I’m gonna give you some straight talk about practicing guitar and taking good care of your body and hands.
This is especially relevant today since so many people are self taught from videos and don’t have a real life teacher for feedback.
The “He / She Never Stops Practicing” Myth – Debunked!
One of the favorite “myths” that fans and students hold in mind is that “great musicians practice 24 hours a day, to the exclusion of everything else and that’s why they are so good!”
People always ask me how “many hours a day I practice” and I see that they are living exactly this fantasy of “wow you are a dedicated artist who practices all the time!”
It’s cool to “imagine the life of an artist” but gang, let’s get real. We are all human and we all have limits.
Practicing for hours and hours might make you feel like you are living up to this myth of the musical super-hero, but you can injure yourself physically by overdoing it, and end up having to stop playing for months.
Myth debunked: I do not practice 24 hours a day.Practicing guitar mindfully and correctly is much more important than simply racking up mindless hours of practice time. Click To Tweet
Practicing mindfully and correctly is much more important than simply racking up mindless hours of practice time.
Don’t believe all the BS stories about “so and so’s endless practice.” It’s just a story which is used to sell you stuff.
What you are not hearing is the endless stories about musicians with carpal tunnel syndrome that go along with them.
The Good News
I’m going to show you how to treat your hands and body with love & care – so that you can make music in the long haul.
Progress comes from mindful relaxed practice sessions which are broken into several 15-20 minute chunks, and then spread over a months and years. Think “long term” planning, and go for slow, boring steady progress.
Never practice past the point where your body is telling you to stop. It’s not weight lifting, and a hand injury can totally put your playing out of commission.
It’s ok to say “I’m done for today.”
I practice many hours a week, but I take time off and rest, and stretch, and sleep enough, and breathe deep and drink enough water.
If anything ever twinges, feels tight – I stop playing and rest up. Often I want to “keep going” but I know to stop if the body says stop.
In other words – I know when to call it a day.
Many pro players and adult players especially ages 35-45 have hand problems due to the stresses of life, financial stress, lack of warm up time, before gigs etc.
And even if you are playing properly, “overusing” your body can cause injury. I hear about guitarists doing 2 4-hour gigs a day and then wondering why they have hand problems. OW!
Imagine how many times you use an index finger in one song! Some songs have hundreds of notes, and this will tax the fingers, joints, tendons – to repeat a motion 1000’s of times. So – repeating perfectly normal motions over and over can lead to injury.
New Technique? New Guitar?
Don’t start a new technique suddenly or change instruments cold-turkey. “Sudden” changes are not good, they stress muscles you are not used to using. Like…
- Out of nowhere, you do a gig bending strings on your Strat and you haven’t done it in years!
- Someone asks you to do a bass gig and you never play bass.
- You are a steel string player and out of nowhere do a gig for 3 hours on nylon string with a much wider neck.
- You get a new guitar and play it for 5 hours with no break.
Always ease in to new techniques, and ease into that new guitar you just got – both a technique and a new instrument require new & different muscles.
10 Tips for Healthy Guitar Practicing
Fortunately, I had 2 great classical teachers who taught me some good concepts.
I have been reviewing this myself for the past few weeks – just to refresh, and I am feeling and playing better than ever.
1) Make sure your guitar is comfortable to play.
Here are my measurements (for fingerstyle steel string).
1st, put a capo on the first fret.
The measurement at the 13Th fret is: Bass = 4/64, Treble = 3/64.
The measurement is from the top of the 13Th fret to the bottom of the string.
Also – I try to avoid barre chords in my solo arrangements when possible!
2) Practice Finding the “Buzz” Point.
Try this – play so light with your left hand that notes actually start to “buzz” from not pressing hard enough.
Next, press just enough to make the buzz disappear.
If you are squeezing harder than the point where you’ve just made the buzz go away you’ll need to do a daily warmup where you repeat finding the “just enough” point through muscle memory, to train your hands to play “just enough” to not buzz.
Any “squeezing” past the point you need is wasted energy, tension and can lead to injury.
3) Examine Your Hand Position.
This is too deep a topic to get into fully here in this post, but here goes.
Basically, your wrists should not be bent in extremes in any direction. Many guitarists have a left-hand wrist hulking forward, and a cocked-back right wrist as they fingerpick.
A teacher can help you with this.
For more in depth lessons, check out my lesson series HERE.
I think the hand position is in videos 2 & 3 in the series.
4) Establish Your Stretching Routine.
I just found some great stretches for the hands arms & shoulders on youtube. I am doing these now as “preventative stretches” and it’s helping my playing.
