How to practice guitar and not bore yourself to death


Posted December 6th, 2009 by admin | 47 Comments

If your like me; technical exercises and guitar method books probably bore you to death.

And until recently I turned that into a very negative thing, where I felt guilty or like I’d let myself down if I didn’t practice the way I said I should have.

A typical guitar teachers instructions to a beginning student might be something like:
“You should practice this chromatic scale every day for like 20 minutes, and then once you are done that then you move onto playing that same chromatic scale backwards for 20 minutes…”

Now I realize that this is a totally insane way to approach any kind of hobby; especially music. And I can see why some people don’t get past the beginner or intermediate stages; or when they do they play the guitar like it is a video game and they sound like the most boring guitarist on earth even though they are a technical virstou.

And, quite honestly if chromatic scales and exercises don’t bore you to death and you can spend 2 hours a day practicing technical exercises then, I am sorry to say, but there is something wrong with you – time to get off the Dexedrine.

The problem with learning guitar through formulas and ideas that are boring and repetitive is that eventually everything you play will sound boring, mediocore and repetitive.

So here is the best tip I think that I have figured out in my 16 years of playing guitar and it’s what I have always done anyways…

PLAY WHAT YOU WANT TO PLAY!

Here a catchy tune on the radio? Search for the guitar tab using a search engine. Were you playing around one day and accidentally stumbled into a little riff that you have grown fond of? Write it down for later so that you can practice and improvise with it more.

Now this was an idea I had thought of but recently I read an article where Johnny Marr was like yeah you should play whatever you have fun playing because that will make you play more!

Another occurence of this was from another musical hero of mine Doug Martsch, who I remember in an interview someone asked him how he was so technically good and he said he doesn’t ever think about technique he just sits with his guitar and plays what he wants too.

If I think about some of the best teachers I’ve had over the years, many will even just make up their lessons as they go along. They love what they do so much that there is no preperation for them. They just perform.

I wonder if any of you out there know of any other musicians or teachers that follow this same practice principle?

47 Responses to How to practice guitar and not bore yourself to death

  1. David Pierro says:

    This is 100% legit. Just about everything in this person’s post is correct. I’ve been playing for 5 or 6 years now, and I consider myself in the Advanced Stage of playing, above beginner and intermediate. I got there through boring hours of not playing correctly and sounding like the most disgusting thing on this good earth, but that’s just it. I actually stuck with it, and attempted to play what i wanted to, any song or (in the beginning) riff i felt i wanted to learn at the time. After so many days notable improvement was there, weeks later i had that riff down, months later i can go back to it and still play it, and improve a little something into it from the other songs I’ve either been writing or playing.

    Bottom line, don’t give up because you think you’re bad, somebody tells you to stop, or whatever. Play what you want, when you want, and you’ll eventually (depending on the time and effort put in) will be a decent musician.

  2. sebastian duran says:

    thats a incredible plan…… actually t hapened to me yet i have 5 years playing guitar i dont thing i havnt improve. aniway thanks for the advise….

  3. Guitar Drills says:

    I do both. Guitar drills for 15 minutes or so. Then I always try and focus on fun, jamming and experimenting. After all most great techniques were accidents that somebody just wrote down and remembered. But there’s no sense in learning them all the hard way.

  4. Tony says:

    I play a cd of my favorite tunes and play along , that way you can practice your scales and chords at the same time , it sure beats the boredom.. the best way to play is ,play with someone more advanced than yourself and learn from watching and playing along with them, if your proficient at chords etc.. things start to flow naturally..
    Have fun..you didnt take up the guitar to bore yourself, watch paint dry for that!!!

  5. tommy says:

    I do that too Tony… I also agree that playing with others is the way to go. I can play with my drummer friend for like 3 or 4 hours straight – most of my sessions by myself are less than that.

  6. Jignesh says:

    WOW, this is good, I’ve been left practising just because I thought I couldn’t make it, I am a bad guitarist, I was frustrated, but I really enjoyed when I was playing for fun. no doubt, technical knowledge is desirable, but fun first.. Now I have started it again with my friend, with renewed confidence…

  7. Will says:

    Great article! This is also how I teach via a ‘Play with Me!’ concept. The songs/solos are primary and drive other aspects such as technique, theory, etc if you want to pursue that. Also after many years of shred I got into jazz and came to appreciate the frustration that earlier students have. I went to college to study it and it was all analysis and exercises – wasn’t turning into music at all!

