The Art of practicing?

I was wondering how some of you elite players have practiced thru the years? Like 99% of the rest of my guitar playing abilities :poop: i think i may be going about it wrong, and because of that it’s stopping me from ever achieving my goals. Basically what i do, is pick a pattern that I like, usually from a song and loop it over and over until I feel like my fingers and brain are getting it. It’s interesting to me, because when I first start playing thru it, it makes sense to a degree, and the longer i repeat it, the worse i get? I start getting lost in my head with what the Chunking is, I get discombobulated, fretting hand starts feeling crippled, the pick starts getting caught up in the strings, basically my fingers and mind just say the hell with you, we’re not going to cooperate anymore. So I’ll stop for a second, maybe slow the metronome down a bit, start back up, and I’ll be on cue for a short time, then get off, So my question is how the hell is it possible to get worse the longer you play??? You would think with muscle memory that the more you drill it in your brain, the better you get? Not me! Are there a certain amount of minutes or hours you can practice something before your brain says “no more”? It seems like everyday I pick up the guitar I’m being reminded that i am not retaining, or learning anything. :unamused:


I started practicing in smaller chunks and that seems to have helped a bit. I’m good for about 15-20 minutes, then I start getting off track for some reason. I guess my brain can only process so much. :joy: haha

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I am by no means an elite player but i absolutly made progress over the last years, even though guitar technique never was intuitive to me, so i dare to comment here.

I guess what you experience is a phase i went through, too (repeatedly, actually).
Like you, i played guitar for well over a decade before i started to find valuable learning ressources like CtC. We have a ton of reinforced bullshit-habits which we conditioned so much that it is hard to not fall back into them. I found that if i do really long practice sessions, they inevitably creep back in. I remember i felt very exhaused after 3 or 4 hours and my arm was all cramped up, even though i thought i was relaxed etc.

What helped me was, that i didnt have time to practice more than an hour during my BA thesis for some months.

So maybe set yourself a limit for some time. Go into your practice, find the sweet spot where picking isnt exhausting, practice 15 minutes, then put the guitar down before the old stuff creeps back in.


I’m also by no means an elite player but I can offer some anecdotal insight as to how I feel l’ve made progress over the last few years I’ve been working on re-inventing my playing style.

  1. Top down works. Troy is right. Shawn Lane was right. Get the speed first, screw if it’s sloppy. Just get the movements going fast and smooth and once that’s there, then start to slow down and clean up. Ignore how bad it can sound and focus on smooth, easy fast movement.

  2. Use burst practice to develop this “top down” speed approach. Martin Miller has the best video on YouTube describing this process.

  3. This is a no brainer but it takes a bit of Will power. If you want to get better at a certain area, just practice that and screw everything else. This means taking licks that you sound bitchin’ with and putting those on the back burner and just dive headfirst into uncomfortable territory. My #1 long term goal is to be so good at USX I can play every solo on No Parole From Rock and Roll. It’s super lofty but it gives me an idea of what areas I need to focus on.

  4. Learn shit you can nail relatively soon in the meantime. This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of shred dudes that just want to start with the insane shred licks, but swallow your pride and learn some easy solos like Iron Maiden or Priest or Metallica or something. Doing this is actually how I developed my love of Michael Schenker’s guitar playing. He was a player that was in the realm of what I was going for that was easy to grasp, so I developed a lot by getting into and learning a ton of his solos (which aren’t easy by any means, but it’s definitely easier than Yngwie). Also it taught me so much more about things like bending, vibrato, note choice etc. Now he’s my #2 player behind Yngwie.

  5. Be patient. Like super patient. Stick with licks/exercises longer than you think you need to, on both a short term/daily level, and a longer term over days/weeks level. What worked for me is I have a handful of licks that I group into different categories, like more strict neoclassical 3nps stuff, and then I have my fast Schenker pentatonic/CAGED stuff and I’ll rotate those groups of exercises when I feel like I’ve maxed out the other group for the time being. I just kinda use my intuition to know when it’s time rotate, but I’ve found this helps a lot.


That’s great advice, and exactly what I’ve been doing the last 3-4 days. Just like you the longer I practiced something the more I would start sucking! My old habits would start creeping back in, the pick would start feeling unstable in my hand, thumb fatigue etc, loss of rhythm and feel etc, it was always frustrating to me because I just assumed that the longer you play something the better you got?? For me my brain, just shuts down and says F.U. The question is do we really all need to practice for shorter spans to get faster results? You always hear about guys like Steve Vai playing 8 hours a day, so as a kid growing up that’s what you think you’re suppose to do. :thinking:


I’ve made pretty good progress averaging two hours a day to practice (but I also teach guitar 5ish hours a day five days a week on top of that, so I have a guitar in my hands a lot).

There is definitely an element of diminishing returns that can happen if you work on something too long, but without seeing exactly how you’re practicing I can’t comment. How long would you say you typically spend on one thing? Not just “alternate picking” but like one specific lick or example? I’ve found with my students that if they aren’t spending at least 3-5 minutes on one thing it’s not enough. Also how much are you asking of yourself? Like if the lick is two bars long are you trying to nail all two bars at once or are you dividing it up into smaller phrases?

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I can only speak for myself but if Rego’s case is similar, then too much time can actually be harmful. In the first 30 minutes he might still be searching for good technique, maybe conciously avoiding some harmful things he knows he does and wants to un-learn.

Then after a while you will get mentally exhausted and pay less attention. Also, more and more of the bad things you naturalized will creep in without noticing and after 1 hour you might play worse than when you started practicing.

