What percentage of my time should I allocate toward improv/theory vs technique?


For 2023, for the first time in many years I have been following a strict practice regimen.

I practice around 4 hours per day. All 7 days consist of picking practice for about an hour and a half and rhythm practice for a half hour. The rest of the time is allocated to Legato, Sweeping, Tapping, Theory and Jam Tracks.

I’d say only around 10% of my time ends up devoted to theory and jamming.

Does it seem like I am putting too much time into the “technique” basket?

Would you personally attribute more time into jamming, theory, and learning songs and licks?

Thanks for any advice

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You play some pretty advanced stuff (i.e. difficult Petrucci solos), right? I’d take that to assume you’re pretty solid on at least the picking stuff, but you’re allocating 1.5 hours of your 4 hours to that? It seems high to me. I’d be allocating more of that time to playing actual music that utilizes those techniques. At the end of the day it’s all about having fun. If you enjoy those 1.5 hours and you’re also playing the music you enjoy, why change at all? :wink:


I would spend a lot of time on technique, because it’s your technique that allows you to play anything in the first place. As Rachmaninov said, “Without technique there can be no expression.”

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I am similar in that I focused on technique, tho tbh looking back on it, it’s kinda pointless going somewhere fast, if you don’t know where you’re going.

The speed can come naturally if you know what you want to say, just like the keyboard I’m typing on now, I can only really go fast if I acually understand what I’m about to say.

You see how fast some people type on their phones? They never practiced that, it came naturally from having something to say. I think my obsession with physically has held me back in music, and frustrated me as I can play fast, but I’d much rather acually be able to communicate with the instrument, and when I get to a point in my life where I start putting effort into music again I won’t be focusing on technique, I’ve got more than enough knowledge from obsessing on it. I bet you do already too.

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Thanks for the reply!

Yes, I am a massive JP fan so whenever I learn a solo, it is normally in that vein. And some attempts at Guthrie stuff as well, but we all know how that goes :laughing:

For the 1.5 hours - yeah good call, I could definitely bump that down to about an hour, putting that extra time into more practical learning (songs, licks, etc).

The reason it is so high now is because I am trying to tackle every single picking siuation in the Picking regimen:

  • 2 NPS
  • 3 NPS
  • 4 NPS
  • 6 NPS
  • 1 NPS Picking (Crosspicking stuff)
  • Exercises that focus on 2 Way Escapes (varying notes per string)
  • Economy Picking
  • Single String Runs

Note: These are broken up each day, I don’t tackle all of this every day.

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There’s probably some missing context there though. Just judging by his composition output, I’d be surprised if I found out he spent most of his days running scales and arpeggios up and down the keyboard. He most likely had an intense period where he developed his chops, then maintained them after that. This is common in most (all???) virtuosos. If we don’t have the technique yet, sure - we need to work on it. If we’ve got it already (which @adamack does) the question comes down to how much maintenance we need. Unless this is a question of learning a technique we don’t yet have that we’d like. E.G. if Eric Johnson wanted to be able to crosspick like Steve Morse.

And I probably should have asked that before I responded @adamack - what types of things are in your ‘picking practice’ bucket? EDIT: you answered this right before I posted :wink: Is it stuff you’re already good at? Or are you trying to learn a new motion because you’ve proven one and you’re interested in shopping? What’s your overall goal with technique? I was in a position long ago where I practiced 5 hours per day and I’d allot x number of minutes/hours to various things. I got tired of that after about 6 months and instead tried some more goal oriented practice. I stopped timing myself but I’m sure I cut that time in half, but felt I was making better progress. Practice without a goal for x amount of time, just to check a box, can be wasteful. Again, if you’re enjoying yourself, that’s cool :slight_smile:


I think it really depends where your technique is now, how well you know theory, and how well you improvise. My own personal rule is to find the absolute minimum amount of time needed to commit to technique where progression still occurs, or at least things don’t drop off.