    As teachers we often forget how we learned (by playing songs/solos) and seem to follow the pattern that other teachers do, especially for improvisation. Many in the jazz/improv world think you will turn into a clone if you learn solos (which is wrong), but you need to learn the ‘language’ first which are the lines, phrases, chords, etc. Thanks to Robert Conti for pointing this out to me.

    When learning songs you can get frustated if parts are too hard to it’s good to be exposed to a progressively more challenging set of songs/solos. I am working on new material to do this – real solos and how to make them your own.

    If you want to write songs or solo/improvise, the one missing link of just playing songs is knowing how they work and how to apply the ideas into your own solos. Much of this will come out naturally but you’ll need to know how to apply the ideas/phrases in your own way over different chord progressions.

  8. sash says:

    i agree with jignesh.. i’v had my guitar for 2years now.. but not much has changed since i first learnt my basic chords. but i’m also kind of hesitant to do my own things for fun, because sometimes i wonder if i’m playing it wrong and don’t even know it..

  9. Carlos says:

    I started playing wen I was 16 (that’s 16 years ago) and me and some friends put together a band, and we all had the same music teacher. So we took the songs to him and he helped us play it. And that’s how we all learned to play, together with the theory, ofcourse, but we mostly played the songs we liked. I learned to sing, to play guitar and to play drums that way. So I think that is what really works.

  10. Rockin' Fitz says:

    Yes indeed, play the tunes you like. I have made a living as a drummer for 30 years. I play guitar to improve my pitch for the vocal spots I get in a show.For those who aspire to be a guitarist I’d say do the scales and what not, but above all just play something that makes ya happy, it won’t seem like a chore to rehearse. I spend hours with a web site called chordie.com, just jamming the songs I enjoy.

  11. Sarah says:

    I totally agree with this! My teachers approach was this is all about having fun and learning what you want, unfortunately after a year, i had learned all my teacher knew, which disheartened me a little, to have to adapt and learn how to play for myself, but I kept finding songs I loved and felt i NEEDED to know! so i would sit down and play the song over and over and try to teach myself! I’ve been playing for…12 years now…wow! haha! never thought about it! My guitar is definitely part of me and all i can say to anyone learning, if you love it…just keep playing it, and if you think that you’ve left it too long to pick it up again, you haven’t, its like a riding a bike! Play what you like and the technical stuff will eventually fall into place for you!

  12. Will says:

    If you’re bored when practicing you’re doing something wrong! (most likely practicing scales,modes, and things that aren’t effective and don’t excite you)

  13. Meredith says:

    I agree as well. I’ve only been playing the guitar for about a year now, and I still practice the exact same way I have since day one. I hear a song that I like, look up the tab, and play it. I used to think it would be better for me to get the playing of it down perfectly and to then incorporate the singing, but I am a very impatient person and the singing is my favorite part of playing the guitar, so I never did. Also with really hard songs I thought I should maybe work on mastering one part at a time….too impatient for that too. So I never did…I just would try to sing and play the entire song all the way through right from the start and it worked just as well…only it was more fun. I have 8 videos posted on Youtube and my Myspace from practicing this way so if you ask me, it works!

  14. Scotty says:

    I think you are exactly right. Only learning the technical side of the guitar all the time will more than likely make you want to throw it away. Learn the tech side of things, but also learn to play some cool tunes that you enjoy in the meantime. You can have heaps of fun even after learning 3 basic chords. Playing some good tunes that you and other people like, will give you the inspiration to want to learn more.

  15. mark says:

    I think the same way. why dont we just go to s site like songster and get the music we want to learn. Heck, i learned how to play he’s a pirate on that site. Anyway, now im learning Welcome Home. If you want to hear the song, go to youtube and see the movie 9 trailer.

  16. Hey Man
    I hear what you saying and I guess it’s true for most students. Rather get them play something than loose them on the way to CODA.
    I do however feel that students need to follow a proper structured program to reach their full potential.
    Also whether you are practicing a boring scale exercise or a super cool lick you need to get your metronome out and play it till it’s perfect. If you don’t have that kind of perseverance you will not get very far!
    cool blog keep it up

  17. Louis says:

    i completely agree with you, to play guitar or any instrument you need inspiration. and if you are just practiceing scales or modes or chords isnt very inspireing. and when somthing isnt inspiring it is hard to not lose intrest this is the exact way i learned to play not by lessons but by messing around, researching, and experimenting and of cours picking up bits and peices of techniques from other guitarists

  18. boss says:

    I would have to agree with will. I never got bored when learning to play. I wish I had more time to learn even more! lol.