That might be the problem here. A 30 min max-schedule can be helpful in such a case, to not reinforce bad habits.

But basically i wrote that comment to say that you really hurt KK Downings feelings and everybody else’s by recommending to start with easy solos like priest or Metallica :,I

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Those are good questions. You know in all the years of playing the guitar I don’t think I’ve ever timed how long I was playing something during practice. :flushed: I just play, until I’m either happy with the results, or usually with myself frustrated with the results. :confused: I would say I average 15-30. Maybe 1 hour if I’m really having fun. As far as how I practice, and maybe this is wrong, I’ll loop a lick over, let’s say a pentatonic pattern in a box position with a metronome, drum beat, or backing track of a actual song. I’ll just keep repeating it, until it starts feeling stable and coordinated. If it starts slipping, I’ll slow it down, or just stop all together. I may be practicing things in chunks too big, so that’s interesting you bring that up. I’ve notice that I can play each section fairly well, but if I try and piece them all together i get lost. That’s probably one of my biggest road blocks mentally that I can’t seem to figure out.

That’s 100% spot on with what i go through! :ok_hand:

:joy: who says easy = bad though? My point was on a forum where it’s clear we are looking towards players like Yngwie, MAB, Martin Miller, etc. that sometimes you forget it’s important to go for more graspable challenges along the way. And getting rid of the notion that “easy = bad” or “easy = less than” because that’s a very harmful mindset for a guitarist.

Looping licks with a metronome can be good, but I’ve discovered that what speed you do it at matters a lot. I’ll recommend this as a type of “jog” practice to my students. Too slow, and the phrase just loses melodic flow, too fast and you’ll be out of control. So pick a tempo that’s what a runner would consider a jog, fast enough to give yourself a workout but not so fast that you can’t maintain control for an extended period of time. In other words, don’t practice like this to develop speed. This is a control practice. It’s a great opportunity to work on what you described, having trouble connecting licks. Take two patterns that you can alternate between, set a comfortable jog tempo (or even do it with no metronome at all) and practice alternating them at random fashion. Repeat pattern #1 twice, then pattern #2 once, #1 three times etc. basically you are working on the ability to connect different phrases in real time.

Super slow practice is best when trying to change or improve your technique habits, but I find this works best for left hand. I like Troy’s approach for finding new motion mechanics best for the right hand.

I’d say I practice stuff starting at around 75% speed, and try and inch it up from there. If it’s really bad I’ll start at half speed 50%. I never really practice stuff too slow, but I’m definitely guilty of trying to practice stuff too fast. I’ll have flashes of where it’s actually easier for me to play really fast but it could fall apart at any second. I wish I could find that middle ground. I’ll definitely try your technique of piecing things together. thanks for all your advice. :pray:

I recently saw a video (for the life of me I can’t find…will post when I do) from a violinist suggesting taking a fast run and playing it at speed, but only two notes at a time (will have rhythm to it), once smooth, play three note chunks at speed. Then go for the whole thing. I thought it was interesting because it maintains the ‘practice at speed’ concept (mostly) and ‘slows’ it down (somewhat) to a format that helps with hand sync and also keeps the variation in movements. I’m taking the approach this week. Today felt good once I got around the musical variations.

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This one? :slight_smile:


Yes, perfect. Thank you!

Don’t concentrate on “what constitutes a chunk.” It doesn’t need to be the same for every person.
When you started playing, and attempted a G major chord and had to think “okay, my index finger goes here, and then my middle finger goes there, and then the ring finger… now check the index finger again” that’s the opposite of chunking. It’s very reassuring at first, but it’s incredibly slow.

The common way I bump into this topic when working with someone, is when they’re working on a line or a scale or a passage, and we’re using the metronome as 8th notes… and we top out, so we decide to crank it back down and set it as quarter notes. When they were 8th notes, we were usually thinking in 2 or 4 note groups… when they become quarter note clicks, you are either going to get sort of frantic feeling, or you chill out and now you’re thinking 4 or 8 note groups, with the same relaxation.

The idea of getting worse as you work is not uncommon. Sometimes it’s that whole inner game thing, self doubting. Sometimes it’s something mechanical that’s getting out of order as you go… and sometimes it really turns out that you just weren’t nailing it earlier in the practice. If you struggle at the same concept and the same speed day after day, it’s something else. But the easiest way to prove to yourself that you’re improving, is to log it. Record video if you want. Otherwise, just write down what you practiced, how long, and what speed on the metronome (if you’re doing a metronome session.) I usually tell folks to rate it in difficulty, 1-10 if they’re gonna do this, because that’s also an indicator. It’s almost impossible not to see a trend of progress. It can happen, too… and it’s not the end of the world… but generally at the very least an exercise will get down into that 2-out-of-10 difficulty zone.

Don’t live for the metronome, either… practice over people’s tunes, IMO.

That’s cool! I’ll check it out. Thank you :pray:

My guess is that you play with too much tension?

I’m in exactly the same boat. Practicing every day didn’t lead to anything until I focused on precise motions with minimal tension. Focus on the motion. It’s your brain that develops muscle memory. Not the muscles. Also drastically reduced my warmup time by doing this. Reach my peak speed much quicker every day.


Just wanted to add that, like studying, you need a period of rest, to process all the work you did.
You seemed to reach a saturation point. Just stop, call it a night and sleep on it. You’re muscles and your brain have to process all this and sleep is the way we do it.


Yeah I’m 100% guilty of tensing up when I play. Like most other bad habits I’ve developed thru the years it’s totally ingrained in my DNA. That may be the most difficult one to break. :confused: