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30 Minute Daily Guitar Practice Routine for the Busy Guitarist

After writing an article titled “15 Minute Daily Guitar Practice Routine for the Busy Guitarist” I received a number of emails and requests to write similar articles but with longer periods of time devoted to daily practicing.

As a follow up to that article, I put together a practice routine that I would apply myself if I only had 30 minutes per day to spend in the woodshed, which you can read through in the following article.

While you might feel that you can’t get much done in the practice room with only 30 minutes a day. 

But, with the right approach and a good dose of variety and varied focus, you can achieve your short and long term goals with just a short time in the woodshed.

As long as that time is spent on focused practice and not noodling or playing things that you already know, you can see progress in as little as half hour per day.

Since I’m big on learning tunes, for me the ultimate goal of learning anything is to be able to create music, before I set out on my daily routine I’d pick a tune to focus on for a week or so that I’d then run all of my exercises through.

Such as taking “Take the A Train” and then running the following exercises through the chords, form and full tune during each section of my routine.

Since I only had 30 minutes per day to work with, I divided the following exercises into a two-day, rotating approach that I would alternate throughout the week during my practice sessions.

Under each item for each day, I’ve written out 2 to 3 different exercises or variations of exercises that I’d do for that particular topic.

These include items such as Ear Training or Improvisation, but feel free to explore more ideas if you feel that you have other items you’d like to include in your routine.

So here it is, my 30 minute daily guitar practice routine.


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Daily Guitar Practice Routine Day 1


Harmonic Devices – 10 Minutes


Voicings Over Isolated Progressions


In this exercise, I’d take a particular chord voicing that I wanted to work on, say Drop 2 Chords, and then I’d practice playing phrases from the tune I was learning using only these chords.

So, if I was studying “Take the A Train,” I’d take the first 8 bars of the tune, and practice playing the Drop 2 voicings for those chords and keep my fingers within a four-fret span.

When I could do that, I’d start on the first inversion, then the second inversion, then the third inversion of the first chord of the tune and repeat the process.

I’d do this for 6th, 5th and 4th string roots for Drop 2 chords, then move on to Drop 3, Drop 2 and 4, Closed voicings etc., repeating the exercise along the way.


Voicings Over Tunes


Another exercise I would do, if I was more familiar with a tune, is to do the above exercises, focusing on one chord voicing in different inversions and in different string sets, but apply these voicings to the entire tune at once.

So, if I was working on A Train, I would play through the entire AABA form with just the Drop 2 chords with a 5th string root position Cmaj7 as my first voicing, and keep the rest of the chords within a four-fret span from there.

After that, I’d move on to different inversions on that string set, then to other string sets, then to other voicings as well.



Melodic Devices – 10 Minutes


Learning the Melody


I’d start by learning the melody in as many different positions on the neck that I could find.

I normally do this 10 different ways:


  • Each string one at a time (6 variations of the melody)
  • One position for each inversion of the first chord of the tune (4 variations of the melody).


This will not only allow you to play the melody across the entire neck, but it’ll also allow you to reference the melody at any time and in any position during your improvisations and comping/chord soloing.


Bebop Patterns Over Progressions


In this exercise I’d take a Bebop Scale Pattern, such as an enclosure, and I’d use it as the basis for my improvisations over an isolated chord or chord progression from the tune I’m working on.

In this case, I might take the Cmaj7 chord from the first two bars of A Train and improvise over it using a C Major Bebop Scale while focusing on adding an enclosure around the 5th or 3rd of the chord.

Then I’d move on to the next chord D7 and repeat the process, using the D Dominant Bebop Scale instead, but keeping the enclosures on the 3rd and 5th of the chord.

Once I’d worked my way through each chord, or ii-V since they are a chord pair, in the tune, I’d improvise over the entire form, using only the relevant Bebop Scale for each chord and adding in enclosures on the 3rd and 5th as well.


Scale Colors Over Progressions


In this approach, I’d take isolated chords from the tune, say the Cmaj7 chord in the first two bars of A Train, and I’d improvise using any/all different modes that would fit over that chord.

For this chord, Cmaj7, I would start with the C Major Scale, then I would move on to C Lyidan (producing a Cmaj7#11 sound) and finally finish with the third mode of melodic minor (producing a Cmja7#5 sound).

Once I’d improvised over the chord with each separate mode, I’d then mix them up by playing four bars each, or even mixing them freely within a line once I was comfortable with them.