  19. beginner guitar packages says:

    Title of this post makes me lol 🙂

  20. juliano says:

    lol I found this by googling ‘why you dont have to practice guitar’, and I googled that because I had just read this advice to do this boring cliched practice.
    I personlly have had blocks, and the last one was exactly getting stuck in hating the practice.

    Hmmm we have this internet with lots of info but some I cannot figure to get. For example–i would LOVE to know how the amazing guitar players who play the music I really love Delta Blues did it—I am betting it was similar to whats said in the blog here. Sounds cool ;)))

  21. Snap says:

    i couldn’t agree more with this article. i have been teaching myself for the past two years and when i started, i was using the literature my nine year old son uses for his lessons. i found that to be extremely boring. so i ended up finding tabs for some of my favorite songs like money for nothing. this was very challenging for me but it kept me interested and now i can play it. i believe you should play what you like and the rest will follow.

  22. Wesam Alkhani says:

    I definitely agree. My mother described to me what she felt like when she was playing guitar, telling me that her teacher ttaught her boring standard techniques and by the end of six months she was able to play mary had a little lamb. she said that was probably the reason she hasn’t picked up a guitar in 20 years. but me, i started off playing enter sandman and stuff, maybe a few months ago, and man is it fun to wake up in the morning to the sound of candlebox or something.

  23. Julian says:

    This article is in LARGE block print hyperlink at the very top of my guitar document file because it is SO inspiring!

  24. tommy says:

    That’s awesome to hear Julian, and inspires me to write more, I’ve been on hiatus from this site, but maybe will start making more posts because of your comment. Cheers!

  25. Julian says:

    Hi Tommy. I really hope you do. Since posting here I have made sure your article link is at BOTH top and bottom of my long guitar links document file.
    I am glad my post here is inspiring you to make more posts. I really wanted your article here to be longer because I found it SO inspiring.

  26. tommy says:

    That’s great Julian, I will have to think of an article called “How Not to be Bored Part 2″… lol.

  27. Julian says:

    LOL.

    I think the clue is in the word ‘P L A Y’ we are naturally playful creatures shared by most if not all animals. That is how we learn. But for some reason play–for example in school–becomes some ‘thing’ that is supposed to *just* happen in the ‘play ground’

  28. tommy says:

    Julian I agree. The power we humans have to make things into concepts is a double edge sword.

  29. Koty says:

    In my opinion learning guitar is different for everyone. Anyone can pick up a guitar but only those who are truly devoted can bond with their guitar. For instance some people can practice 15 minutes a day and play in bands and just completely blow you away. (prodigies if you would). Then there are the ones like me who maybe arent as gifted as that but have just as much of not more heart and have a connection with their instrument. I practice ten hours a day because im licky enough that my life situation currently allows that. In this ten hours i practice with a metronome, scales, chords, and composition mainly but im still not anywhere near as good as i want to be. The difference though is i dont see practice as a chore or look at it and dread that its another ten hour day of practice. Instead i fall deep into it like a trance playing a single note ocer and over for twenty minutes trying to develop a relationship with each tone finding all of my tonic notes in my scales and working on all of the skills that will make me stand out as a guitar player. I only know the minor pentatonic scale but i know all five positions and by using the CAGED system i have found all of what i call my home bases for my soloing and all though i might not be the greatest guitar player there ever was i can proufly say that i can watch television shows with my guitar and play all the way up the beck without having to miss a second of the office and steve carrels crazy antics lol. Ive only been playing for 10 months and i can proudly say that through all the pain all of the people telling you that you fucking suck and you will never be anygood all the times i would play chords and feel like i would never get it aka barre chords but now they are my favorites lol. This has been the greatest journey i have ever been on and guitar was the first thing i have ever stuck to abd been truly devoted to and it is definately a great one at that. I know for a fact that everyone has a goal when playing guitar and thats to be the next virtuoso of the art because that is truly what it is. If you say your not then your lying through your teeth ;). I am no different so hey maybe it did start as me hitting road block after road block but when you hear me on the radio and see me on your tv screen then you will know for certain that victory is possible only to those who refuse to stop fighting. I love this instrument because it has brought me to realize things about myself that i never would have relized on my own. Life is about creating the person you want to be and if your body is a temple then guitar is the hammer with which you build. Have fun and never give up hold your dreams close and push out the negatvity!!!’. Koty

  30. sahil p hundre says:

    if you have more steps than show to me

  31. Neha says:

    I’m playing Guitar since last 8 years,
    And teaching Guitar since last 4 years.
    These 8 Years with Guitar has given me a lot.
    I had never thought that I’d be able to perform with Guitar & teach the same.
    Teaching method of the teacher definitely affects the fact whether Guitar Learning & Playing is boring or interesting.