I will say that to me it seems there are plenty of amateur players out there with lots of speed who do not sound particularly good when playing slower/melodically (and I love speedy playing, so don’t get me wrong). Those moments have their own technique as well (keeping bends perfectly in tune, keeping in time, choosing notes that have an influence over the harmony that you intend, etc), but tend to be overlooked in favor of the more athletic elements required for fast playing.


There is no disrespect intended here…but your practice schedule sounds like my cure for insomnia.

Do what you enjoy and horses for courses, etc…but I’d rather eat glass.

If you don’t spend a significant amount of time applying the techniques you’ve worked on, you won’t know how to apply them when the time comes.

In my mind, there are three levels of playing. Look at it like sports:

  1. High School: You can play it well in a room by yourself (practice)
  2. College: You can play it well at a band rehearsal or jamming with other musicians
  3. The Pros: You can play it well in front of a crowd

Each level is a significant jump up from the one before. You may be playing the exact same thing, but good at practice doesn’t equal good at the gig (or whatever outlet you prefer).

I’ve lost track of the number of times I thought I ‘knew’ something, even simple things, only to fail miserably in front of others or when the record button is pushed.


I wonder if any of those could be either condensed or eliminated? I’d think if you can do 4nps, you could easily do 6 nps. To me, 2 nps are different because of the more frequent tracking.

1nps and 2 way escape are indeed different techniques, but do you need them both? Someone who can do mixed escape may not be able to do the pure 1 nps, but conversely, a good 1nps player should be able to easily tackle a pattern that requires mixed escapes using the same DBX motion that they use in crosspicking/1nps. You could even say the same thing about 3nps. But to be fair, you could do 3nps with a primary slant and just use a helper motion on the one note that doesn’t fit. I dunno. Just throwing ideas out :slight_smile:

Thanks, and yes either way I cut it, I will always be spending a lot of time on technique (practicing technique is my favorite part of the day - I know, weird!). I know I will never get to a place of total mastery (since there is always room to grow), but I would love to be able to have the chops to learn to play most things.

But I am just trying to find the right balance between technique practice and playing actual music, as I also don’t want to stagnate without any guitar “vocabulary”.

Interesting! This actually helps explain something I have been puzzled about. When asked how Guthrie Govan spent his time practicing, he always says something like “I just put on a record and played to it for hours.” I always thought that sounded odd, as I’d have guessed that someone as good as himself would have spent at least half of his time specifically working on technique.

But it sounds more like what you’re talking about - that it came more naurally through thousands of hours of just playing music (and likely at least SOME exercises too).

Thanks for the reply!

My overall goal with technique is to be extremely comfortable with every type of picking encounter, and marry that with great improvisational skill. To be more specific (and impractical, ha), I desire the freedom that Guthrie has - to basically just be able to express myself without limitations - and within reason of course.

Also, yes I am enjoying myself greatly. Maybe a bit too much, as this is a big part of my problem. Working on technique is my favorite part of the day, and I would rather do that than play to jam tracks or work on theory.

A bit more info about my regimen: A lot of the exercises I am doing are actually segments of songs/solos, and for most of them, I don’t yet have them up to speed. This shows me that there is still progress to be made.

For example, a part of my Picking practice for Mondays, Wed and Fridays is working on the Erotomania string skipping segment. I work on that for around 20 minutes, starting from a slow tempo and eventually pushing past the boundaries of what I am comfortable with.

Once the day comes that I can play that as consistently as possible, cleanly up to speed while relaxed, I will retire that from my regimen and replace it with something else.

All sounds pretty cool. You’ve got a very good ‘problem’ because you are already playing at a very high level, you’ve got lots of time (or are making lots of time) to devote to this, and you’re having fun. Sounds like winning all around.

Just hearing that Guthrie is your goal and knowing what a killer improvisor he is, I’d say to spend more time on that aspect. You could incorporate some of the exercise-y stuff into the improvs too. For example, in a musical improv setting, challenge yourself to play phrases solely comprised of 2nps.

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Not mutually exclusive in my opinion. For any new theoretical concept you learn, you could write a technical etude (or even a full song) based on it.