The “expertvillage” channel gave these as some results when I searched “yoga for carpal tunnel.” These are a MUST for all guitarists!
Here they are, and please consult a doctor first!
5) Learn to Breathe Deeply.
I used to forget about this. I’d hold my breath tight in my upper chest (especially if I was nervous, before I went on stage.)
Now I know to take good slow deep breaths. It calms me and I play looser, better, groovier – and get a better tone.
If you get nervous, try this.
Once you breathe deeply and fully, your body’s entire physiology changes, so learn to breathe into your diaphragm, then up into the chest, then exhale…and do it when you play!
Here is a great vid on breathing:
6) Take Breaks When You Practice.
I take breaks practicing every 15-20 mins whether or not I think I need it. It’s easy to play for an hour with no break and not realize it.
You’ll make more progress this way – and your brain will retain more as well.
If you do a background music type gig where you have to play constantly, be very mindful of your technique. This can be much more taxing on your chops than doing a big concert!
Tip – have easy stuff to play with lots of open strings and slow to medium tempos.
7) Have a Sensible Warm Up & Practice Routine.
I start every practice session with a long version of my “groove scales.” I play very slow, and “monitor” my body, making sure my shoulders are loose, that I am breathing deep, and not “pushing” or “squeezing” the notes too hard.
It’s also a good idea to try not to let your head hang way forward and get it comfortably sitting over your shoulders. A “forward head” causes all kinds of discomfort.
After scales, I’ll play music VERY SLOW with a DEEP POCKET, and making sure nothing is strained or stressed. Grooving helps relaxation, so I play “loose as a goose!”
The picture we hold in mind influences our body!
I make sure that my mental image of my body is that my whole body is like a well-oiled groove machine, with pendulums swinging loosely and gears meshing with no effort.
If your mental image of your body is muscles pumping, hard work, aggression, strength, veins popping out of your neck, and winning a WWF wrestling match – CHANGE IT.
This ain’t about winning…it’s about grooving.
8) Drink enough water!
I’m no doctor but my neck, back, hands and brain all feel better when I drink enough water. Often we’re dehydrated and don’t know it…when I drink enough water, I feel awake, alert and happy.
9) Stop practicing GUITAR and start learning MUSIC!
Things like speed and fluidity and “techniques” will simply “appear” when you grasp the concepts behind the music you play.
I see people all the time practicing “fast…tense…I WANNA BE GOOD…” until they are blue in the face! That’s “meathead” practice!
Not only can this be bad for your body, but you get de-sensitized to the music. This is a such waste of time to do it this way. Trust me, I’ve tried it and lost hours.
The best practice is to understand and contemplate the musical idea you are working with. It may then come out of your fingers with much less practice than you thought you needed.
10) Go for “beauty” rather than “to be the BEST.”
Anytime “I try to be the best” there’s a problem….
“I” becomes the focus rather than “the music.” Then comes tension, competition, worry, shortness of breath, and all that ego crap.
Get 2 people functioning like that and team them up on stage and it becomes a pissing contest.
When I am focused on “the music”, groove, beauty of melody and sound, my body always feels fine. Everything’s ok and in balance.
Whenever the EGO takes over, the body feels tight and nothing feels good musically.
So – be a giver, rather than a taker.
Dunno if this applies to you, check it for yourself! If you feel tense, scared and short of breath – really take a look and see….are you working on music or are you working on “being great?”
(Feeling like you suck is also the EGO….)
That’s it for now Gang, I’ll try to keep posting lesson videos to demo all these techniques.
Carry on! Practice consistently, musically and mindfully and take good care of your body.
RELATED: 8 Tips for Playing Fingerstyle Guitar Without Making Mistakes
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Thanks Adam. This was excellent.
Bob Brounley says
Excellent, excellent article Adam. I’m 55 and have been playing classical/fingerstyle guitar most of my life but have seen the “issues” with my hands creep in the last couple of years (thumb joint, tennis elbow, etc.) I perform about 8 to 12 hours per week in addition to daily practice. I believe most of my issues are created by too many pieces using upper position (full bar) playing on the classical guitar. While it’s hard to get around it with some pieces, your point about arranging with fewer bars is a great one. Thanks. By the way, you and Shaun kicked it in Clearwater. Bob
Adam Rafferty says
Bob – there is a way to do barres on the nylon where you
1) straighten the barre finger completely
2) put your LH thumb on the bottom of the neck, not behind the neck
3) pull back using your bicept
Look for pictures of Segovia – he does this. I can play full barres with no buzzes without even touching my thumb at the back of the neck (on nylon. Steel string I use a different LF position)….worth looking into – and look for photos of Segovai barring – check his LH thumb!
