I have 15-20 minutes to spend on guitar a day, every day. How should I use this time?
December 28, 2009 7:38 PM   Subscribe

I have 15-20 minutes to spend on guitar a day, every day. How should I use this time?

Experience: I've been 'playing' for several years, but I mostly just learn parts of songs and either get bored or frustrated, and move on to something new. I have no prior experience with any other instrument and no real background in music theory. My rhythm is, also, not so kick-ass.

I don't have the money for lessons or to buy much of anything new. I have an acoustic and an electric.

What I want: A few things! I'd like to be able to make my own music and to play with other musicians. The latter isn't really going to be part of my practice routine and will be, at best, an infrequent occurrence for the next year. I'd also like to not suck - to be able to play, in general, a lot better. I listen to a lot of genres: indie, punk, rock, metal, blues.

Any help you can give in letting 2010 be an awesome guitar year would be awesome!
posted by iftheaccidentwill to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could learn some scales and practice those a few times a week. Then the other times, you could spend with working up songs, or pieces, that you enjoy and that challenge you.

As you do the scales, the theory will sort of osmose into your brain, and come out as you work up music that you like.

Good luck.
posted by Danf at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2009

Learn a song all the way through, even the boring and difficult parts. Be able to play it both in time with a recording of the song and without accompaniment. You'll get a stronger feel for rhythm and how songs are put together and will have more confidence.
posted by ignignokt at 7:55 PM on December 28, 2009

You need scales and modes before chords, because when you know scales, chords will actually make sense. I recommend Guitar Fretboard Workbook by Barrett Tagliarino.
Actually, strongly recommend.
Actually, I require that you get this book.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:02 PM on December 28, 2009 [7 favorites]

I play at about your level, probably worse. If I devoted more time to guitar, the first thing I'd do is drill all the scales and modes, as everyone else said. If you want to be able to tool around, solo, etc., which I think is what separates passable from good guitarists, that's gotta be the way to go.
posted by zvs at 8:15 PM on December 28, 2009

Best way to make progress from this point is to play with someone. Find a friend who has 10-20min to jam with you.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:42 PM on December 28, 2009

Get "Fretboard Logic." It's inexpensive and I guarantee that you won't suck. Oh yeah. It's a book.
posted by bleeb at 9:22 PM on December 28, 2009

Here's a YouTube video explaining how to play Davy Graham's Angie.
posted by RussHy at 3:43 AM on December 29, 2009

Best answer: I think I'm going to disagree with most of the other posters so far.

Practicing scales is indeed essential if you're going to be playing lead guitar with others, but it's much lower on the priority list if you're playing by yourself. When you're performing solo on the guitar, most of your arrangements are going to be built around chords. If you were practicing 1-2 hours per day, I might recommend including some time on scales, but if you're only putting in 15-20 minutes per day, it won't become relevant to your solo song arrangements for a long time. If you can't see the connection between your daily practice and the songs you're trying to play, then you'll get bored and stop practicing.

Here's what I would do in your shoes:

1) Pick a specific goal. There are way too many skills that can be studied on guitar: Travis picking, B.B. King style- lead playing, reggae rhythm strumming, bluegrass-style cross-picking, etc all involve very different technical skills. With only 15-20 minutes per day to practice, you need to narrow your focus down or you'll never see noticeable progress on anything. I would pick one area of technical development (rock rhythm strumming, finger-style blues, etc) and work exclusively on that area for a minimum of 6 months.

2) Once you have your specific goal, find yourself some course materials, starting at the most basic level. You might want to take lessons with a live teacher, otherwise there are plenty of good books and videos out there. Once you have decided on a narrow focus, AskMe can probably help you pick out specific instructional materials. I'm personally fond of Homespun Tapes. Be sure your study plan includes some actual complete songs so you can have the positive feedback that comes with learning to play something that you couldn't before. Also be sure that the songs you pick are appropriate for your (gradually improving) skill level. If you're trying to learn a note-for-note rendition of an Eddie Van Halen showpiece, you'll never get there with 15-20 minutes per day.

3) Once you have your technical focus and your study materials, start with the basics and practice every day, slowly, with a metronome. Seriously, with a metronome. You'll hate it at first, but it will help your progress more than almost anything. Forget about speed at first. Focus on playing your parts cleanly and in perfect time. Next, worry about getting your tone and dynamics where you want them. Only work on building your speed up once you've nailed everything else. If you're working on a song and you find yourself stumbling over a particular passage, then isolate that passage and drill it over and over again in slow motion. Make sure you understand the phrasing exactly. Also be sure to isolate and drill the transitions into and out of that passage. (For example if you're switching from rhythm pattern A to rhythm pattern B, or from a strumming pattern to a melodic riff, practice the transition between the two as well as the separate parts.) If you work on a problem passage consistently for a couple of weeks and don't see significant improvement, it may be a sign that you haven't sufficiently built up the technical fundamentals which are required for that portion of the song. Go back to your study materials, find the exercises for the relevant skills and drill some more. (Alternately, you may need to find a simpler arrangement of the song or an easier song until you progress some more.)

To sum up all the above: Find yourself a highly specific, attainable goal. Create a study path focused on building yourself step-by-step towards that goal. Don't try to jump ahead of your current step - you'll just get frustrated and quit.

Once you know what your specific goal is, come back to AskMe and get some guidance on the fundamentals you need to achieve for that path.

Good luck!
posted by tdismukes at 7:31 AM on December 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

One thing that worked well for me was trying to learn all the chords in all the positions. By that I mean not just the barred and open versions, but those light funky varieties that only occur on the top 3 strings. That allows you to exploit a variety of chord voicings when you're practising songs you like.

Another thing I never did (but should have!) was to practise scales with some kind of metronome. If you ever want to try recording yourself, it really helps with the timing.

Good luck!
posted by mukade at 7:44 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm just popping back in to say that my previous advice still applies even if the goal you end up selecting does involve practicing scales.

In other words, don't just pick up a book that has guitar scales and start randomly hitting notes from those scales. Have a specific purpose in mind and tailor your scale practice for that purpose.


You want to learn blues lead guitar: find a reference that covers the blues scale (not the major, minor, or mixolydian scales), then practice playing the scale in swing eighths and/or triplets, using a metronome.

You want to learn bluegrass flatpicking: learn the available major scales in first position (i.e. using the open strings of the guitar), paying particular attention to the key of G. Practice using a metronome - start with quarter notes and then move on to straight eight notes.

You want to learn music theory: start with the major scales and major scales. Call out the names of the notes and/or the scale degrees as you play them. Learn to identify the component notes for the chords in a given key within the scale, so that you can play arpeggios for those chords within a given scale position. Keep using a metronome, but use quarter notes and keep the tempo slow enough that you have time to call out the notes.

Etc, etc.
posted by tdismukes at 8:33 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, practice with a metronome. Do it!
posted by kenliu at 10:14 AM on December 29, 2009

Also, playing with other musicians is a good way to get more motivation and to not suck.
posted by kenliu at 10:16 AM on December 29, 2009

"You want to learn music theory: start with the major scales and major scales."

Oops. That should read "major and minor scales".
posted by tdismukes at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2009

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