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The Art of Practice: Structured Practice

Since taking up the guitar in 2009, I have had the privilege of gaining knowledge from many different sources. As with many other guitarists, it has been my goal to improve my technique and overall playing of the instrument. There are a lot of resources to draw from. They include instructional videos, articles, programs, and even podcasts. Many of those go into depth concerning certain subjects of the guitar. However, while many of these discuss specific techniques in-depth, they do not address the art of practice. Some teachers can teach you different aspects about practicing during lessons and different techniques that you should practice. Yet not one that I am aware of that teaches you how to develop the art of practicing.

man playing classical guitar in the dark

Let me reiterate, just to be clear, everything I have learned I have learned from my teachers. One would teach one subject and another would teach a different subject. Both were quite clear but never taught the art of practice. Here are a couple of key areas I have struggled in:

Motivation: Just Do It!

It may be a little ironic that at the writing of this article, I have struggled with practicing. Many times, I have looked for motivation from different sources. There is a recital coming up or there is a new piece to learn for my teacher. A self-imposed schedule to record a video, a single, or an album certainly can push you to practice. However, there is something even more important. You must engage. At the end of the day, you must make the hard decision to pick up the guitar and practice. That may sound simple, but that very thing defeats many a guitarist. You must develop discipline. The funny thing is that when you pick up the guitar, practicing usually easily follows.

Schedule Your Practice

Your enemy is time. The solution is a schedule. Sit down and evaluate your day. Track how much time you spend in different areas of your life. It has been said that you will make time for what you love. How much time do you spend working, playing, or on the internet? There is a time for everything (turn, turn, turn), but do you have time for practice?

Evaluating your schedule, and the time you spend time on different activities, can be a very powerful and freeing endeavor. Hey, I get it. Life is busy. There is work, school, family, and barely enough time to breathe some days. Yet, taking a few minutes out of your day to evaluate where and when you spend your time can be immensely invaluable. You might have to drop something, like TV or the internet, to squeeze in a 30-minute practice. But the tradeoff will be priceless.

Structure Your Practice

There are two types of practice sessions: long and short. A long practice session could be three or four hours. If you have that kind of time, you can accomplish a great deal. My longest practice has been around three hours. I have managed to get that down to an hour and a half when I am focused. However, most of us do not have that kind of time. So, the most practical solution is to highly structure our practice time.

Create a practice routine that covers all the important areas. Think about things like warm-ups, left and right-hand accuracy, and techniques such as planting, slurs, and tremolo. All these things need to be practiced. They may seem to be overwhelming at times. That is where a structured practice routine comes into play.

Create A Practice Book

Why have a practice book? Creating a practice book is a great way to schedule your practice. You could have resources scattered about, playing a scale from one book, or a piece from another. Or you could have everything that you need in one convenient book. I highly recommend getting a large “O-ring” binder and a box of those plastic sheet protectors (I like Samsil myself).

Once you have those you can create sections. Sections can consist of Warm-ups, new and old repertoire, and exercises. For example, my current practice book has scales, fretboard knowledge, arpeggios, slurs, stretches and harmony, tremolo, and sight-reading. That is just the warm-up section, which can be done in twenty to thirty minutes. Then the repertoire section consists of pieces readying to record and new arrangements. Next, we have new classical repertoire, church repertoire, original compositions, and old repertoire. The old repertoire is divided into six days and you only play a few pieces a day.

Section Breakdowns

Each section in the book can be broken down even further. For example, you do not need to play every scale in every position each day. You would play C major, A minor, G major, and E minor on Monday. Then play D major, B minor, A major, and F# minor on Tuesday, and so forth. Each day you would play a different set of scales. This way you would play through 12 scales (there are 15, but 3 are enharmonic) in six days.

But wait there’s more! We can break the section down even further. In the first week, we could play the scales in open and first position. In the second week, we could play them in the second and third positions and so on. We could go even further!

What if we broke the scale into different variations and played one variation throughout the week? Depending on how many variations we had this would create multiple exercises resulting in several weeks in one position. This would add variations to the scales and keep each section changing. If we did this to each section, it would keep our practice from getting stale and boring.


I think this might be a series of articles. There is a lot we can cover relating to the art of practice. Suffice it to say scales are only one facet of practice. Hopefully, I have piqued your interest in the topic. We could analyze each section and technique to create a customized comprehensive approach to practicing the guitar.