Bob Brounley says
Thanks, Adam I’ll give it a shot.
It’s amazing that you take the time to write these things. You don’t have to, but you do, and you are helping sooo many people with it! Thank you very much! I bought your 2 Stevie Wonder-dvd’s and I LOVE it! He is my favorite musician and your arrangements are tasteful and original. I only play my own arrangements on stage, because that’s the place to be original, and also I don’t want to get complimented on things other people made. Feels “not right” or something haha. But I love it and the people who I play it to love it. Friends/family etc. Thanks again!
John Horne says
Point number 9 is SO heavy and SO true!
I completely agree with John. It is so important to know the message of what you want to send musically than the technique behind it. Sometimes you may realize that how so -and-so played it this way, your musical message may not be the same. Play to enjoy music, not to impress!!!
Yes Jeffro! The message is #1!
I love this:
“I” becomes the focus rather than “the music.”
I think that’s a nice way to think about stage fright, well the inverse of that, actually. If you’re making good music, what’s there to be afraid of! I wish web sites like this and people like you were around 20 years ago when I started playing…
Great tips Adam – thanks. One question – I’ve just started lessons and the teacher insists on the guitar resting on the left knee (right handed) with the neck of the guitar sloping upwards. It feels a bit awkward but it is supposed to be good for technique. Do you have an opinion on this? My daughter is 13 and also having lessons and seems to have adapted quite easily.
Adam Rafferty says
THat can twist your back, but it is for classical guitar. You may want to check out this as a guitar ‘support’ on a healthy lap as opposed to a foot rest.
Hi Adam, Tariq here from Toronto. I see you have a busy schedule in Germany. God luck.
As other’s have already commented – great tips! Thanks. The stretches are great.
The one tip I did not quite understand is Tip 1. What am I measuring at the 13th fret to get 4/64 for bass and 3/64 for treble? Why is the capo put on the first fret if I am only measuring top of 13th fret to bottom of string? Also what units is the 4/64 and 3/64 – inches etc?
Please shed some light.
You’re measuring the distance between the fret and the string, if the string is too low (too close to the fret board) it could bump the frets while playing, which will interfere with sound quality. If the strings are too high, or too far from the frets, you’ll have to push harder to get the string to firmly connect, which will tire your hand and arm quicker, and make a buzzing sound more likely.
You use the capo when you measure, because when you push down near the top of a string, the entire string lowers, and if you’re comparing your measurements to his, his measurements are done with that capo adjustment, so if you didn’t use a capo your measurements could be way off. You could search around online to see if you can find measurements that don’t use a capo, or create a makeshift capo out of household items, if you don’t have a capo yet.
If you’re curious to see how holding down strings (or fretting) could affect that measurement, with one hand hold down strings at various frets, with the other hand use a measuring tape or ruler to see how the distance between string and fretboard changes. Pretty interesting stuff.
Thanks Crystal – I just posted this….and you sound like a pro!
Daniel B says
Hi Adam! I just watched your version of Man in the mirror on youtube and loved it. I have a book with Tuck Andress version but prefer yours. Is there any chance you have tabs for it? Will you release a DVD or book with the tabs anytime soon?
Excellent Article from an excellent dude! Keep up the great work! Really enjoyed it and where you are coming from!
Pete Digons says
Excellent article. The tip on “going for beauty, rather than to be the best” is especially important. All the greats never tried to be great – they were just interested in playing beautiful music. They became great automatically by seeking beauty in the music they loved to play.
Mike Fowler says
I’ve read many articles and blog posts reference the philosophy behind playing, practicing and performing but your blog stands out for me as succintly and without fuss conveying a wealth of really useful tips. A couple of years ago I delved into the mystery of that unfortunate “plateau”, one’s progress hindered and we can’t work out why. It’s strange isn’t it? I’ve been playing 27 years, but I wonder how good I’d be if my progress over that time had followed the same curve as my first 3-4 years. It seemed to level off for nearly 20 years! Only recently did I find I was practicing wrongly. Unfortunately, not only was my structure wrong, but playing without proper warm up, or taking enough breaks, has resulted in injury to my left arm, and I’ve not been able to play for 4 months. Recovery slow. I may have to relearn on the left knee, which feels awkward.
Check out my stuff, I’d welcome your comments.
