Practicing Guitar Stinks! Part 1

What do you think is the single most important thing you can do that will help you become a better guitar player?

Buying high end guitar gear?
Listening to inspiring guitar music?
Finding a great teacher?

Nope. It's none of the above.  The biggest factor in your quest to become the best guitar player you can be is how effective your guitar practice is!

It’s funny, because this is something so simple that so many players seem to get wrong. Why do people seem to have such a struggle with their practice times? Maybe it’s because practicing guitar stinks!


Let me clarify that…I should say that maybe YOUR practicing stinks.

I used to hate practicing the guitar, but once I understood what the problems were, I started to love it.

What made the difference for me? I finally learned what was making my guitar practice times so ineffective, and then I figured out how to fix it. Here are 10 things I was doing that were making my practice times stink, and what I did to correct the situation. You might be dealing with some of these exact same things:

1) Practicing Stinks When You’re Shooting In the Dark

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to practice and not knowing what  to play. I mean, it’s hard enough to find time to spend practicing anyway, much less wasting it trying to figure out what to work on during the limited time that you have. What if the things you decide to practice aren’t even what you should be practicing? This is where a good guitar teacher can help.

A good guitar teacher will make sure you’re working on the concepts and techniques that will get you the fastest results. If you want to play faster, there are some specific things you need to practice to make that happen. If you want to improve your songwriting, there are certain concepts you should work on to get there. This is true for pretty much everything you want to learn on the guitar. There’s a fast way, and a slow way…an easy way and a hard way. Which way would you rather do it?

Don’t use the “shotgun” approach…where you work on a bunch of different things, all at the same time, hoping you hit the right areas and eventually get where you want to be. I can tell you from experience, that approach never works. Instead, you need to use the “rifle” approach…focusing on the exact things you need to do right now to get the best results, as fast as possible. If you don’t know what those exact things are, find someone who does, and make them your guide through the sometimes frustrating jungle of guitar development.

2) Practicing Stinks When You Don’t Schedule Your Practice Times

Dont just pick up your guitar when you feel like it. If this is your approach to practicing, you probably won’t improve very fast.

Ask yourself this question: “How important is playing the guitar to me?” If it’s more than just a hobby for you, then you need to take it seriously. You need to create a practice schedule for yourself, and stick with it. That means treating your practice times like they’re a regular appointment. Take out your calendar and schedule some time every day to practice your guitar…actually write it in as an appointment. And make sure that you aren’t late!

If you had an appointment with the President of the United States, you know you would be ready and you would be on time. Even if all you have is a doctor’s appointment, you always make sure not to blow it…why should your future with the guitar be any less important? Take a minute right now to actually pencil in your practice sessions. Think about it like this: if you only practice twice as often as you did before, you could be getting twice the results, and you’ll get them twice as fast.

3) Practicing Stinks When You Aren’t Organized

OK…assuming you know what to practice, and you know when to practice, the next big practice-killer is a lack of organization.

Get a folder or a 3-ring binder -w- divider tabs and organize your guitar practice. Make a divider tab for each group of items you want to study (like one for Scales, one for Chords, one for Arpeggios, etc.). Then print off all your lesson materials, 3-hole punch them and file them in the right place in your binder. If you do that, you’ll never have to waste valuable practice time looking for your stuff again.  This is something that I set up for all of my private students and it works great!

4) Practicing Stinks When You Don’t Set Specific Goals

This was probably my biggest mistake for a long time. Even if you get the other stuff right, when you actually sit down to practice the guitar, you need to know exactly what you’re planning to work on, for how long, and in what order. The best way to do that is to write down specific goals for your practice sessions. I do this a week in advance, and I write out what I want to accomplish on each day…which exercises or concepts I want to work on, what order I want to do them in, and how long I want to do each one.

The less you have to think about, the less stressed you are and the better you can concentrate on your guitar. It’s amazing how much time we tend to waste trying to figure things out on the spot. Instead of planning out your time when you actually sit down to practice, just schedule a few minutes every week and do it all at once for the next 7 days. It’ll help you in many ways, but mainly it’ll keep you on track and help you waste less of your valuable practice time.

My favorite part about setting practice goals is actually achieving them, and then crossing them off my list.

5) Practicing Stinks When Your Fingers, Hands and Arms Hurt

Duh!?! This might sound dumb, but you need to stop playing if you start to feel pain. I’m not talking about the friction on your fingertips from your developing callouses…I mean real pain in your muscles and joints. Don’t be so impatient that you just push yourself through real pain to try to meet your daily goals. Not only will that make your practice times suck, it can also ruin your future with the guitar.

There are a couple of main conditions that seem to plague guitar players, and they can both be debilitating. The first one is Tendinitis. This is when one of the tendons in your wrist or hand gets irritated or inflamed. It can happen when you practice guitar for a long time with too much tension in your hands, or when you do other stuff like skiing or even a lot of driving.

Another one is Repetitive Strain Injury (or RSI). This one can affect your tendons, muscles and nerves, and it’s caused by doing the same thing too many times incorrectly (like repeatedly running through a scale pattern or arpeggio on your guitar). RSI is also common with people who work on computers all day or on an assembly line in a factory.

There are some effective ways to treat these conditions with everything from deep-tissue massage to surgery (and everything in between), but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? And sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. Just stop playing if your hands start to really hurt, and you’ll go a long way toward keeping yourself injury-free. Another good guideline is to never practice your technique more than 3 hours per day. Just be smart, because nothing’s worse than having to quit playing the guitar altogether for 6 months while your wrist surgery heals.

We’ll continue with the remaining 5 things that can make your practice sessions stink in part 2 of this article.


Author Donnie Schexnayder is a musician, guitar teacher and small business coach. He produces the Start Teaching Guitar podcast and loves working with guitar players to help them become guitar teachers and successful business owners. Check out his website at for more info.”