Practice vs Just Learning Songs

Recently I’ve been thinking about how to get the most out of my playing time. While I see the value in a practice routine and I’ve stuck to one off and on the past few years, it seems like most of the players I like learned guitar mostly by jamming to records, learning songs, and stealing licks. This may question maybe more geared towards intermediate and advanced players but has anyone tried both approaches to learning guitar? If so which approach did you find worked better for you personally?

I should also add my practice time is generally 45 mins to an hour on M-F in the mornings before my wife and kids wake up (some days that doesn’t work out either). I have two kids under 4 and its basically impossible to practice in the evenings or weekends.

I wasted a number of years trying to “learn” guitar by just playing songs. All it did was teach me very little other than a bunch of bad habits which took months to break later on. I learnt and improved as a player more in one year of using Justin’s lessons and practicing technique than I did in the previous three.

So in my opinion, there is no substitute for dedicating at least some of your practice time to technique, even if it is just 10-15 mins of your available 45.


You make a good point and I have considered that approach. I did spend a couple of years going through the old beginners and intermediate courses so my foundation is ok (alot of that was getting rid of bad habits as you mentioned). Its just hard to decide which technique exercises to work on lol.

I am curious how the “old school” players balanced that out though. Granted the greats were obsessed with the instrument and spent hours with it everyday. But still its hard to imagine Hendrix or Page just grinding away at scales or something like that.

I do both technique and learning songs. Some days it may be more of one than the other and then I will swop the next day. Depends how I feel!

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@Drew_S if you have finished Justin’s old beginner course and Intermediate course the best thing to do is learn songs you like and want to learn. This will focus you on the style of music you want to play and show you where you are lacking in the techniques need to learn what you want. Then you can focus on those technical lesson


Never had a fixed practice schedule in my life!
I basically always have had songs I needed to learn for bands or recording, and technique practice was simply woodshedding the difficult parts in solos and such.

Could perhaps have benefited from a schedule though, but by now I don’t have the time or discipline to follow one :wink:


I’ve thought a lot about this and I think that learning songs is the point right? But how do you learn songs without proper technique? What’s worked for me:

  1. look at the songs you want to learn.
  2. What techniques do you need to know that you don’t that the song require?
  3. Learn those techniques properly using exercises that you put in your practices routine.
  4. As soon as you know how to do the techniques properly then you can practice them specifically using the song you are trying to play.
  5. rinse repeat as you get more skill.

I always try to have at least some technique stuff specifically in my practice because I like to put time out to specifically work on that one thing. Exercises are good for that.



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That’s sort of how its been going lately. I’ll stick to a practice routine for a few days then I’ll just work on a song for a few days.

Thats really good advice too! Thanks!

I read an article a long time ago called “How to Avoid Sucking as a Self Taught Guitarist” or something like that. The article suggested a pretty similar method but at the time I didn’t feel I had the skill level to try something like that but I’m alot better now than I was then.

Sounds like you’re already a lot more advanced than me, I’d suggest you pay attention to @stitch and @Kasper both as extremely experienced guys.

Kasper in particular would probably be the best player (or one of the best) on the JG community based on what I’ve listened to.


Do you warm up or anything first or just go straight into the songs? I listened to a few things you’ve uploaded and not having a practice schedule didn’t seem to impede your progress. Sounds great man!

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Great topic.

If you take the approach of technique focused practice time to build the skills to play songs, how do you pick songs that are at the appropriate level?

What I mean is, how can I gauge if a song I’ve picked is too advanced for my level?

That’s a good question that I constantly struggle with. It’s one of the reason why I went out and bought Justin’s song books. You don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re ready to play a song because they are ordered by difficulty.

How is your project to progress through the Rock Song Book going?


Going great! Got comfortable enough with La Grange that I plan on recording and posting it some time Saturday. Just in time since I’ve been working on that song for just about a month.

I’ll go into more detail in my rock study post but since it feels relevant here’s how I practiced: For that one I focused on a lot of song practice rather than technique based practice. I broke the practice into three 5 min sections, one for each of the major riffs. I had a 5 min rhythm section where I made sure I hit the timing right then 10 minutes where I played the whole song (slowed down to 70% at first) for a total of a half an hour. You be the judge if it paid off when I post it but I feel it did.

On the other hand, the next song on the list is Nirvana’s In Bloom a song I know, love, and have played before. I know a weakness of mine is jumping certain power chords so I’ll probably have a lot of technique based exercises like one minute changes. So I guess ultimately it depends on the song I’m trying to play but mostly I do what I said in my initial post. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Thanks! Well, when I’m practicing at home for band rehearsals and such I’ll simply start with a few of the easier songs, then that’ll be warmup for the harder material.

When recording I do warm up, perhaps by jamming along for awhile before attempting to track something. But I don’t have a specific warmup routine, or fixed set of things I go through every time.


That actually sounds like a pretty good routine. I have a few easier songs (maybe 15-20) to choose from. I might have to try a routine like that for a few days to see how it works for me.

I’m a newbie but I like the best of both worlds. I like practicing Justin’s structure for awhile. Then after I know I have “done my homework” I go into freestyle and work on things that truly interest me. I am the type of person that wants to run before I crawl. Knowing that about myself Justin’s course helps me to focus on slowing down and celebrating small improvements/victories instead of setting myself up to fail on something complex. It takes a lot of time and effort to become proficient and you have to enjoy the journey because or else you will just burn out. Hope you get time to practice! :grinning::+1: