How To Practice Acoustic Vs. Electric Guitar

by Mike Philippov


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Among the many elements to consider when practicing guitar are the similarities and differences between acoustic vs. electric guitar. Although many guitarists are happy with primarily playing only one instrument, many musicians would like to improve their skills on more than one type of guitar. Understanding the best ways to approach practicing acoustic vs. electric guitar will help you to avoid wasting time on “guessing” how to practice each instrument using the trial and error approach and will enable you to become the guitar player you want to be more quickly.

Similarities Between Practicing Acoustic Vs. Electric Guitar

The truth is that the process of learning acoustic vs. electric guitar has many more similarities than differences. The reason is because the general steps needed to train both your hands and your brain to do things they have never done before are essentially the same. Specifically, here is a list of things that MUST be present in your practicing in order for it to be effective, regardless of whether you are learning to play acoustic or electric guitar.

  • Goal-oriented approach - this refers to becoming clear on what it is you want to achieve on guitar and approaching every guitar practice session as a step towards reaching the big picture goal that you have. You can see this point explained in detail in this video about the best way to learn guitar.
  • Effective guitar practice schedules - even though the specifics of what goes “into” your practice schedules will vary for practicing acoustic vs. electric guitar (and for specific styles played on each instrument), there are some steps you need to follow (and mistakes to avoid) in order to design your guitar practice schedules most effectively. Read more about how to do this in this article about guitar practice schedules.
  • A way to measure your progress on guitar - regardless of which instrument you practice, it is necessary for you to know whether you are actually making any progress in your efforts. To learn about the best ways of doing this, read this article about tracking your guitar playing progress.
  • Problem-solving mindset - in the process of learning to play guitar, you will encounter MANY problems that need to be overcome, on both acoustic and electric guitar. Knowing how to approach such challenges with a problem-solving mindset is critical for success. You can learn about what this means in this article about solving guitar playing problems.

The above elements are the foundational pieces that MUST be present in order for you to see progress in your practicing, regardless of whether you are learning acoustic vs. electric guitar, or practicing piano, golf, tennis, chess, etc.

With that in mind, there are also some differences that must be considered when you practice acoustic vs. electric guitar so that you can get the most out of your guitar practice time.

Differences Between Practicing Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar

Although there are many foundational skills in common between acoustic vs. electric guitar, there are also unique and specific differences you must consider when practicing one instrument vs. another. Essentially, mastery of each instrument requires a unique skillset that is appropriate for the specific style you play on either acoustic or electric guitar.

Here is the main list of unique skills that need to make up the core of your acoustic guitar practicing. Note that there are many other skills that that should be practiced in addition to the ones listed below, but the items in this list are the “most” different from the core elements that will make up your electric guitar practicing (more on this below).

  • Practicing guitar chord changes - fluency in playing chords is the single most important skill you must have when practicing acoustic guitar. While chords can and of course “are” played on electric guitar also, the acoustic instrument relies on this element of playing much more. The specific chord changes “to” practice on acoustic guitar will be decided by you (based on the music you want to play), however one thing you absolutely MUST have is an effective practice approach that will enable you to learn any chord change easily and smoothly. To get help with this area of acoustic guitar playing, watch this video about learning guitar chords.
  • Learning strumming/fingerpicking techniques - most of the time when playing acoustic guitar, the picking hand will be performing a much different set of techniques than it does on electric guitar. In particular, you need to determine whether the music you play requires you to develop your skill with fingerpicking or with strumming using a pick (or both) and set aside some portion of your guitar practice time to learn these techniques.
  • Expanding your chord vocabulary - this refers to increasing the number of chords that you know and can reliably play on guitar. “Chord vocabulary” is much different from the physical skill of “practicing guitar chord changes” and this is why it belongs in its own category.
  • Adapting to wider string spacing, higher string action and a larger body of the acoustic guitar - if you have spent a large portion of your time playing and practicing electric guitar before switching to acoustic guitar, you will need to specifically focus on getting used to the physical nuances of this instrument. Fortunately, this point can be achieved simply by spending more time practicing and playing acoustic guitar. In the process of getting used to playing a physically larger instrument (acoustic guitar), it is very important to not get into the bad habit of using a lot of unnecessary muscle tension while practicing.

With the above points in mind, here is a list of the core electric guitar practice elements that are different from practicing acoustic guitar:

  • Controlling sloppy guitar string noise - unlike acoustic guitar, electric guitar presents a unique problem of requiring you to mute the strings that aren’t being played. To do this, you must pay attention to where the sloppy noises are coming from and use both the fretting and picking hands to cover all the strings except for the one you are playing.
  • Refining bends and vibrato - if there is one technique that defines electric guitar (and marks the clearest distinction between acoustic vs. electric guitar playing), it is the use of bends and vibrato. As an electric guitarist, you will need to spend a substantial amount of time practicing these two techniques in order to make your guitar playing sound good. To get help with practicing these skills in the most effective way, watch this free video lesson on guitar vibrato and string bending.
  • Developing improvisation skills - unlike acoustic guitar players (who typically play pre-rehearsed music and songs), electric guitar players often do a lot of improvising when playing lead guitar. This requires developing a wide arsenal of skills, ranging from guitar technique mastery to highly developed skills of phrasing and musical creativity. Contrary to popular belief, musical creativity in all areas of guitar playing can be taught and learned. I talk about this topic in detail in this musical creativity article.
  • Learning to play guitar scales - whereas acoustic guitar playing primarily revolves around chords, most of electric guitar playing is based on fluent playing of scales. To truly learn scales on electric guitar, you must learn how to play every scale you know all over the fretboard, freely and fluently. To see how you should practice to develop this skill, study this free video lesson on how to practice guitar scales.
  • Adapting to the more narrow string spacing, lower string action and smaller body of the electric guitar - although it may seem at first that electric guitar is physically easier to play, the fact is that its smaller size and string set up requires getting used to just as much as the bigger-sized acoustic guitar. When starting to learn electric guitar after a long time spent practicing acoustic guitar, pay particular attention to how clean your guitar playing sounds and get used to making comparatively smaller motions with both the picking and fretting hands.

As you can see, despite having many general similarities, playing acoustic vs. electric guitar often requires you to focus on completely different sets of skills. Although the list of guitar practice elements explained above is not all-inclusive, the main lesson here is for you to learn to approach the process of learning either acoustic or electric guitar in a systematic way. By breaking down your guitar playing goals into skills that must be developed (and getting guidance on how to master each of those skills) you will greatly speed up the process of becoming the guitar player you want to be.

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