How to learn & Practice Music

1. The Learning zone.

Well of course the first thing to be clear about is that Learning and Practice are Different! 

You practice learned skills, phrases, riffs, exercises, songs etc...

So, learning a particular skill, phrase etc. can take the longest - but it isn't a 'lifetime thing' (like practice is!) Of course you never stop learning new things either... but once you have learned something - you practice it...

i.e. “learning” a riff, lick, chord, exercise, phrase, entire piece. Whatever...

It is during the learning phase when we have our "learning time" without any judgements or constraints (e.g. we can break a task down to just learning the “notes”, chord shape, difficult phrase, whatever it maybe...). Then we can add all the nuances of the music. We can build on our fundamental skills, very slowly, until the “Music” is learned - that is when you KNOW it!

"Knowing it" means exactly that - you can describe the phrase, spell the chords, spell that scale, verbally explain the details, vocalise the rhythm, the melody etc... i.e. you have really internalised that which you were learning.

When you KNOW it (i.e. have learned it) that learning goes into the Practice Zone

Sometimes, if the 'learned' material isn’t practiced for a while it may be “forgotten” and you may need to re-learn it - that’s OK! It happens.. 

However, re-learning will come much, much quicker! e.g. it may only take a brief minute or two to have it fully 'remembered' and internalised once again.

You should aim to dedicate 20 mins on learning a single specific task.  

This means that the new learning must be the right sized chunk - i.e. something you can easily learn and digest within the 20 min time frame. i.e. a new moveable chord shape or scale, a phrase of music, a new lick or riff - you get the idea - just make sure it's broken down into something easy enough to learn within 20 mins.

Now, of course, you may only need 20 min before it's internalised and goes into the practice zone. Likewise, you may need 20 mins a day for a week - it doesn’t matter - just ensure you have “learned” it before it goes into the Practice Zone!

i.e. you may have a 60 min lesson each week where you learn 3 new 'things'. Those new 'things' are practiced for the whole week until you return to your lesson and add a new skill. Likewise, during the week there could be something you "learned" in your lesson that needs more time, e.g. Barre chords can be taught and learned very quickly, in minutes really... but they will require additional "learning" everyday until you can "Easily" wrap your fingers around them! So, some elements of your practice sessions will be re-learning and getting things right before they can be practiced effectively.

Remember, only when you have LEARNED it, does it go into the Practice Zone.

2. The Practice zone.

It is in this zone you'll spend a lifetime! and that what's fun about it - adding new challenges, turning simple scales into complex exercises, practicing your vibrato, riffs and licks etc... It's all about challenging what you know and developing skills that last a lifetime.

I divide practice into 3 zones: -

1) New

2) Developing

3) Maintenance 

3. The Performance zone.

Performance: The whole point of all that learning and practice!

Sometimes you can play the music - i.e. you have it great in the practice room. But, for some unknown reason it falls apart when you play it for someone. 

Performance zone is all about removing that “stage fright” and gets you “practicing playing with/for others”. 

In addition, it's all about the application too. i.e. you know your major scales, but can you apply the knowledge in a performance setting? Can you improvising with those blues scales whilst jamming with friends? Can you incorporate some of those riffs into your playing adding that little extra something that makes it “yours”?


It is here in the performance zone that you should have a set list” - it could be a few phrases, the chorus of a song, a scale… the intro to a song, 3 full songs, whatever!… it doesn’t matter what it is - the only thing that matters here, is that you take this “set list” and perform it for someone.

The music for performances comes from your “maintenance zone” so you definitely have it nailed - but you need to practice the performance of it, in front of and for others (even yourself - recording yourself is a great way to improve performance!). So, get your family/friends together and organise an “at home concert” or attend an open mic/jam night - do whatever it takes to practice the art of performance! And most of all enjoy it!!

4. Daily Practice

The Daily Practice “Blueprint”

At the very least do 10 minutes practice every single day on each instrument that you play! Use a metronome/backing track & timer.

e.g. The 10 min Daily Practice Session - This is done every single day...