This exercise not only gets you thinking about what modes are possible when you’re building your lines over specific chords, but it’ll also open your ears up to the differences between modal colors that can be used over the same chord.



Rhythm – 10 Minutes


Improvising With Isolated Rhythms


In this exercise, I’d improvise over the tune I was learning, while focusing on playing only one rhythm for the entire solo, such as the Charleston Rhythm.

Once I could do this with one rhythm, I would mix things up by using a Charleston Rhythm in bar 1, and then a Bossa Nova rhythm in bar 2, moving between the two rhythms throughout my solo, keeping them as the rhythmic basis for every line I played.


Improvising With Rhythmic Variations


Once I could improvise through an entire tune with one static rhythm, or a couple paired together, I’d improvise over a tune with one rhythmic motive that I’d then vary by playing it backwards or transposing it around the bar.

For example, I’d improvise with a Charleston rhythm, which starts on the downbeat of bar 1, and then vary it by starting it on the & of 1 in bar two, moving it over by half a beat in the second measure.

I’d continue this by moving the rhythm to the second beat, the & of 2 and so forth until I ran out of room in the bar and had reached the downbeat of the next bar.


Comping With Isolated and Varied Rhythms


I’d then use the above exercises in a comping context, doing the same approaches of using a static rhythm and/or its variations, but this time I’d be applying those concepts to comping through the changes.

I might also keep the comping to one chord voicing, such as the one I was working on earlier in the harmony section so that I could get some extra mileage out of my harmonic practice during my time spent on rhythm.



Daily Guitar Practice Routine Day 2


Technique – 10 Minutes


Practicing Scales With Rhythmic Accents


Even though this section is focused on developing technical prowess on the guitar, I’d mix in multiple layers of learning that goes beyond playing scales, arpeggios or phrases on the guitar.

In this exercise, I’d take a scale that I wanted to learn, such as the G Whole Tone Scale, and then once I had the fingering down, I would add in a rhythmic accent pattern to the scale in order to raise the level of musicality in the exercise, and get my right hand more involved since it would be controlling the accents.

In regards to which accents I’d use, I like to accent every 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th note in a four-note grouping.

I also like to do common rhythm patterns such as the Baiao, Samba, Charleston, Bossa Nova and other similar patterns.

The goal is to go beyond playing static scales, and play more musically in the woodshed, which will then transfer over to the bandstand.


Practicing Scales With Intervals


Another exercise I like to do is to pick an interval, such as 3rds, 4ths or 5ths, and run those through a scale or mode that I was working on in the practice room.

I’d approach these intervals in four different ways to add some variety, as well as to give me more ammunition when I apply them to an improvisational situation.

I’d start by playing all the intervals ascending through the scale, even on the way down.

I’d then play all the intervals descending, on the way up and back down the scale.

Finally, I’d alternate the intervals in two ways, one up followed by one down and then one down followed by one up.

This approach is great for getting your mind and ears more involved in a technical exercise, as at first you’ll have to think through the different interval patterns before your ears take over later on.


Practicing Scales With Triads and Arpeggios


I’d also practice the same approach but with triads and arpeggios being run through a scale.

I’d use the same four variations, all up-all down-one up then one down-one down and one up, when applying the triads and/or arpeggio to the scale.

Again, this not only works on coordination, right and left hand dexterity, and scale knowledge, but it also gives you plenty of material that you can then move over into the realm of improvisation when you take these ideas to a tune in a jam session.



Ear Training – 10 Minutes


Transcribe a Lick From a Solo


The first ear training exercise I would do is find a lick in a solo that I liked and transcribe it.

I would do this in a specific way to try and maximize the ear training aspect of the exercise, as well as the vocabulary aspect of the exercise.

Here’s how I would go about it:


  • Listen to the lick until I could sing it both with the recording and on my own perfectly in pitch.
  • Away from the recording, I’d sing the lick and then find the notes on the guitar from my voice.
  • Once I had the lick on the guitar I’d play it along with the audio file to double check I had all the notes right. If I didn’t, I would go back and fix those notes before moving on.
  • After all of this I’d write the lick down so that I could have a reference later if I forgot the lick down the road.


Transcribe a Comping Pattern From a Solo


I’d also spend time writing out comping patterns.

