I have had a lot of people come to me and say that they have been practicing “like twelve hours a day” and they just are not getting anywhere. I know almost every guitarist at some point has this problem. Generally speaking that means that you are noodling around for eleven and a half hours and practicing maybe for thirty minutes. There is a big difference between practicing and noodling. Practicing is learning new material and refining previously studied material. Noodling is when you play that thing, you know that thing you always play when you don’t know what else to do, oh come on that annoying and dissatisfying thing, we are all guilty of it.
The first thing you should work with is a metronome. Most guitarists hate them but trust me, they help. This is your constant drummer that never makes mistakes. If you want to get the most out of playing something, play it extremely slow with a metronome. You will find that if you play something slow it is actually harder than speeding through it. Get it perfect to where it sounds excellent slow. The speed will come on it’s own. If you do it this way, when you do get speed behind it, you will have note seperation and tone that you never had before. You also learn it quicker and more thoroughly.
If you are learning a particular piece and you have trouble with a particular part instead of playing the whole piece over and over again, pick out the problem area and play that part slowly until you get it down. What you are doing is seperating this part which allows you to learn the whole piece in equal time. This way you are not mastering everything in that song but the problem spot. That sounds horrible , you get out of time and all choked up and it just does not fit like it should. When it comes to practice you need to break everything down into time frames. The human brain can only give you an attention span that lasts between two and five minutes max. Use a timer and set it to fifteen minute per each subject of study. Don’t quit playing until the timer goes off. At that point stop playing and take a three minute break. This allows you to collect your thoughts and give your fingers and brain a little break.
Always take a day off from guitar every week. This will help freshen you up. Always remember to breathe when practicing or playing. A lot of people hold their breath when playing something difficult. When practicing try getting a visual image of what you will be playing. This is one of the most important tools of learning music. It is reffered to as visualization. When you are done practicing, always play something that you enjoy playing. This will keep your interest in doing the same thing the next day. Use the metronome and crosspick everything. You know that you are using the metronome correctly when you can’t hear the beeps. This does not mean to turn up louder than the metronome, that would be useless.
Here is a good practice schedule that will get you were you want to be quicker than anything else. Time is of the essence, so jump on it.
This schedule will get you further than you have ever been before. It is very similar to practice schedules given out by many colleges. For Scales I would highly recommend checking out a book called the Guitar Grimoire Scales and Modes by Adam Kadmon. This is by far the best book on scales I have seen. It is thorough and contains most of the scales that you will use. A really good chord book you should check out is Chord Chemistry by one of the masters of guitar Ted Greene (please release more music and books Ted). Be careful and make sure you get the one written by Ted Greene because it seems to me some moron stole that title and released a book not anywhere near as good as Ted’s. (He has also written a couple books on jazz soloing.) You should have all material for the schedule written and planned out before you start practicing so that you can go straight through without stopping until you switch subjects. This is a sample schedule you can break the subjects and times down to your liking, I have found this schedule to be thorough.