn with other scales. You can get the scale patterns from guitarscales.org.

There are usually different types of scales, including the following:

  1. Major scales
  2. Minor scales
  3. Pentatonic scales
  4. Chromatic scales
  5. Jazz scales
  6. Blues scales

We cannot stress enough how important it is to start small. Once you understand the basic concepts, you can then apply them to the more complex scales. In this case, you can start with the major scales.

Incorporate scale patterns in your practice. You can try patterns in 3rds or skipping notes. Scale patterns help you master the scale and maneuver around the notes in all directions.

Here’s an example of a scale pattern you can try:

guitar practice routine

Chord and Arpeggio Exercises

Chords are the backbone of guitar playing, so it goes without saying that you’ll need to practice. You’ll first need to memorize the chords before doing the exercises. There are different chords, from two-note chords to extended chords with four or five notes.

If you’re a beginner, you can usually start with power chords, which are popular in rock music. They’re very easy and fun to play since they usually have two or three chords. You can also start with open chords, which are common in every song. Intermediate players can start learning bar chords and extended chords.

If you already know some chords, you may have noticed that you're having trouble switching between the chords smoothly. There are always those weird, out-of-place pauses while you try to get your fingers in the right position for the next chords.

For this exercise, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Pick 2 chords or 3 chords to start with
  • Play the first chord and then slap your thigh
  • Keep switching between the chords with the thigh slap In between each chord

You can start slow and keep building up speeds as you get more comfortable. Once you’re comfortable switching, remove the thigh slap.

Chord exercises are good for helping you memorize chord shapes and get smoother and faster chord switching.

Arpeggios are simply chords whose notes are played separately. There are a ton of arpeggio drills online that are similar to scale patterns.

Repertoire Exercises

The fastest way to learn any instrument is to learn how to play songs. Repertoire exercises combine both technique and theory, and put what you’ve learned into practice.

It’s advisable to create a list of songs you might want to practice before you start your routine. You can build your exercise repertoire based on genre or difficulty. You can also get tabs or sheet music for classical guitar songs to exercise your sight-reading skills.

We’ve compiled for you some good riffs for beginners to practice with in another article that you can check out. Each riff has specific techniques that will help you practice, such as palm muting and hammering.

The 1-Hour Practice Routine

Not sure how to break up your 1-hour practice into smaller chunks? Use our outline to develop your own practice routine.

Tuning and Warming Up: 5 minutes

For the first 5 minutes, you can start by tuning your guitar. Ideally, you’d tune your guitar using your ear as part of practicing and training. If you have no idea how to tune by ear, we have a great tutorial for you to check out on how to tune your guitar.

For your warm-up, the spider walk is as good as any place to get you started. It’s perfect for getting you focused and in the zone for the rest of the routine

Scale/Arpeggio Practice: 10 minutes

Start by practicing the scale upwards and then downwards. This will help you memorize it and map it on the fretboard. It also trains your ear to get used to the sound of the scale that you’re playing.

Once you’re done, you can then start playing scale patterns. You can practice two or three different scale patterns to make it less monotonous.

The great thing about scale exercises is that you can practice your technique exercises at the same time. You can combine your scale pattern exercise with the alternate picking exercise, for example.

You can also switch between scale exercises and arpeggio exercises to keep things interesting.

Repertoire Practice: 20 minutes

You can prepare one or two songs to practice for this section depending on their level of difficulty. While working on this song, make sure to focus on the necessary techniques,

It’s good to try learning the songs with guitar tabs to help with your sight reading as well.

For beginners, it’s good to start with rock songs or pop songs since they usually have simple chord progressions. This is a good way to polish up on your chords and strumming techniques.

Once you get more advanced, you can try more complex songs and maybe even try out some classical guitar songs, which are good for improving finger-picking styles, among other techniques.

Jamming/Chord Exercises: 15 minutes

Jamming is very important for any guitarist because it helps train for improvisation and musical ear. For your jamming exercise, you can start by picking a key and a genre to play in. You play along to a backing track for your jamming session.

For beginner players, it’s easier to start with simple chord progressions. You can get a backing track that has a melody and try getting its chord progression, or you can get a rhythmic backing track and make up your own progressions. This will help you practice getting the right chord for any song simply by ear.

For intermediate players, if you’re already confident in your chords, you can try creating your own melodies for the backing track. This is good for developing soloing techniques and also putting your scales into practice. You can also add harmonies to an already-existing melody.

You don’t have to play with a backing track, you can also play with another guitarist or any instrument really. Alternatively, you can also do chord exercises. A good idea would be to learn a new chord each time after you get used to the previous chord.

Stretches: 5 minutes

By now you must be filling the ache in your finger muscles and bones. That spider walk exercise was no joke. You can finish off your routine with a good finger stretching session to keep your fingers in top shape.

You’ll find some good stretching exercises to prevent injury on YouTube

Tips for an Effective Practice Routine

You can make a timetable to keep track of your practice session. Here’s an example of one:

5 minutes 10 minutes

20 minutes

15 minutes 5 minutes
Day 1 Tuning and Spider walk Scale practice Song practice Jamming Stretch
Day 2 Tuning and Arpeggio practice Triad practice Song practice Rhythm exercises Stretch
Day 3 Tuning and Spider walk Scale Practice Song practice Jamming Stretch
Day 4 Tuning and Arpeggio practice Triad Practice Song practice Rhythm exercises Stretch
Day 5 Tuning and Spider walk Scale Practice Song practice Jamming Stretch

Don’t start practicing with a metronome until you are more confident in what you're playing. A metronome will only distract you from your priority at the beginning, but it’s good to incorporate later.

Always start slow when learning something new. Don’t rush because it’s important to get the basics down properly more than anything else.

Finally, be consistent. The only way you’ll see results is if you stick to your routine diligently.

What Is the Best Way to Practice Guitar?

There are a lot of tutorials online and on YouTube, which is both a good thing and a bad thing, because it's hard to know where to start and it can be overwhelming. The best way to practice guitar is to first determine your goals and then build a practice routine around those goals. You can also learn how to read guitar tabs so you can teach yourself how to play all kinds of songs.

How Long Does It Take to Learn How to Play the Guitar?

This all depends on how often you practice and your current level of playing. It will usually take two months of consistent playing to enter the beginner stage. As for the intermediate stage, it can take anywhere between three and six months to get there.

How Many Hours Should I Practice Guitar?

If you’re a beginner, you don’t have to start strong because you might get burnt out faster. It is better to get used to a routine, so 30 minutes should be enough As you progress from beginner to intermediate, you can increase your practice time to 1 hour or 90 minutes.

Final Thoughts on Developing a Guitar Practice Routine

A guitar practice routine is a good way to help you level up your playing. A practice routine will heavily depend on what you hope to achieve with your playing and the time span you plan on. We hope this article was a good first step in building your guitar practice routine.

Author

  • guitar practice routine

    My "day job" used to be teaching but I decided to give that up to play music full time. I have gigged all over the world playing in bands or as a solo act since then. I still have a passion for teaching others anything related to music. Writing content for InciteMusic.com gives me an opportunity to combine my love of music and education.

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