Just wanted to let you know, yours is the first blog I’ve ever subscribed too. The emphasis on beauty rather than technique was just the sort of Zen quality I’ve been searching for. The generosity you show in dispensing the benefit of your experience is quite humbling. All the best.
MIke I am sorry to hear about your arm, but the good news is – these things do repair with proper rest and care.
A hand doctor once put me at ease by telling me this.
I look forward to checking your channel out.
LIfe is long, and I know Fingerstyle MIke will be making lots more beautiful music…..
Ove Petterson says
Have to say….this is real stuff….I practise a lot. Not 12 h. But say 4-5. I´ve recently started to realize what you are “talking about”.
Noticing progress is hard….but when I started to play “old stuff”, the realm of music opened a bit. It is wonderful to read about this in Your tips. And I hope that these tips will encourage a lot of people, who certainly are skilled already, to go for the beauty.
So…Thank You, for this page. This is my first but not last visit here.
Thank you for the Tips. You care every single one who love music no matter what their level are and offer helps, tips and take time to write to them.I really appreciate it. Thank you, God bless you!
Az Samad says
Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been telling my students tips 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 in classes for some time now & this will be great to reinforce the concepts we go through.
Really appreciate point #4 & look forward to check out the stretching routine & links you shared. At the moment, I do some simple stretches so this will be a wonderful area to explore.
Thanks for these very specific posts & examples. I really dig them!
You mentioned that video lesson 2 or 3 show the correct right and left hand positions….I checked video lesson 2 ……it not there…how do I see video lesson 3?
Chris Elliott says
Excellent, excellent. Thank you. I needed that.
Jonathan Allor says
Washington Johnson says
Thanks for the healthy tips. Especially the stretching and the breathing. Something l am too shallow with like most people. l would like to past on a book recommended to me by another jazz guitar player and teacher Rich Severson, from California. The book is “The Practicing Mind, by Thomas Sterner. l highly recommend it ! After reading your ” Digital Diet” post Adam, l thought about what this book talks as how we learn anything and how we do not focus on the “process”. But we are focus on the product or the end game, instead of in the moment of what task we a doing right now. Thomas Sterner also has a website/blog around this subject. He is a guitar player / musician. He plays several instruments, but writes abut that whole experience of learning an instrument at a young age then later as an adult.
Charles Adkins says
Adam – GREAT tips! and very very important. After several years where my left hand’s pinkie and middle finger where thickening and had limited range of motion due to overuse and bad hand position, and poor posture, I have rehabbed to the point where they actually bend.
(used a TENDLITE to help , but this is no ad)
Good habits will have you playing freely till you are an old person. Invest in these tips. Once your hands go you will have to settle for less playing.
On another note, I just saw Clive Carroll for the first time last Saturday and he blew my mind. First thing I thought of the next day was how cool it would be to get you and Clive together for some funky tunes.
Have you ever played with Clive? He toured with Tommy E as well. (loves Mr Johnny Cash, too)
All the best Adam,
got to get me some pfunk, cause I want’s to get funked up !
props to George and Bootsie.
Let me know if you ever want to come to Berkeley, CA. that would be an epic night.
What a great article for anyone, not just us guitar players. Being a Occupational Therapist I know Exactly what you are saying. Breathing is very important for we all have become such shallow breathers. Smell the roses blow out the candles with pursed lips. The muscle groups do get taxed when there is too much repetition but it is so true when they are under used. Find that happy median for you and your muscles.
Since I’m also a liturgical musician, the ego is very dangerous.. Thoughts may run through your mind when performing like “what are they thinking about me…..etc….etc…” Once you start that stuff it equates to messing up. I keep a focus when playing and keep my ego in check. I’m not the best musician but I’m not the worst. And the gifts/talents I have are not mind for the keeping anyway. The great medieval times artist understood this , such as Michelangelo. They didn’t even sign their work. (” A scribbling in the sand” Michael Card)
Bottom line: Good body mechanics and awareness is important.
Thank You Adam for the info and for giving me the opportunity to comment.
I spend far more time on mechanics than people think – and far less time on “feelings” than what they think!
Thank you Judy!
Thank you Adam for the brilliant advice. I really appreciate your kindness in sharing these lessons and look forward to each of your emails.
So grateful for this, thanks Adam!
klaus eber says
Adam, very helpful advices.
All the best
Michael Capps says
What an awesome thing to wake up to on a Sunday morning. There is a lot of information here I never thought of before. Thank you so much!
