Do this first, every day, to jumpstart your guitar skills
When you start practicing guitar, what's the first thing you do? You're thinking about playing that song that you really want to play right? So you pull up that tab and you start plucking away, or you just pull up that jam track and you start jamming for half an hour… rocking out to your favourite tunes…
BUT that is absolutely not what you should do. The problem with that is that you're playing the fun stuff first! And once you start playing the fun stuff you're not going to go back and practice essential skill-building work … you know very well that's NOT gonna happen.
If you start playing your favourite song right away, what's going to happen? You're going to play your favorite song and then you're going to play your next favorite song, and then you’ll start working on that solo you've been learning … and those are all really good things that we should be doing but by the time you've done that and your wife is telling you that you still haven't taken out the garbage --- you've run out of time. You still haven't practiced any scales, arpeggios, triad shapes, thirds, sixes, and all those essential skills that we need to get good at.
And when we get really good at those things, playing all your songs that you love is suddenly so much easier. You learn them so much faster. And you can just play them better.
The secret is this: PLAY THE BORING STUFF FIRST
When students start doing this, they always come back to me the next week and they’re always surprised at how much it works! Sometimes, downright shocked! My student the other day said, “you were so right! Now I understand why we practice these things!” … and why we do it first!
Now exactly what you should practice first depends on your current level. Here’s what I might advise a middle-intermediate guitar student to start each practice session with. These are the kinds of things we do here in lessons all the time.
Another way to think of it is SKILLS FIRST … SONGS SECOND
You can download a sample practice routine for minor keys by clicking the link above.
A more detailed practice routine in both minor and major keys is available on my Patreon group.
A warm up does not include any riffs, solos, songs and if you start playing Crazy Train again for the millionth time, try to catch yourself and say. Wait …. we can get “all aboard” the crazy train later. First, just run your fingers up and down a familiar scale shape, like A minor pentatonic. Just get your fingers moving, using alternate picking.
Now, review all the pentatonic shapes that you currently know. If that’s just one or two shapes, that’s okay. Gradually add more of the shapes over the next few months until you know them all.
Identify the Roots
Now remind yourself where the roots are. Just point out the roots in the minor pentatonic shape -- and do it for all the shapes you know. For example, notice that Easy Shape 1 and shape 5 come from the same bottom root. But they also have a root in the middle – different place of course.
Identify the Blue Notes
Now identify where the blue notes are in each shape. For example, some shapes share a blue note in the same spot. It just looks different in relation to the current shape you're in. Remember to find these notes on all the shapes that you currently know or are working on.
Now practice a common pattern on the shapes. There are many. Just pick one that’s not too complicated for now. How about up 4 and back 1? Do it on Shape 1 and then all the shapes you know. Once you get good at "up 4 back 1" you can replace that pattern with a more challenging one.
It’s also important to practice connecting pentatonic scale shapes. I call these “runs,” and I have two common ones. Run #1 is included in this practice routine. Run #2 is included in our Patreon Group Guitar Lessons Vancouver.
Download the tab for this practice routine and you'll find Run #1 which connects Shape 5, to Easy shape 1, to Extension shape 2.
Chords over Scale Shapes
This is where it gets interesting. Find the chord shape that fits over the pentatonic shape you’re practicing. For example, what chord shape fits over top of Minor Pentatonic Easy shape? Well that’s just your basic Minor bar chord shape with its root on the 6th string.
What chord shape fits over top of Shape 4 "Funny B string" shape? That’s your other standard minor bar chord shape with its root on the A string.
Now, picturing those chord shapes, superimposed over those scale shapes, what are the arpeggios for those shapes? A good one to learn or review is what I call the the “Stairway” arpeggio because, well, it's the arpeggio that begins the song "Stairway to Heaven."
Try to identify and play all the arpeggios you know and remember to imagine what chord shape they come from, and what scale shape they are connected to.
Give yourself a goal
Now, whatever you do next, make sure you have a specific goal in mind. For example, if you’re going to practice with a jam track, first learn a new lick and challenge yourself to nail that particular lick on the jam track.
Or if you are working on a new pentatonic shape, challenge yourself to use that shape alone when jamming. Or try playing a song you already know, but try to play it in time with the recording. Or learn a new song so you’re not playing the same songs over and over. You’ll improve faster by choosing a new song that is at a good level for your abilities.
Focus on the things you aren’t good at YET!
Now have fun
If you’ve put all that work in and you still have the time and desire to play guitar… just have fun! At this point you deserve to pay whatever you want!
If you want more great tips on how to improve your guitar playing, check out my guitar instructional books that are available on Amazon, including "Guitar Soloing Like a Pro" and "Guitar Strumming Like a Pro."