The Guitar Master’s Practice Checklist

Dan Mumm Practice Mistakes

The Guitar Master’s Practice Checklist

Dan Mumm Practice Mistakes

In a previous article I talked about 6 of the most common mistakes guitarists make with their practice.  It’s obviously very useful to know what not to do.  But, more importantly, you need to know what you should do instead.

I’m putting together a checklist here to help you make sure you are optimizing your practice time.  If you follow these strategies to the letter, you will see tremendous growth in your playing abilities in an amazingly short period of time. It just works.

Practicing what you feel like can be fun, but it’s not enough.  If you’ve been curious about what separates you from the masters, one big difference could be that they know something that you don’t.  But if you know this stuff and you still don’t apply it then that is the biggest difference. So let’s take a look at everything that you should already have figured out before you practice each day.

Reason/Motive

Before you even consider anything else on this list, you have to know your reason for pursuing the guitar.  What are you trying to accomplish?  What drew you to the guitar in the first place?  We’ve talked about this before and we’ll talk about it again.  This is the single most important determiner in regards to the results you will get with the guitar.  Have you ever been amazed by a person’s determination, tenacity and sticktuitiveness?  Do you know where they got those traits from?  There is only one place: they had a strong reason for doing what they do. Here is a simple way of thinking about it:

What do you want more at any given moment?  

  1. Comfort and enjoyment?
  2. The fulfillment of a long-term goal?

If you have a tendency to choose option “1,” then you don’t have a strong enough reason.  So dig deep and find the reason that will drive you to sacrifice the present for the future.  It’s in there.  You just have to find it.

Overarching guitar goals

This one may seem self-explanatory, but this list would be worthless without it.  While finding your reason might also encompass setting a long-term fulfillment goal (achieving a certain status, state of mind, lifestyle, etc.), it’s now super important to set a specific long-term guitar goal.  This goal will determine your overall trajectory with your practice.  Who are the guitarists you’d like to be able to play like?  What kind of styles and techniques would you like to be able to master?

Now, this goal should evolve over time.  The more you learn, the better you can hone in on where you want to go.  But, for now, it’s important to come up with some definition of where you want to go with your practice in the long-term.  What do you imagine yourself playing and being able to play on the guitar in 10 years?

Clear plan

Now that you have a powerful reason and a long-term guitar goal, it’s time to get to work.  However, you never want to pursue action at random.  You will require some kind of structured plan that will tell you what you need to do each day and let you know if you’re slacking.  While this is all about ensuring consistent progress, it’s also hugely about self-accountability.

In order for this to work well, you need to set yourself up to succeed.  In other words, don’t get too ambitious with your practice schedule at first because you’ll only end up burning yourself out.  You need to work your way up to the practice “big leagues.”

Set an amount of time that you intend to practice each day.  How do you want to break up that time?  This could also be seen as setting midterm goals, such as learning a certain song or specific techniques.

Give yourself a week to fine tune and modify this plan to make sure that it will really work and that you can stick to it.  If it turns out that planning to practice 3 hours a day is just too much to juggle with your job and family, be willing to trim that down a bit.  Figure out what you can and will stick with and then lock that in by the end of the week. You may also need to give yourself a day off from practice.

Remember that this is all about ensuring that you keep to the schedule and don’t get burned out.  Think about the type of things that cause you to procrastinate and take those into account.  Don’t worry, once you’ve been keeping up with the routine for awhile it will be difficult to break.  Okay, here is an example of a Practice Plan:

Practice Plan

  1. 10 minutes of scale warm-ups with sequences
  2. 10 minutes of improvisation with backing track
  3. 30 minutes of repetitive metronome work for alternate picking speed
  4. 30 minutes of repetitive metronome work for sweep picking
  5. 30 minutes of repetitive metronome work for song section with alternate picking and sweep picking
  6. 20 minutes to an hour of “jam practice” or playing whatever you feel like

Proper practice method

I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, so I won’t overdo it here.  To put it simply, you need to make sure your practicing using practice methods that ensure optimal results.  When you’re learning something new that is at the limits of your playing ability, practice with a metronome and follow the step by step process I’ve laid out below.  There are no two ways about it.  Do you want to master the guitar? Then you must do this:

  1. Memorize the pattern you will be practicing
  2. Find a BPM setting that is so slow that it is easy for you to play the pattern perfectly
  3. Run the pattern with the metronome until you get 5 renditions in a row without a single mistake.  Be hard on yourself with this!  You should be starting the 5 over again with even the slightest mistake.
  4. Increase the metronome by 2 BPM
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you can’t get 5 renditions perfectly in a row
  6. Stop practicing that pattern for the day

With each subsequent day, you should be starting and ending at higher BPMs than you did the day before.  You will be tempted to rush it and skip upwards.  Do NOT rush it.  The BPM you start with must always be super easy for you and the BPM you end with must always be at the very limit of how fast you can play it that day without making a mistake.

You now have the ultimate secrets of mastery.  The question you have to ask yourself is, will you use them or will you continue with the same old habits?

Dan Mumm

If you need some new inspiration, check out my brand-new album “Nonlinear Evolution” released just this past week.  It can be found on Spotify, iTunes and most digital distribution platforms.

This article is by Metal Method Instructor and shred master Dan Mumm.  Dan Metal Method lessons can be found here