Ravi V says
Hello Adam, What is the best practice pattern? I can play all the major and minor scales, pentatonic positions and open chords and barre (6th and 5th). That’s where my guitar stopped, don’t know how to proceed further. I fail to connect these and take my knowledge to the next level. Help me.
Sounds like you need to apply it all to songs, played for real people at this point!
Short practice time and rest I found how helped so much.
Ego does get in the way of music
rick Lee says
not sure if there is something wrong with my computer or what, I get a huge black bar, and could only see half of seven through the rest of the article. What I got led me to believe that I am on the right path though, but on one of the comments you mentioned barre cording. I got a late start to guitar, been playing for about 7 years now and have avoided barre chords like the plague. got a fingerstyle guitar for birthday this year (52 now) and now I want to master them, and I am starting to get them but really inconsistently, and the buzzing drives me crazy. is there something I am doing wrong? why can I get them once, and the very next one I get muted and buzzing strings, am I just too damn old to learn new tricks?
Rick, barre chords have 2 enemies – 1) a badly set up guitar 2) a curved barre index finger. There are some great classical videos on youtube on barre chords, poke around. Maybe I will make one. Stay tuned!
What you say makes a lot of sense. I’m 63 and have been playing for 50 years first by copying The Shadows (you’ve probably never heard of them) and the The Beatles.
Now I have arthritis and have truly playing many bar chords so am experimenting with many open string tunings…..just so that I can carry on playing!
I’m lucky to have a Gibson Les Paul Custom with Fender twin reverb valve amp…..but for acoustic my Yamaha has done me well for over 40 years!
Your videos are great!…..keep them up….
Em thanks for posting, and glad you are playing!
Thanks for the tips Adam. However, I still am not certain how much time incl. warm-ups I should practise. Alright, I just want to be good enough on the guitar, not a virtuoso – I guess I don’t have too much time ;-). But my favorite guitar player and musician Tommy Emmanuel mentioned in one of his interviews that he actually had his guitar in his hands literally 24 hours a day. And that”s why he is great. I definitely can’t play 24 hours a day due to my age but again: how much, reasonably, given all your valuable tips are taken thorough account of should, a person practise? Thanks in advance and keep going!
Bill Lingelbaugh says
Thanks again Adam,
Everything thing you say is true. I studied Classical guitar for 10 years and was practicing 6 to 8 hours at least 5 days a week. I split my left fingers open (2nd and 3rd) 2 separate times (superglued them to keep on playing). And I chipped the 2nd knuckle of my 3rd finger left hand. That stopped me for awhile.
People would be wise to follow your advise. I wish I had known it then.
Hey Mate, what you’ve got hear is really great. Thanks a lot. I’ve been struggling with finger picking for years and can’t seem to progress. A lot of your points look like things I need to take on board. Thanks mate.
Great advice Adam Thanx
gregory mccann says
Excellent article on practicing, wish that I’d read it when I started studying music! Thank you!
Greg – You still are studying and so am I!
Nick Caldwell says
Priceless tips Adam. Will do my best to rectify all my bad habits.
russ fleenor says
I’ve been playing for 35-years now but I don’t think I’m destined to be as good as Ritchie Blackmore. I mean there’s a big difference between playing a quick note and bringing that quick note to life.
What does “as good” mean?
john teye duorsi says
i really enjoyed the tips and i will be much happy to lean more from you may God really bless you and give you more knowledge .
John – thanks and sorry for the late response! – AR
Keith thompson says
OMG yoou were in Clearwater, darn, so sad I missed you. Moved here in 99 from Toronto, loving it.
Thanks again for the giving back Adam, many years your senior, but do appreciate you taking the time to help others even though you are quite busy on the road and being creative (love your arrangements).
Aw Keith, thank you!
Since I joined your workshop in Hamburg on 2nd November 2014 I am more aware of my breathing, learning scales easier by grooving, exercise the boom chick and have much more fun with my guitar playing. Thanks a lot for our lessons via YouTube.
All the best and thanks for your engagement
Edeltraud – great!!!!
Thanks Adam, great stuff.
Glad you liked it Shaun!
G.E. Grant says
Really good article. I have played a long time and never assessed the buzz point. Will definitely be practicing that technique, especially with barre chords on my acoustic.
GE, glad you liked it! Thanks for your comment and sorry for the late response! – AR
I have tried your techniques and it’s really useful…..but I just wanna ask u that can singing can be learned or it is birth talent
10% Talent 90% work – go to a vocal teacher! 🙂 Thanks for commenting Himanshu!
