Effectivity of practice

hello folks,
Do you have any suggestion on how to choose right material to practice in a practice session? I believe it must be linked to your goals on guitar. this would make sense.
Do you measure it by numbers?
how do you choose a priority?
my biggest mistake is probably doing everything at once. this strategy clearly doesnt work.
Thank you

I think the first thing is to choose where you are going. ‘I want to be able to play anything’ is certainly something I’ve fallen into…and ended up feeling like I didn’t know what to focus on…it’s a practice-time killer. Choose a musical orientation (even its just ‘something’ for now), then determine what is preventing you from getting there in your playing. Then choose one thing from that list…even if it’s just for today. Then practice that one thing with music…not excersizes (then all your current skills stay fresh). That’s my two cents. It’s a fair question for a pretty common concern IMHO.

My own example is to play ‘Mediterranean Sundance’ - why? Because I want sound like that…when I’m in that mood. I can’t get some of the fast descending runs. This morning I slowed down a section to trascribe some of it. I spent an hour (or so) this morning alternating between trascribing and just going for it at speed. It’s sloppy…but sometimes I nail a string change a little better than my average. I still can’t do it well…but I’m closer and I’m pretty sure I’ll pull some of it into my improvising in the future.


First-off! You should check out this post on How to organize your practice time: The 18-minute Practicing Routine

Now, with a clear idea of how to organize your practice time, we can talk about what to practice. From my point of view, one need to select practice material based on our personal objectives with the instrument. There are however a few things that are essential to every musician:

  1. Ear-training (rhythmic, melodic and harmonic)
  2. Reading
  3. Music theory
  4. Harmony

This group of topics is important to develop your musicianship and help you experience the music in a most natural way.

Now, there is the technical part in the instrument where you can totally select material based on your interests. For example, my goal with the instrument is being able to improvise melodic lines over chord changes, so my technical routine includes:

  1. Licks
  2. Scale sequences
  3. Chord changes
  4. Right hand exercises extracted from licks where I find technical difficulties
  5. Left hand exercises

And last But not least, I like to isolate sections of a chord progressions and practice improvisation over that. For example, in a ii-V-I, i like to practice ii-V and V-I in isolation before practicing the whole progression


Great approach to practice. The most interesting part is when you mention that eventually you’ll be able to add some new language from your transcription to your own improvisation!

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You’re correct that goals are very important in practice. Vague, undefined goals like “I want to play like Hendrix/Yngwie/Benson etc.”, or “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was” are mostly useless. Even more technically focused goals can be too undefined, like “I want to master alternate picking / sweeping / tapping etc.”. The problem is that these are not true goals, they’re aspirations. There’s nothing here to structure a development plan around.

It’s much easier to organize your practice if you create SMART goals.


To break this down:

Specific is a clearly defined outcome. The outcome may be to play a scale or arpeggio pattern, memorize a lick, or write a chord progression. The more specific the goal, the easier it is to visualize and achieve it.

Measurable is a method for observing and tracking progress towards the goal. The metronome might be a way to observe clean rhythmic control in playing a phrase, as well as increased accuracy at higher metronome speeds. Video recording is another way to measure our playing from an objective view. Keeping a practice journal is a great way to make a record of progress over time.

Actionable is an outcome that can be reasonably achieved in a practice session. This helps make the “size” of the goal appropriate to the time you have to achieve it. It also helps to make the goal a thing you can actually practice by putting into action. Theory is great, but reading about music is not the same as making music.

Realistic is an outcome that is possible to achieve, and not a fantasy. A total beginner cannot realistically play Yngwie’s “Far Beyond the Sun”. The realistic goal is appropriate to a player’s level and experience, technical capability, and available time. This doesn’t mean that we should not challenge ourselves, but to present ourselves challenges that can be achieved with a little effort - not a miracle!

Time-limited is a requirement that the outcome must occur by a specific time - depending on the size of the goal. Having a deadline helps define the time available, creates urgency to complete the goal, and prevents outcomes from happening “eventually” or “someday”.

So a complete SMART goal may be something like:

Goal: To cleanly play “Descending 6’s Pentatonic Pattern” in 5 positions in the Key of A minor [Specific] - 8th notes at 140bpm [Measurable, Realistic] - for 10 minutes today [Actionable, Time-limited].

You want to plan and organize an entire practice session around goals like this, using time-blocking to define the goals and time required that add up to a 1 or 2 hour session. Longer term goals will take shape over multiple sessions.

If you want to learn “Far Beyond the Sun”, you’ll need to define many technical patterns, licks, and subsections that will be goals over many sessions (maybe over several years). Eventually, once all the small goals are achieved, you can put them together into 1 big goal - playing the full song!

This provides clearly defined and measurable outcomes. The process forces you to think out what you want to achieve, and how you plan to achieve it. It allows you to track success/failure, progress and growth over time. It demands that you be accountable to yourself (or a teacher if you work with one), and have something to show for your effort.


thank you so much…absolutely great advice