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Practice Guitar if You Only Have 15 Minutes

I’ve been running a little low on time to practice guitar lately.  I have a very demanding job and a newborn baby at home so, I have to squeeze every ounce of progress out of what little practice time I do have. So to help get the most out of very short practice sessions, I have started practicing in a completely new way.

I would like to share my new 15 minute practice routine, maybe it will help you improve even if you don’t have a ton of time.  This quick routine helps to keep me focused and keeps my fingers nice and ready for those longer sessions when I finally get to them.

Set a Timer and Get Started!

I have never been one for punctuality (ask Mikey) and practicing with a timer seemed a little weird to me. But when I started to notice my daily guitar time all but disappearing, I thought I’d give it a try.

I call this 15 minute routine my ‘I just put in 12 hours at work and the baby is crying’ routine.

Even at only 15 minutes, I still feel like I’m keeping my chops up by the end of it.

Here is my 15 minute, three part practice routine:

Warm Up

First, I set the timer for 5 minutes and do a quick warm up exercise. I hate warming up, but limiting it to five minutes at the very beginning of my playing time seems to help me consistently work it into my practice session. Its good to get into the habit of warming up fully before any guitar practice session or for that matter, anytime you pick up the instrument.

My first exercise needs to be mindless. I simply want to warm up my fret hand and my picking hand simultaneously to keep the dexterity up and get the blood flowing. So I might do something chromatic like this:

I will play this exercise continuously up and down the neck for the entire five minutes.

Or, if the mood strikes or I just need a change, I might warm up with this chromatic based exercise instead:

I like to change the warm up part of the routine frequently for two reasons

  1. Chromatic exercises can get rather boring after a while and
  2. It’s good to keep your fingers guessing

I think you eventually become really good at what you practice so I want to keep things fresh and keep my fingers guessing.

I don’t want to be the best chromatic player in the world…see #1 above.  Pretty boring.  With both of these exercises, I use strict down-up-down-up alternate picking.

Practice Some Scales

Then I set the timer, actually the stopwatch on my cell phone, for another 5 minutes and work through something a little more musical.  I’m talking scales here.

I will run through the given scale in the various patterns on the neck.  I tend to stay in one key and work through all of the patterns in that key.  I’m only giving myself 5 minutes here so I don’t want to change keys and get my ear off track.  I will usually work through the patterns a few times before the timer reaches 5 minutes.

Since my fingers are ready to play after five minutes of fretwork, I use this middle section to let my ear know its going to need to do a little work too.  I want to make sure my ear is, well, paying attention so that I get the most out of the short practice session.

The playing in this part of my routine is not very difficult since it utilizes tried and true scale patterns.  This way my hands don’t have to ‘think.’   One day I will work through the minor pentatonic patterns and the next major.  As with the chromatic warm-ups, I like to change things up here as well so I’m constantly practicing something different.

UPDATE: I now practice my scales, such as the minor pentatonic scale, using the one string approach to my routine rather than the box patterns.

Practice a Lick

Then for a final 5 minutes, for a total of 15 minutes, I work on a lick. Given that I only have 5 minutes, I might not get very far, but I find that staying at it for at least 15 minutes each day until mastered, I keep building on what I did yesterday.

The latest I’ve been working on comes from the great videos over at TruFire.com:  Joe Bonamassa

It’s a good workout for only having 15 minutes.  I’m sure I will be tweaking this as the days move on.  I know I want to work in a chord exercise somehow so I don’t just focus on scales in my ‘middle’ 5 minute segment.

I hope you found that helpful.  The goal here is to keep improving your dexterity and your ear even when there is precious little time for guitar practice.

Do you have any quick practice routines or exercises you’d like to share?  Leave a comment below, I’d love to know what others are doing.

Cheers!

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