This is really an eye-opener article, I’ve never been thinking about it this way for a decade.
Thanks Adam! Excellent job!
Jeremy, thanks for your comment and sorry for the late response! – AR
Big thank for the tips (Огромное спасибо!!!)
my question: I am engaged in half a year, I play the guitar with metal strings, an average of an hour a day.
I feel discomfort (pain) in the ball of the little finger on his left hand.it’s okay? need to develop?
Felix, sorry for the wait. Try playing LIGHTER, do not press so hard – AR
I am a guitarist and music teacher in Australia. Like your thoughts on practice especially as I have 7 out of my 10 kids still at home!! I bought your Stevie Wonder dvds and promptly lost the tab for dvd1 so am trying to find the time to watch the dvd again. Really like them though. I am hoping to send you video of myself playing yakety ax in your new teaching concept. What sort of vid should that be? Cheers, Mark
Mark send me an email, I’ll get you a PDF of the book you misplaced! – AR
what awesome advice especially about feeling the music rather then being great..
Thank you 🙂
Thank you Andi!
This is great, and exactly what i needed to read. thank you.
Thanks a lot Adam. That’s excellent .It helped me a lot with my practicing routine and techniques.
Michael Roff says
Great Article Adam……..only wish that I had received it eleven months ago when I started learning guitar, long story short, I injured my left fretting hand learning Barre Chords. De Quervain’s tendonitis( Thump/Wrist ) is very painful and pretty much requires you to stop using your injured hand. Adam is right, it’s quality, not quantity.
All great points here, thanks a lot Adam!
I had to laugh when I read: “This is a such waste of time to do it this way. Trust me, I’ve tried it and lost hours.”
“Hours”? Man, I’ve lost DECADES doing it this way!
All the sound advice you’re giving here is a good summary of what I’ve finally come to understand… in my fifties. Well, it could’ve been “never”….
Like your YT videos a lot, too. Thanks again, man!
Again, Thanks for commenting!
PS: FYI, I tried to post from Safari 8.0.7 on Mac 10.10.4 and the captcha game wouldn’t validate. Had to use Firefox.
“Sorry, but we could not verify that you are a human. Please press your browser’s back button and try again.”
Larrey, I have just installed a different Captcha because you & a few others mentioned problems. Please try again to let me know if the new one works better. Thanks for commenting!
Learning to play the guitar won’t be easy. To begin with you will sound terrible and feel totally uncoordinated. Your finger tips will suffer daily pain until you develop callouses. After countless hours of practice you will feel like you are not getting anywhere. Although your family may encourage you on the first day, their words may not be so complimentary after a week or so of daily practice. (Actually, it’s better to practice where you won’t annoy anyone if you can manage it.)
Linda-Brooke Thompson says
Wonderful advice! Once I stopped trying to be a good guitar player, and just started feeling the music, I really started enjoying playing guitar, and my skills began to excel without that being the focus of playing. I used to actually dread guitar practice, because it just felt like work, but now I look forward to it all day! I wish more beginners understood this!
Thanks Adam for your advice! You are right, When ever I make my own music and try to make a video of it I think about how awesome It would sound and how badly I want to share it with people rather than just enjoying the music, and I always fail to play something accurately no matter how hard I try . And like you said all body gets sweaty and tense! I gonna try to change change whats going on in my head during practise sessions and also make a practise schedule.
My advice is reduce what you play until it is so easy that you never make a mistake – keep searching for comfortable fingerings, make it easy easy easy on yourself. That will make perfomances better. Sorry for the late reply…All the best – AR
Brendon Ferullo says
These are great tips. I just read a book on learning called “Make it Stick” and much of what you said is supported in that book. I’ve always wondered whether I should spend a week/entire practice session on one song or technique, but apparently the 15-20 minute “chunking” tip is supported by research and leads to deeper, though more gradual, gains. In two hours a day, it’s better to practice 6 different things rather than just on or two. Apparently the brain needs spaced repetition, not just repetition.
Anyways, thanks for the tips!
Yes….a fault of mine is I get so into practice I forget to take breaks and space it out! Thanks fro the reminder! AR
Do you have any books you can recommend on mindsets and goal setting for guitar. I know the key is to take action, but I would love some guides on taking the correct action.
Thanks for the article
Great blog! I got left-index tendinitis from overpracticing in 2008. Stopped playing for 3 years but now am back on track. There’s no finger docs where I live so any advice is deeply appreciated.
I warm up for 3 minutes with putty, then slowly do scales. I cannot play more than 45 minutes on one given session, and not more than two days in a row.
