One question people sometimes ask: how long should guitarists practice each day?
That’s going to be different for each performer — I know John Petrucci famously rehearses six hours a day, but when you consider that Dream Theater is his full-time job, that actually makes a lot of sense. You certainly don’t need to practice that much to get enjoyment from guitar, or even to become good at it, but there’s a reason Dream Theater is known for virtuosity. You kind of have to practice that long to sound as good as Petrucci does playing music that’s as technical as what Dream Theater writes.
As a guitar teacher, I obviously emphasize the importance of practice to my students, and as someone whose livelihood depends on music, I follow a pretty aggressive practice routine — but that doesn’t mean it has to be a chore. Playing should be fun, but to get good, you need a combination of variety and discipline.
Overall, including warm-up time, I usually practice where from 3-5 hours a day.
Occasionally, I’ll spend even more time practicing, if it’s a good day. That may sound like a lot, but you have to consider that practice should incorporate a few different components: mental (sight reading, music theory, getting an ear for certain types of sounds/rhythms), physical, and expressive.
Here’s how it all breaks down:
Mental Guitar Workout: 30-60 Minutes
If I have a good amount of free time (which is ideal), then I usually start with some sight reading practice.
I’m not the best sight reader at all, so most of the time I’ll just read some exercises out of a book. Lately though I’ve been branching out and reading some melody lines from sonatina albums and some jazz charts. I consider this my mental warm-up, and I usually try to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour just on sight reading.
After that, my brain is usually pretty frazzled, so I move on to a more typical physical warm-up.
Guitar Exercises and Riff Practice: 30-60 Minutes
During the chops-building part of practice, I’ll usually focus on playing some licks or lines that I’m interested in. The goal is to play them over and over to really drill them into my mind and my muscle memory.
I usually start with my metronome around 100 BPM and keep ramping up until it becomes a complete and utter mess. I recently started using a mechanical metronome, which is nice because:
- it doesn’t drain my phone battery
- each notch is roughly a 5% increase in tempo, which I ﬁnd is pretty ideal
This usually takes up another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how involved some of the licks are and how comfortable I am with them. I try to limit myself to an hour max here because I don’t want to tire myself out.
Rehearsing Songs: 1-3 Hours
After both of those warm-ups, I’ll ﬁnally get to practicing some of the things that I have on my list to practice: new Cabinets songs, jazz tunes, solo transcriptions, technique, improv, etc. Lately I’ve been practicing Gypsy jazz almost exclusively, so I’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on things like improv, picking technique, and melodic phrasing. I usually just practice one thing until I get tired of it and then move onto the next thing.
I also try to keep a practice journal so I don’t keep practicing the same things each and every day. Variety is really important, I think — it keeps you from getting complacent (or worse, bored), while getting you comfortable with different genres and styles.