15 September 2008

Guitar Practice Routine: Hamburger's Tips

The first place I got some guitar practice advice was in David Hamburger's Beginner's Blues Guitar book. David Hamburger is author of several excellent guitar tutor books. In Beginner's Blues Guitar he teaches some great electric blues guitar lessons. But his sound advice on guitar practice was as valuable as the blues lessons and I've kept them in mind ever since.

David Hamburger suggests a guitar practice routine with that balances three different kinds of activity: physical, mental, and repertoire. Plan your day's or week's practice to include a balance of all these elements to ensure balanced growth.

Physical Practice

Physical practice trains your fingers, building their strength and stretch. Physical practice can include things like scale and lick exercises or skills such as bends, hammer-ons or picking patterns.

Physical exercises increase your speed and ability to execute your musical ideas. But physical ability on its own will not make you a complete guitar player, you need to apply it musically. You build this ability through the other two activities.

Mental Practice

Mental practice helps you to build musical knowledge and apply it on your guitar. For example, you might play slowly through a chord progression in several different keys. You'll have to think about and select the chord positions to use in each key. You'll also become familiar with the sound of chords, progressions and keys.

Similarly, playing a lick or solo in different octaves or keys develops your knowledge of scales and the locations of notes on the fretboard.

Mental practice is important to develop your ability to quickly figure out what to play and where to play it. You can direct your fingers to do what you want to fit in with different playing situations. Need to play backup for a singer? You'll know how to play the song using appropriate chords. Want to play a solo in a jam? Use your knowledge of licks and the fretboard to do it.


The end goal for just about anyone that sets out to learn to play guitar is to perform songs. The songs you play is known as your repertoire in musical circles. Without a repertoire you'll always be stuck when someone hands you a guitar and asks you to "play something".

But a repertoire doesn't just happen because you learn some chords and know how to bend strings. It takes hard work and practice time to learn and memorize songs.

That's why you should include time in your practice to work on songs in your chosen style. You might learn songs from a book, from another person, such as your teacher, or directly from a recording. Keep in mind that the physical and mental skills so many exercises focus on have only one purpose, to play songs.


These three practice elements described by David Hamburger are a great basis for organizing a balanced practice routine. You can find more useful advice on planning and learning in his Beginning Blues Guitar book. Take a look at your practice plans and make sure they include time for physical and mental practice, as well as time to build your repertoire.

The next post in this series on guitar practice organization will show you how to balance different types of practice from another angle. Come back on Wednesday to see it or click to get it delivered free by email or to your RSS reader.

More on practice routines...

Aristotle's Guitar Practice Routine
Guitar Practice Routine: Get Started
Guitar Practice Routine: Interval Training

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