Do you think it’s a good idea to rest for 15 mins after playing half an hour? Then putting in another 30 minutes? Once I get warmed up I go nonstop, sensing that if I cool down too much the finger will injure.
Also , have you heard if acupuncture is any good?
Thanks in advance for all your great advice.
Claude sorry for my late reply. I am not a hand specialist, but I had one tell me that alost everything will heal in time. What is your current state with your finger? – AR
Great advice .
Muchas gracias por los consejos!
Practico muchas horas sin “supervisión”, estoy cometiendo errores y noto molestias en la mano derecha.
Me pareció genial el ejercicio de presión de los dedos en la mano izquierda, entendí que gasto energía inútilmente.
Gracias otra vez!
Dan D says
Correct me if i’m wrong but i feel tip 9 only applies to certain styles of music, if you wanna play Pertrucci, Friedman, Becker, Layne, buckethead, loomis all that type of metal shred stuff, you really do need to practice the guitar, its something i feel that won’t just come to you one day by just playing the music
Great lesson on practice – it’s really a relief to read a logical explanation of the do’s and dont’s.
I looked for your lesson on fretting hand wrist position (keeping a straight wrist) but could not find it. Can you direct me to this lesson?
Hey Adam – I also think that you’ve got a lot of great tips here. It is so important as a musician to make sure you keep yourself aligned with some bigger musical goals when you are practicing and you’ve reminded anyone who reads the blog to do just that!
I am curious as to whether you’ve ever heard of PitchPlay? The site is still in development but it helps musician’s plan and track their practices and has a neat social component. You should check it out. I think it would really compliment a lot of the stuff you are talking about here in your blog and you might even be able to use it as a link resource in your blog or while you are teaching to help motivate students and keep them on track.
Best wishes – Hayley
Roger The Malingerer says
great article. I wish I had advice like this when I was starting out 30 + years ago. Now I have left hand pain that is chronic and they cant figure out what is causing it . I passed this along to my 15 year old son who is following in my footsteps..or dare I say fingersteps
Amazing tips. Thanks for your share.
Emmet Park says
Adam, I was browsing for information on a practice routine, and surprise there you were. I just watched you in Columbus Ohio couple weeks ago, remember the sunset upstaging you the last song? I really enjoyed the Michael Jackson song, with the audience going “wo, wooo, wo, wooo” on Billy Jean.
Your picking was right on tempo, and enjoyed the concert, hope you come back to Columbus.
Thanks for the tips practicing. I’ve memorized 40 jazz standards fingerpicking 4 string instruments, and it took me 10 years to do it, but they are on the shelf. Now, I’m branching into blues licks and a practice routine with scales so I can improvise, which I’m learning is just memorizing licks, like the arrangements, and integrating them. So, it comes down to a practice routine, the there seems to be nothing else.
Guy sent me an article about chess masters, the master just is aware of more choices than the novice, and he practices applying them.
Akshay Kumar says
Hey Adam how are you doing? hope all is well,
great article but i do wish to become the best it is my goal, i thank you for your time and effort and your kindness to share as much as you can or did so;
that being said is 3 minute per exercise good enough time to spend on one exercise in a routine?
cause i dont have the luxury of time and have exercises that cant be accommodated by using 5 minutes so is 3 minutes enough?
take care and once again thank you,
Ahmed Khan says
I’m new to learning guitar. I’ve learnt so much from this post. Thanks for sharing this valuable piece of material.
Will Hawking says
Hi Adam, thanks for this, excellent information.
I am 72 (feel like 50) and just started learning to play the guitar. Loving every minute of it, but, as you can imagine, a certain sense of urgency to get good quickly. So, the practice techniques you listed make perfect sense for me, and helps a lot in how I approach each practice session now.
Danni Black says
I really like your tip about examining your hand position when it comes to playing the guitar. I have been thinking about getting lessons for a while now and I think that these tips will be really helpful. My husband has played a little bit so maybe I can get some tips from him as well, thanks for sharing!
Absolutely the best article I’ve read on practicing .. finally here is pure gold for the budding and experienced guitarist .. many thanks, Adam, you’re a very special person.
Charles Pinto says
Thanks so much for the 10 tips to practicing.
Sometimes i get a bit stressed trying to improve
.. not stressed stressed but frustrated .. and down
Thanks for your suggestions.
