By Hal Leonard Corporation, Jon Chappell, Mark Phillips, Desi Serna

Whether you have scads of time for guitar practice or are forced to shoehorn precious musical moments with your instruments into a hectic schedule, your goal should be to maximize the efficiency of your practice time. Guitar playing is fun, but you improve your skills with practice and work. This article offers ten tips to satisfy your inner efficiency expert.

  • Establish your practice place. Designate a practice space — one that’s more or less permanent. Dedicating an entire room to music-making may be a luxury few people can afford, but that situation is ideal. Short of that, a corner of a room or a spot against a wall is the next best thing. In your practice space you should install a chair, a music stand, a good reading lamp, and a nearby table.

  • Define Your Practice Time (and Stick to It). Ask anyone who has engaged in a successful exercise regimen, and she’ll tell you that it’s much easier to adhere to a routine if it takes place at the same time (or nearly so) every day. Practicing this way gives you an equal interval between sessions, and it lets you plan your life in advance. And so it is with music.

  • Establish Objectives for Your Practice Sessions. It’s fun to just pick up the guitar and start playing, but you should save that for when it’s not your scheduled practice time. When it’s time to work, you should always begin with at least a goal or an objective (such as, “I’m going to learn three harmonic minor scale patterns and be able to play three sequences up to tempo”). These goals give you a way of measuring your progress. And of course, you should also make time for playing that really is “playing.”

  • Keep Your Accessories Handy. An accessory is any object that you may need in order to practice comfortably and efficiently. Some important accessories include a metronome, tuner, pick (if applicable), and pencil and paper. You may also want to have a slide or digital memo recorder (for capturing ideas or monitoring your performance).

    Once you sit in your practice chair, you shouldn’t have to get up again until the egg timer dings, indicating the end of the session. You may have to reach for something occasionally, but all the anticipated hardware you need to get through a session should already be there for minimum interruption.

  • Get Your Head in the Game. Approaching practice time with the proper attitude is something that’s vitally important for productive results (and for simply remaining happier while you’re in the chair). And it gets easier to do as you become better. But you’ll likely find that even when you feel lousy, the mood disappears after a few moments of intense musical muscle-flexing.

  • Warm Up Your Hands and Fingers. Even if you’re just bursting to play, you still have to wake up the muscles and nerves in your hands and fingers before they’ll fire on all cylinders. Warming up with simple exercises allows your muscles to get in the groove without taxing your brain. And warming up prepares you for playing difficult passages better than if you simply try to stumble through them when you aren’t quite ready.

  • Start Slow and Work Your Way Up. Many people don’t realize the importance of playing a passage slowly and then speeding up gradually. Doing so not only helps diagnose where your weak spots are, but it’s the most efficient way to get yourself playing up to tempo.

    Get out your metronome and find a comfortable tempo that’s neither too slow nor too fast. After you can play the passage perfectly three times in a row, kick the metronome up one setting. Listen carefully for where the “breakdown” occurs. Usually, it begins in one or more specific spots.

  • Isolate Difficult Passages. You can isolate the passage that’s dragging you down and practice just that bit, drilling just one or two bars over and over. Use your metronome to find the setting where you can play the difficult passage successfully and comfortably and then work up from there. Be sure you can play into and out of the passage.

  • Play Different Guitars. You can get into a rut playing the same guitar. If you have more than one guitar, try playing your music on different instruments. This requires you to work the instruments a bit differently and to draw on different techniques to produce good tone.

  • Join the Club. Guitars sound equally fantastic in a solo or in an ensemble setting, so make sure you aren’t just slaving away at home alone. Get out into the musical community and play with others.

    Try practicing duets with another guitarist or experiment by backing up a singer. Then play in a trio, a quartet, or in larger settings, using both written arrangements and improvisation. You learn a lot about balancing and reacting dynamically. It’s also a great way to get exposed to new points of view. Oh, yes, and it’s fun, too.