david santistevan


How To Practice Better – Acoustic Guitar

*This is another post in a series on “How To Practice Better”. Check out the other posts on worship leading and bass guitarSubscribe for free to receive regular updates of my posts.

The acoustic guitar is the instrument in the band that is oft-overlooked and rarely practiced.

Why is that?

It’s because most people who aspire to guitar stardom start with an acoustic. They want to be rockstars but they realize it is extremely hard work to be good – to shred, melt faces, blow people’s minds with fingering speeds Jimi Hendrix would envy. So they learn three chords, two strum patterns, and start playing worship songs. They eventually take their bad practicing habits over to their Epiphone Les Paul and digital effects pedals, thinking they have finally made it. Far from it.

But what if you want more than that?

Here are a few tips to help you practice better with your acoustic guitar:


I know I say this a lot, but it’s important. Pull out a metronome and practice those crazy strums in perfect time. Work on that internal clock. Most often the drummer is blamed for bad time, but the acoustic guitar is quite often an offender. Your band will thank you and maybe buy you a new guitar for such dedication.


It drives me crazy when acoustic players strum full force through an entire song. Relax. Sometimes all that is needed is a strum on the downbeats. But not just any strum. The most passionate strum you have ever strummed in the history of strumming. Slow your pick down. Sweep slowly over your strings, covering the entire length of that downbeat. Pour your passion into the simplicity. Play it like it’s the coolest thing you ever played. If you start arguing with your leader that it’s too simple, you may not be on the team much longer 🙂 Great music has space.


I can’t stress this enough. I know it’s cool to learn bar chords for the first time. Sorry to disappoint, but they’re not that cool. Especially on an acoustic guitar. The best tones for an acoustic are open chord voicings. The less fingers you use and more open strings you strum, the better it will sound. Sometimes I will even detune my guitar to something like DADGAD in order to utilize more open strings. Also, get to know your capo. When a song is in the key of Ab, don’t play bar chords. Use your capo and get that open sound. I know some guitar players call the capo a “crutch for the weak” but I think THEY are the weak ones! In all seriousness, it’s not a matter of weakness. It’s a matter of good tone.


I know it’s tempting to show up the lead guitarist with your smooth jazz leads, but just stop it. You are there for rhythm. Learn how to harness what you know and contribute only what the song demands. This goes for all musicians – submit to what a song needs. Don’t show off all you know within the course of a song. Don’t seek to impress, play simply.

Acoustic guitarists, the floor is yours. What is ONE PRACTICE TECHNIQUE that has helped you become better?


December 14, 2010 - Posted by | Practice


  1. understanding how to use a capo has been monumental when playing worship music. I would consider myself an electric guitarist, but one of the best things that I do to help me with acoustic is to listen to amazing acoustic artists such as Shane & Shane and Phil Wickham. I listen to them all the time for just about all areas of inspiration (strumming, guitar melodies, capo placements, and also for helping me sing).

    Also one of the most amazing tools I could suggest to either an electric or acoustic guitarist is the Boss Dr-880 drum machine. I can speak for everyone when I say that metronomes, while they are very useful and low cost, are extremely boring after a certain amount of time using them. The Boss drum machine, or any drum machine for that matter, will help you with timing but also it will keep you interested and creative. I think we can all admit that if something eventually just gets boring, we will probably not continue doing it anymore. I own a lot of gear and I find the Boss DR-880 to be one of my most essential tools s a musician. Especially for guitarists too because it has a guitar processor inside that can do acoustic, electric, and bass.

    Great post man!

    Comment by Christian Arnold | December 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Very helpful comment, Chris. I might need to write a separate post on the Boss DR-880. Seems like a necessity!

      Comment by dsantistevan | December 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. This post is classic. I can see you and your down strumming elegance! I might suggest REASON for those of you who get tired of both the metronome and the BOSS DR whatever. Every good acoustic guitarist needs an arsenal of loops to practice to 😀

    Comment by Aaron | December 14, 2010 | Reply

    • I use the drum machine and a looper pedal. Makes for years and years of fun. (Im basically computer challenged when it comes to a lot of things)

      Here is a video using both the Boss Dr-880 and the Boss Rc-50 loop station.

      Heres another video showcasing the Boss Rc-50 i made, not to mention Back to the Future!!!

      Comment by Christian Arnold | December 15, 2010 | Reply

      • Dude, that’ some sick guitar playing. Well done.

        Comment by dsantistevan | December 27, 2010

  3. word.

    Comment by mark santistevan | December 14, 2010 | Reply

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