Love the way you play
Danni Black says
I really like your fourth tip about establishing a stretching routine when it comes to practicing the guitar. I used to play when I was younger and being able to stretch my fingers to land those difficult chords was a must. My son found my old guitar when we were cleaning out the attic a few weeks ago and wants to start taking lessons. I’ll have to make sure I show these tips to him, thank you for sharing!
Klaas Bond says
Especially tip two was an eye opener. Playing without (hardly any) tension really improves the touch.
Nice suggestions. thank you.
Chris S says
OMG #3 is an AMAZING TIP that made me feel so much more relaxed… Thank you very much for your article!
Tom Falksen says
Great and usefull article. Thanks
Great advice as ever. I still can’t play though!!!! Really love your stuff.
Jim Montgomery says
musical instruments dubai says
Great advice! Many beginning guitarists try to learn how to play the guitar independently. They are used for this video and articles on the Internet … But there is a lot of information and it is difficult for a beginner to understand “how to start learning”. Many videos and articles give advice on “how to play correctly”, but very little information about “how much time you need to spend on successful learning” and “how best to do this”. I tried several times to learn “how to play the guitar”, but after several months of futile attempts to learn to play the guitar, I stopped learning. I have a question. Is it better to study at special courses or individually with a teacher? Since a teacher can help create the right learning process. I will be grateful for the help.
As a totaly beginner, I would suggest a local teacher for sure…
B. Singer says
The great thing about learning music is that a good post like this stays relevant forever. Your point about a stretching routine is noted. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, because one’s fingers can only take so much playing when they are just starting, but once you have built up some finger stamina that allows you to keep at it for extended periods of time, having a stretch routine becomes very important. Unless you want to become a guitar hunchback 🙂
The first things that a person should be looking at when practicing their guitar lessons is to look at the position of their fingers on the guitar itself along with the way that they are sitting (their posture). The better their finger positions and their posture the much easier that they will find it when it comes to playing the guitar.
Yes, absolutely! Thanks for commenting! AR
Hey I can’t access your technique videos on the steviewonder guitar website.
When i try and sign up I’m getting an error message.
Can you provide direct links to them?
They have moved to this website, try this link: https://www.adamrafferty.com/5-part-video-training-arranging-stevie-wonder-for-solo-guitar/
Chris Kalafus says
Thank you for your tips Adam. Since I’ve been playing with a focus on groove I’ve been finding that other parts of my playing have improved and I’m less scared of making mistakes resulting in less mistakes. It’s amazing how a simple mindset issue can do more than hours of practice. Peace
Wonderful Chris, yes it is a re-orientation! AR
Alan Jackman says
From my own experience I find that a lot of mentioned points are actually very important.
Personally for me, the biggest issue is posture. I have tilted forward posture in general, and it gets worse when I play guitar. I’m thinking of buying something like a stand or holder for a guitar so I my spine is reliefed from the weight of an electric guitar (which is kind of heavy).
Other than that, I love the point where you mention “Learn music – not practce guitar”.
Guitar is just a tool, but what really makes awesome music is actually…music. I think a lot of people don’t quite understand the importance of music theory.
Thank you! By the way – here is a physio therapy youtube channel, dealing with posture & all that – these guys are funny and have some great excercises to help with back / neck pain…
Alan Jackman says
Thanks a lot for a recommendation!
Jm Bl says
Thanks Mr Adam
Thank u so much for putting all these together. Amazing stuff
Adam Rafferty says
Oscar Naranjo says
Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. this is very valuable for the beginner to play the Guitar.
I also want to share my information through your article.
The guitar is one of the best instruments to play for everyone, If anyone is looking at a top musical instrument shop, then I will suggest you visit the International House of Music – IHOMI. Here you can get a huge selection of Musical Instruments like Guitar.
Michael Trubetskov says
Couldn’t agree more with the stretching and warm up exercises! I’m a huge fan of Petrucci’s video school, and that covers the necessity of these exercises fully. Things can go so wrong – as with Paul Gilbert! Really need to not rush and warm up properly to avoid damage.
There are definitely a few lessons in this article that I wish I’d known starting out! Striking the balance between effective practice and mindlessly strumming away has helped a lot.
You definitely pay for your rookie mistakes later on in life, but when you’ve got a les paul staring you in the face sometimes its hard to ignore lol!
I love what you said here.
If anything ever twinges, feels tight – I stop playing and rest up. Often I want to “keep going” but I know to stop if the body says stop.
In other words – I know when to call it a day.
While I was practicing, it was really frustrating at first and it was really hard. Patience is the key and yes, you are right. I should know when to call it a day. Thank you for your tips!
thanks adam ! this changed my perspective on music and guitar players.