How Do Session Guitarists Practice?

How Do Session Guitarists Practice

As a session guitarist, my musical workload is varied.


Each week there’s students to teach, gigs, recording sessions and I try to fit some time in to write books. Of course, I try to fit in as much practice as possible.


Sounds like a lot, it is!


One thing I have realised is that my guitar practice routine changes each day depending on what’s in my diary.


While all the practice I do help me become a better musician, it’s probably completely different from what you do!


Follow me as I give you walk through how session guitarists practice.


As we have a look at my routine, I’ll try to give you some actionable tips which will help you improve your guitar playing.


Don’t work harder – work smarter!



My Private Guitar Practice Time

Firstly, let’s deal with the easiest of them all: My practice time. I spend most of my time working on transcribing. Usually, it’s something that I’ve been listening to rather than for a gig.


For example, I might take a chord and try to find a few different voicings. While I’ll forget some of these voicings, I’ll write down the one or two that sound really cool.


I also use this time to work on simple fingerstyle tunes. It’s fun to do! I don’t have a big repertoire but being able to play a few Stevie Wonder tunes on solo guitar is enjoyable.



Guitar Students!

Next up, teaching students. I spent most of this time working on songs and worksheets to give to the student. I try and prepare well so that I can spend time teaching and not writing things out.


If I’m planning on teaching a song, I’ll work out the song and then play it on repeat while I write it up. This way when I come to teach it I have it in my head and can confidently help the student discover, learn and master the song.


It’s a real joy to see students improve and learn songs they’ve always wanted to be able to play.



Books and blogs

While this isn’t something most session guitarists do, I really enjoy writing. For both, I try to write down ideas, as and when they come to me.


For blog posts, most ideas come from either reading online or teaching. I also try to publish mini guitar lessons. This is like what you would give if we talked for a few minutes.


For books, it’s either something I’m working on privately or a gap in the market. For example, the partial chords eBook came about after I experimented with chord voicings. After finding a few ideas, I decided to write a book.


The Latin Guitar Styles eBook, however, was born out a need I spotted. I spent quite a bit of time learning the basics of a few different Latin styles in order to be able to pass that on.



Session Work

As every session guitarists will practice completely differently, this is my take. Plus it’s the most fun!


I will often play along with the radio. The idea is to the key and a guitar part within a bar or two. For example, with a funky song, I’ll find something simple to play.


However, for a slower song, I might find an easy finger picking pattern. Most of the time, I’m just trying to find a part that works for that song!


Session work, for the most part, is like this. You have to be able to think fast!


Other times, I might experiment with guitar gear and try to create new sounds.


I also spend quite a large chunk of this time work on arranging. For example, I might take a simple chord pattern and find four guitar parts. I’ll then try to record my arrangement (I’m runing a PC with Cubase for recording session).


After recording, I’ll analyse it and try to find better guitar tones, different parts that complement the guitar part better. My goal is to always be refining how I work, play and create.



Show (business)!

While I’ve asked many session guitarists how they practice for upcoming shows, the answer’s similar. It depends on how long you’ve been working with the artist, the setlist, the band line up, etc.


While I’ve asked many session guitarists how they practice for upcoming shows, the answer’s similar. It depends on how long you’ve been working with the artist, the setlist, the band line up, etc.


Acoustic shows

For an acoustic show with me and the artist, I’ll first write out the songs. Then for each song, I’ll work on sections until I’m confident. With the song arranged for the situation, I’ll slowly start to play through each song.


My aim is to get the song sounding great so that it provides the artist with a firm base in which to do their thing! I’ll also come up with a few different arrangement ideas. It’s often the case that a song needs tweaking in order to work in an acoustic setting.


Band gigs

If I’m working towards a band gig, I’ll start by learning the basic chord pattern. Sometimes the artist wants a new guitar part, and so learning the chart gives me a firm base to create new options.


I try to lock down the song sections, form and the shape of the song (i.e. are we getting real loud for the choruses and then pulling back for the verses).


Next, I learn the parts and try to dial in the tones, trying to get as close to the CD as possible. If there’s space for a solo, I’ll use some time to come up with some ideas.



If I’ve been playing that artist for a few months or years, I’ll review the material a few days before ensuring I have enough time to practice the songs up to a high standard. There’s always room for improvement, and that’s why I keep practicing.



Different types of practice

I hope you’ve learnt about how session guitarists practice. Also, hopefully, you’ve picked up some tips, now it’s time to practice. How are you practicing?

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