Alternate things you need to practice (interleaved learning) i.e. Major, Minor, 7ths, minor pentatonic etc. 


2 min - Chromatic scale warm up

2 min - Scales - 3 octaves cycle of 5ths

2 min - Chords - inversions cycle of 5ths.

2 min - Arpeggios (broken chords) - 3 octaves - cycle of 5ths

2 min - *Exercise.

*Choose exercises - hand independence, tricky bar of a solo, sweep picking, difficult phrase, a particular technique, rhythm pattern etc. Czerny, Peterson, Satriani, etc. Work on a different exercise each week isolating a particular skill/technique.

*Set the tasks in daily practice session at the "just pushing your level" - e.g. the chromatic warm up may consist of contrary motion, a 6th apart at 180BPM with a triplet feel over 5 octaves...

20 min daily practice: - If you have 20 mins to dedicate to your practice - do the 10 min daily practice first (above) + 1 from the 'zones' outlined below.

30 min daily practice: - 10 min daily practice + 2 from below.

40 min daily practice: - 10 min daily practice + all 3 zones.

Practice Zones:

New - 10 min (songs, riffs, licks, tricky bars, improv, sight reading, ear training, etc.)

Developing - 10 min - You've learned it, practiced it slowly and methodically, now you need to work on it to get in the maintenance / performance zone! e.g. from slow and precise to getting the phrasing/piece up to tempo.

Maintenance - 10 min - you KNOW the piece, riff, lick etc. Keep it 'fresh' and practice for performance through dedicated, interleaved practice.

Have Extra time? Choose an "Extra Time" 5 min activity...

5 min - Work on something tricky!

5 min - Riffs and licks, vamps etc.

5 min - Chord Progressions.

5 min - Chord voicing

5 min - Voice leading principles.

5 min - Technique - work on bends, vibrato, slides, grace notes, trills, chromatic runs… etc.

5 min - Sight reading

5 min - Ear training

5 min - Improvisation over standard chord progressions. e.g. connecting patterns 3 and 4 of the blues scale over a standard 12 bar blues in E.

The key here is that you work on something challenging (just beyond your comfort zone). i.e. a phrase, lick, riff, vamp, chord change etc. something that you're currently finding a tad out of reach. You should work on it slowly and deliberately adding increased elements of challenge.

There are many, many ways to structure daily practice. During your lessons we will write down specific goals for the week which will determine the focus of your daily / weekly practice. We can then easily evaluate and structure future lessons and practice session based upon your goals and achievements.

Take care not to 'overload' practice sessions - whilst you do want to vary and interleve learning / practice, you should make sure you are dedicating quality time to achieving specific goals.

Over time we will also add to your checklist outlining your musicality, chords, scales, exercises, repetoire etc. that you have learned - you can then quickly review and oragnise practice accordingly.

5. The Ideal

The Ideal Daily Practice Session would be a 70 min session (broken up - i.e. NOT ALL at ONCE - even if that’s just a 5 min break between each section)

Always learning, always practicing...

For example - 

These are examples of things you can do anytime, since you are thinking about and internalising key musical concepts!

6. Why Short, Focused Daily Practice Matters

Remember... First you must LEARN and slowly embed new skills, techniques, songs etc... 


Why your 'short' Daily 10 (or 15, or 20) minutes matter...

The average time it takes to "master" (engrain) a simple skill is approximately 1000 ("Perfect") repetitions. For more complex skills it is approximately 3000 ("Perfect") repetitions.

So, really we want to practice reps (not the amout of "time" given to an activity) afterall 1 hour noodling and playing mistake after mistake doesn't count - in essence you're just engraining mistakes! And we dont want that...

However, let's consider the 1000 reps idea. 

If you can repeat an isolated skill (like a simple alternate picking exercise) 20 times at a very confortable tempo (i.e. making NO mistakes) in 1 minute then you can do this 1 minute exercise everday and in just 50 days you'll have engrained it and made it a habit (i.e. a core guitar skill that is now engrained and "mastered" at this level). Of course this process can be sped up to some degree too (with very basic skills), by spacing the 1 minute exercise out say, 5x per day - spending just a total of 5 mins per day dedicated to the development of this skill. 

Now you'll be completing 100 (Perfect) reps per day and essentailly mastering the technique in just 10 days!

Now you can add slightly more complexity and repeat further expanding your technical abilities... 

There are of a few cavets to this...

So, in essence it isn't the amount of time spent practicing that really matters... it is the quality of the practice that is paramount to success... Methodically isolating and working on core skills, difficulty sections of music, etc. with focused, slow, dedicated practice will yeild not just the quickest results but long term mastery of each skill. 

Oh and dont forget! mistakes "don't matter" yes you are aiming for the "perfect" rep - but the process of correcting mistakes and slowing down before pushing tempos etc. really is the key here - its all about focused, dedicated practice with the "goal" of completing as many "perfect reps" in one continuous "set" as you can! 

Don't ever "beat yourself up" about making mistakes - Remember making them is actually good as it is direct, immediate feedback - your job is to correct them and engrain playing things correctly! You'll keep coming back every day and making improvements, slight adjustments, better timing, quicker smoother chord changes etc. etc... and in time the rewards of your persistence with flourish!

7. Finding a Mentor / Teacher = Always Practicing, Always Learning & Always Improving!

OK, So this is a LOT to take in, organise and do by yourself... and of course there are many, many ways to organise practice and devise routines that yeild results...

Which is why having a teacher/mentor and weekly (or fortnightly) lessons is essential to success, it is by far the best option (no matter what level you're at!) You learn with your teacher/mentor and then follow set practice routines for the week! Easy - it's all mapped out for you. All you need to do is stick to the daily practice sessions and turn up each week to keep on evaluating and progressing!

If you are on your own, it’s a little harder (but of course doable) as you need to “teach yourself” new stuff, organise your time planning what you’ll learn next, evaluate your learning, plan/organise practice sessions that you stick to it week in week out. Whilst not becoming overwhelmed and demotivated - learning should be challenging, but fun - where you can clearly see progress and stay motivated to keep on learning and enjoy playing!

So, you’ll need to dedicate time to planning and organising your week in addition to having dedicated learning and practice times.

Ultimately you should endeavour to find yourself a Teacher / Music Coach / Mentor that can help you along the way. And of course that's where I come in - unfortunately though I only 'teach' Face to Face (1-1 or small groups). 

None of this online zoom stuff for me I'm afraid... 

So, if you are lucky enough to be local and want lessons then your only obstacle is whether or not I have a free slot available.

But it's always worth enquiring! 

You may have to wait until I have a free slot - or by all means find another teacher who is local to you - there are loads around! 

Bottom line is - you cannot beat face to face lessons with a good teacher... 

Now, don't get me wrong, there are tons of great resources, You tubers, and courses online, with some exceptional lessons from the greats (e.g. Steve Vai! Common! Who wouldn't want Steve Vai teaching them guitar!? And you should learn from as many people as possible - whether that's from a prerecorded 'youtube' lesson, 1-1 over zoom or face to face. But, as great and insightful as many of these 'you tubers' or virtuosos are, they are still no substitute for sitting down and having a real life, face to face lesson with them / your teacher / your mentor who can guide you and help you progress and develop as a musician. Some of us even turn up and support you at your gigs too! We'll be there to support you if you decide to take exams and for the motivation and confidence boost when things get tough.

So, what are you waiting for!? Get learning, keep practicing and never stop listening to and playing the music you love!

8. Plan | Do | Reflect

How to practice effectively - to improved rapidly!

i.e.. Have a short specific practice session with a "micro goal" clearly set. make it so small it is achievable goals even within just a few minutes... e.g. focused short session - work on something that isn’t new but needs work.

Essential Reading (coming soon)