This is much harder for most people than transcribing licks, so it might take more time before you got the chord lick down as compared to the single-note lick.

Here’s how I would go about this process, step by step.


  • Listen to the comping lick until I could sing along the top note of each chord in the phrase.
  • Do the same thing but sing the lowest note of each chord in the phrase.
  • Find these two notes on the guitar for each chord, the lowest and highest notes of the voicings.
  • Go back and fill in the gaps from there.
  • After I had the comping lick worked out, I’d write it down for future reference.


Transcribe the Rhythm to a Solo


Another ear training exercise I’d do is transcribe the rhythm of an improvised solo that I like or am studying.

By simply writing out the rhythm used by the soloist, you’re not only getting a plethora of information that you can then apply to your own solos, but you’re training your ears to hear rhythmic patterns and groupings at the same time.

This is a great partner exercise for the other, more physical rhythmic exercises you’re doing in your technical, comping and improvisational exercises.



Improvisation – 10 Minutes


Improvise Over a Tune Using the Transcribed Lick


In this exercise, I’d take the lick I had transcribed and I’d improvise over the tune I was working on, focusing on using the lick as much as possible.

I’d try and expand on the lick by adding notes to it, take notes away from it, change the rhythms, play it over different chords than the original progression, basically treat the lick as I would treat any scale when soloing.

The goal is to be able to keep the essence of the lick in your playing, but to make it your own and to get to a comfort level with the lick that you can use it in many different permutations and in many different musical situations.


Improvise a Chord Solo Over a Tune Using the Transcribed Chord Lick


I’d do the same exercise using the chord lick I’d transcribed in this session, or use one from a previous session as well.

If your goal is to become a better comper than you might just comp over a tune using that chord phrase, or you could apply it to a chord soloing situation, or both.

The goal is to get the chord phrase in your playing and have it come out organically and at will when you want to reference it in your comping and/or chord soloing ideas.


Improvise a Solo Over a Tune Using the Transcribed Rhythm


Another exercise I’d do is take the rhythm I’d transcribed in the previous section and improvise a solo over a tune, using my own notes, but sticking to the exact rhythm from the transcription.

This will allow you to practice improvising with notes over chord changes, but it will also give you an inside look at how your favorite players built their solo rhythmically and how you can apply their rhythmic approach to your own lines, phrases and choruses.


Mixing and Matching For Variation


Once you’ve tried out these different 30-minute practice routines you can mix and match different items from each day to form your own routine depending on what you are focusing on in the woodshed.

So, you could try:


  • Day 1: Improvisation-Technique-Harmony
  • Day 2: Ear Training-Rhythm-Melody


Or whatever combination of those items that you can think of.

As well, if you’re looking for more items to apply to these six different categories of practice room classification, you can check out my “30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar” series for tons of other ideas on what to practice in a routine such as this one.

Most of us feel that we don’t have enough time in the practice room to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves as players.

But, by organizing your routine to cover several things each day, in a short 30-minute time frame, you can not only learn all the things you need to over the long term, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can grow over the short term.


Do you have a question about the 30 minute daily guitar practice routine? Share it in the comments section below.

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  1. Brent, March 26, 2013:

    Hi Matt – lots of inventive ideas in there. 40 years on in my guitar playing one of your 10 minute segments would cut 1/2 an hour for me – easily if done properly. For example I use your 2 octave arps over six strings as a great exercise for consistent fingering. To do the circle of 5ths forward and back, properly, no cheats and no muffed notes, then start on different notes in the arp (1st root, then 3rd, then 7th) round the circle is easily a full 30 minutes.

    One thing I suffered from in early days was never finishing stuff off completely… always saying “yeah got the hang of that will re visit in future” One never does!

    So can I suggest that if the above routine takes a lot longer – so be it… more days or longer per day – otherwise its easy to get “daunted out”. Not being overly critical just saying . man that’s a swag of scary stuff right there.

  2. Matthew Warnock, March 26, 2013:

    Hey Brent, I totally agree. You can pick a piece of this exercise and go over it more thoroughly if you like. I would also try and experiment with sticking to the short time limits for each section and see where it leads you. You might not get as much done every day, but it could lead you into new directions in the long term. So maybe worth looking at both angles.

  3. Julian, March 25, 2015:

    An interesting article on the difference between blocked and spaced repetition in the context of a 30 minute practice routine:

  4. Julian, March 25, 2015:

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