  32. Mark Jacobsen says:

    Mark Jacobsen is in the Atlanta Ga area. He is very carefree with his lessons. He has my 16yr old Rocking out. He just performed Sweet Child of Mine. He had never bored my son.

  33. Paul says:

    “Here a catchy tune on the radio? Search for the guitar tab using a search engine.”
    Sorry, this is about the worst advice ever.

    Best, Paul (a guitar teacher!)

  34. Jon says:

    Hi – completely agree. Practicing because you feel like ‘you have to’ will never get you anywhere. If you can make it fun by getting back to the roots of why you picked up an instrument in the first place; that’s the real secret to good practice!

  35. Ben says:

    You can’t really progress beyond a certain stage without practicing technique systematically. If that can be married with only music or exercises you like then of course it should be, but from experience this is not practical. Technique once learned is ingrained in your playing, which means that you can pick up your favourite album and play it with ease so although I agree with the sentiment that this is less of a slog if you can only play material you enjoy/like, the goal of speedy technical improvement is best served with a page of well structured (ifnotmindless) exercises than getting stuck in the habit if playing only things you enjoy.

  36. Guitar Tuner says:

    Jon I´m with you. Do what you love and if you do not love being a musician, than think about it.
    Great done Blog! Thanks

  37. phill says:

    I think the comments fall in line with what most guitar students seam to want.However to become good student of the guitar a understanding of basic music theory is essential.
    You need to no why you are playing like you are in a particular song.The method described in this discussion is the learn it like a parrot method. A parrot may speak fluently certain words but he does not understand what he is saying.
    If you make the effort to at lest understand music you will be able to grasp the correct note intervals and rests ect

  38. Borhan says:

    i have been playing for 2 years. just learning from youtube .As i don’t have any teacher experience so i didn’t know how to start . just one of my cousin who have been playing for 4 years helped me to give some chord to start thats it ..after that i was like all self taught ..i started watching video ..from sangha to heavy metal ..tv serial them from movie cartoon theme .i guess by wathcin those videos i learned what i really want to learn .i played accostic for first 6 months after that i bought electric when even my that cousin didn’t have any electric & everybody even the seller asking me not to buy electric so early .so as i started electric i found new beauty & it actually came to me more naturally than accoustic .i have learnned fingerpicking ,learned solo of metalica ,slash its like what ever i like i try it .yeah i don’t know any grammar or many chords but i guess i just learn what i like to learn & after 2 years i can say i can play better electric than my cousin who is playing now for 6 years with teacher .so i would say know what you like ..if its a fast solo & you want to play it you will know what scale you need to practice to get that speed thats it ..here you learn what you need not what you should be ..like now i have a ambition like the pro smoothly without watching at fretboard without thinking about speed & yes when i practice so called boring scale i actually watch videos movie cz i m more like if you dont look at fretboard you can actually enjoy guitar more with other thing ..so guys make guitar a part of what ever you do ..its more easy that way

  39. Grame says:

    There’s enough illiteracy on here to float a battle fleet. That’s good. Visual and musical artists usually can’t do words. I’ve been playing since I was about useless, and not encouraged by a father (now dead) who bought me an Antoria Classical and had it strung with cheese-wire to stop me becoming what he called a ‘Bleatle’.

    Since then I’ve had the occasional brush with fame and success, and avoided both. (Hell- if it’s popular, then it’s not making the cut.)

    Thank you, Music, for making some people love me. It was uplifting. Orgasmic, sometimes.

    Listen to Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin, and see why doing it academically cripples you. Where just getting to know your instrument as an extension of your body, and listening to how it responds to your caresses, trains you to understand all the music theory when the academics try to rule you with it. Of course they can analyse it, and explain it mathematically and scientifically. But only a gifted few feel any of it.

    Find your own voice. Don’t let anybody else write your script. Your music is your own song. I now know enough music theory ( just as I know grammar and spelling) to teach a kid (like my gifted trumpet-playing granddaughter) enough to get started (only if they ask for it) but if there’s to be any originality you need to know the rules only enough to know how to break them – to do something better.

    It’s a strangely religious thing. Like George Herbert said about sweeping the floor. Whatever makes the universe(s) whizz for you. (and you’re only human) do everything for the ‘meaning’ you reckon makes sense. Even if you’re a psychopath, your voice is valid.

    And, as a peculiarly human thing, music might just be a way of justifying our brief existence in time and space.