Hence my answer is 100 and 100 :grinning:


Yeah good point. I would deifnitely say of the three things, my theory is the weakest, improv is okay but needs a LOT of work for where I’d like to be, and my technique is solid but also has a ways to go.

Your idea of finding a more minimum time allocation for technique while still making progress could be helpful to me. I haven’t experimented with that in the past, so I could try to test some different regimens and try to measure progress with each one as best as I can.

As for the slower, more melodic playing (and bends, slides etc), those are things I do consistently work on as well as I’d sat I enjoy that even more than playing fast.

Thanks for the tips!

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Ha, definitely no disrespect taken as I don’t fault anyone for finding this regimen boring.

I wanted to try a more hardcore dedicated practice schedule this year and see how it goes. A couple years back, I did a whole year of learning songs only, with little to no focus on “exercises” and with no set schedule.

That year actually ended up being really rewarding, because I picked up a ton of little skills that I never would have if only doing “exercises”. Really improved my overall feel, sense of melody etc.

Anyway though, I like your point about the levels of playing. I will likely never truly know where I stand on this kind of scale though, as I have never really desired to play live.

I can take an educated guess that I would be back to High School though as soon as I hit a stage, as I just do not have any experience at all playing for people and I would freeze up!

I will need to rework this schedule to apply these techniques more as you mentioned - thanks for the insight!

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This might sound harsh, I mean no offense, but I think it’s irresponsible to answer the Q without knowing a whole lot more information about you, your goals, your strengths/weaknesses relative to those goals, and on and on.

I sometimes get students that are very comfortable improvising but badly need technique and theory work.
Sometimes folks have chops and theory for days but no comfort improvising…
Sometimes folks are masters in one genre but are trying to expand into another but can’t grap the nuts and bolts of what’s going on harmonically…

on and on, and on.

Personally sometimes I work on only technique for months…sometimes only rhythm for months…etc.

Some practice activities are simply more time consuming than others…

there’s also the consideration of what you find motivating to work on…a suboptimal plan you’ll stick with is generally going to be better than a ‘perfect’ plan that you won’t…

it’s not a simple issue.

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I agree - that’s my fault as I should have included more information about my goals, my current strengths and weaknesses etc in my OP.

My big goal is just overall freedom on the instrument. Gaining both the skills and the knowledge to play the things I want with more comfort and relaxation.

Between technique,theory and improvisation, the latter 2 are definitely my weaker areas.

I know the answer is probably simple - just spend more time on my weaknesses (improv and theory). However, my concern is that these things (particularly improv) are harder to measure compared with technique.

In other words, it’s a lot easier to practice a more measured skill like picking than it is to practice improv, as I can’t tell if I am wasting my time by just playing to jam tracks.

Technique practice seems easier because you don’t have to think as much. “Play this….watch these mechanical aspects……teach your body and brain to remember.”

IMO - improv starts between the ears. It needs preparation and thought while doing it. At least at first.

Just playing to jam tracks can be a waste of time unless you have a purpose other than jamming. Otherwise you end up playing over the same progression types, in the same positions and playing the same licks. You gravitate to what’s familiar- which isn’t learning.

For example. I’m working on highlighting chord tones and made it really simple. A one chord jam track. I find the notes that ‘work’ and try to tell a story. You start to ‘see’ the triads and associated scales……everywhere.

Make it harder by using less-common (for guitar) keys. Bb or F, for example. The landmarks we all use in keys like A, E, D and G aren’t there.

Just like the CTC approach - break it down to fundamentals and build.

Chord tone highlighting gets exponentially harder as you add chords to the progression. But….if you’re familiar with each type of chord individually, stringing lines together gets easier.

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Great, thank you for the direction. That makes a lot of sense.

One of the things I am finally getting around to is learning the notes on the fretboard (I have stupidly never done that after all these years), so I believe that will really compliment the ideas you mentioned once I have that under my thumb.

Not knowing the fretboard has been the main thing holding me back from truly getting into chord tone expression, though I can still start working on it in the meantime (just with a more limited approach).

Good call, thanks!

Reminds me of JP’s “inside picking” etude he made for the Rock Disciple DVD.