    I look at the fretboard. I had cancer twelve years ago, and I can’t feel the frets under my fingers. Besides which, I play fretless bass too.

    My guitars are not my genitals, and post-cancer there will be no more children for me, and none for any woman who comes with me. Like words, and sculpture, music is just a way of getting under the skin of other members of my species. So I will not stop. Even when I’m (as I’ve always striven to be) unfashionable.

  40. george says:

    well im not musicaly talented and i have been trying on and off since 1971 yes 1971 to play the guitar with absolutaly no luck at all apart from a few chord i cant remember i can tune the guitar with no problem and if i concentrate i can play chords and notes but seem to forget them ,ive tried all methods and i still cant play ,the only luck i had was a small rift that i have now forgot yet once again.there are many ideas on the internet and everyone seems to have there own idea on how to learn,shall i dont want to give up again as i have a lot of spare time and would love to learn reagards George

  41. Old Rocker says:

    Hi,
    The MOST important thing is NOT to stress out because you don’t sound like David Gilmour or play as fast and fluidly as Yngwie or Satriani. Most of us mortals, 10’s of thousands of guitar players around the world (and some in VERY BIG BANDS..!!) who never reach that level, but still play Amazing music. It does not mean that you are a bad guitar player because you don’t play like that… I have been playing so long, that I should be wiping the floor with Malmsteen, Satriani & Roth (All heroes of mine by the way..!!) But I am not…far from it….!! I have played in a few bands (pubs/clubs) and had a lot of fun.
    SURE, you need to learn a few scales Major & minor and practice playing them extended to get you up and down the neck. But musical melody , an easily remembered ‘ sing song line’ says far more in a great guitar solo than a million note scale played at blistering speed. I love playing fast runs but the solo is supposed to be a piece of music that ADDS to the whole. NOT just 30 seconds for the guitarist to show how fast he can play a scale…..Think Comfortably Numb..

  42. babita thadari says:

    yes.. I totaly agree with this idea. I’ve learning guitar since from 9 months but initially i used to take lessons from a teacher but all that was really boring and somehow i wasted my time there.. It was so monotonous for me to learn the Same thing and at the same time boring also. So i decided to leave the classes and soon i started learning from the internet just by watching the videos and now i play much better because i like what i do.. Its totally right when you do something of your intrest u dont get bore.

  43. Tanja Guven says:

    Relative and perfect pitch make all the difference when learning guitar. If you don’t have them, you can’t really get good, but thankfully they’re easy to get if you want them. I would start with relative pitch since it’s easier, just to get the feel of training, and then move onto perfect pitch, first working up to all twelve notes played one at a time, then tone clusters, then melodic dictation. Note that I said that it was easy, not that it was quick. It takes about seven years to get that over with, but once you do, not only will you never have to do it again, you’ll be able to play anything you like in at least a sloppy fashion at first, and practicing will be so much more fun if you can use real music that you like as a guide.

  44. Tanja Guven says:

    I would focus on obtaining first relative pitch and then absolute pitch for the first seven years, if you don’t already have them. Relative pitch is somewhat useless, but pretty good just for learning how to train one’s ears. That takes a few months. Melody triggers are helpful for this, and there are numerous trainers online and for download. After you’ve exhausted that, move onto absolute pitch. Using various drillers you can find online, learn all twelve notes until you can identify them when played one at a time with 100% accuracy. After that, move onto tone clusters of five random notes on Prolobe and continue until you can get 100% at level 36. Open the Forum, search for Absolute Pitch Dictator, and start using that to practice melodic dictation. After seven years of doing this, you will have perfect pitch which is suitable for application to real music. You will not have to slow the music down, and you will not need to resort to tab or notation unless you want to, and you will never need to do this again. Afterwards, technical progression should be extremely rapid, since it will be vastly easier and more fun if you can follow along with real music while you practice.

  45. Anonymous says:

    I have been playing for years practicing and playing where I can. Tabs still confuse me and I know how they work…So they aren’t an option. and I can’t Hit most of the bloody chords I need, Or at least make them sound ok. Am I doing something wrong?

  46. Sarah says:

    Hello my name is Sarah and I have been really trying toet into the gutair but my self esteem is be bad I really want to play but its hard for me I don’t know how to gain knowledge on sharing to play what should I do

  47. Ben@McConley says:

    Get One-to-One Pro Lessons. Lessons are not just for beginners. Every player has quirks (some bad) and a good pro teacher may help iron them out. You’re never too old to learn from a professional teacher. You have nothing to lose, other than learning more.

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