One of the most common questions we get is this: “How long does it take to learn guitar?”
Well, it depends on several things, not only on the talent you have. Sure, having a talent for music and a good ear will help you achieve results, but in the long run, the guitarist who practices diligently and correctly will win the weaker and even more “talented” musician. Why?
You will need to strengthen the muscles of the hands that you did not even know existed, and in addition, you will also have to learn coordinated and very precise finger movements.
The only best way to learn guitar these movements, improve hand muscle memory, and really make progress in playing the guitar is to practice regularly.
So how long does it take to get familiar with the basics?
To reach a basic level of knowledge, being able to play simple songs, will require about 150 hours of practice time. This can be accomplished in a few months if you are dedicated. To reach a professional level, it may take thousands of hours of practice.
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There are many different skill levels. Being able to play some chords around a campfire and being able to play Hendrix solos or complex heavy metal are very different proposals. We have explored many of the variables and the time it will take to reach different skill levels in this detailed guide.
If you are more of a visual person, I talk about how long it will take here:
Table of Contents
How long does it take to learn guitar: Your first 6 to 18 months
After six months, you should start to feel comfortable and get to know the guitar. You may not be putting out incredible solos yet, but you’ve mastered the basic chords and are comfortable playing.
Perhaps at this point, you’ve even dared to take out your guitar and play in front of people.
- You should have the aforementioned chords practically nailed along with the more complex open chords like F, Dm, Bb.
- This is a good time to start exploring solo guitar and scales. They complement your chord perfectly.
What is Your Goal
Let’s start by looking more closely at the question “How long does it take to learn the guitar?”
That’s a vague question, so don’t be surprised if you get a lot of vague answers on other websites that say “you’ll never stop learning!” – That answer is not exactly useful, right?
Being able to play the guitar means different things to different people.
If you just want to play a few chords to accompany your singing, that goal can be accomplished in a short amount of time when you learn guitar from scratch (we’ll see exactly how long later).
On the other hand, if you want to be breaking into complicated solos and difficult rhythmic parts, to achieve that goal you need to learn and master many different techniques and skills. Obviously, it will take much longer than just playing a few chords.
So before looking at specific examples, think about what your goal is to learn to play the guitar. What does playing the guitar mean to you?
Establishing Your Goals
Learning guitar is a pretty broad concept when you think about it. It may sound cliche, but it is true that a guitarist never stops learning. Even if you have spent thousands of hours over dozens of years, there is still a chance to learn a new technique or improve on a new style of play.
For this reason, it is important to determine what type of level you want to achieve to determine how long it can take.
If your plan is to get to the point where you can play some of your favorite songs, sing with your friends, or just enjoy playing guitar and creating a nice sound instead of a buzz, a basic level of proficiency may be all that needs to.
If you want to be in a punk band and just play really simple songs, you can survive with relatively basic knowledge. However, if you want to play with professional musicians and be able to play complex solos and musical arrangements, you will need a professional level.
Measuring Your Time
When people start, they often want to know how many weeks or months it will be before they can play songs. This is quite useless as a measure. While it’s easy to guarantee that you won’t be playing complex solos in a few days, the rest depends on how much time you actually spend.
If you are practicing for five minutes a day, you will eventually get somewhere, but progress will be very slow. If a matter of minutes every day is all you can handle, it will be years instead of weeks before you can play full songs.
Practice hours are the key consideration. If you are dedicated enough to spend two hours or even more each day learning how to play the guitar, then you can start learning things very quickly.
Think of it like learning to drive, if you do it an hour a week, you could get there in 6-12 months, but if you take the “crash course” it can be up and running after one or two weeks of solid enrollment.
Many people have busy lives, but this does not have to rule out that you learn to play the guitar. If you don’t stick to a schedule, it can be easy to go three or six months without taking the guitar off and on and wondering why you haven’t made progress.
Practicing several times a week will ensure that knowledge stays in your mind and will improve muscle memory and even the hand strength required to play the guitar.
While you can play the guitar for as long as your schedule allows, day by day, don’t practice for 9 hours a day, and then don’t play your guitar for the next two weeks.
This will mean that you are less likely to remember the knowledge you have gained and time is not efficient.
Schedules do not have to be like a school schedule. It doesn’t have to be like being thirteen years old again, but creating some kind of plan is a good way to encourage regular practice. Regularity is the best way to get to a decent level of play.
An extremely simple tactic that people sometimes employ to encourage regular practice is “The Seinfeld Method.” This productivity technique is highly mocked, and seems too simple to be a tip! Originally used by Jerry Seinfeld to make sure he wasn’t procrastinating too long, the technique is simple:
Get a calendar and mark each day you reach your practice goal with a cross. The idea is simply to aim to do the longest “chain” of days in a row where you have practiced.
It is that simple, but many people have claimed that this method has helped a lot in learning any new skill. For this technique to be effective, you must create a “minimum” level of practice that qualifies you for a crossover.
For example, at least 20 minutes a day. Otherwise, you could fool your system by simply strumming through a couple of chords.
How long does it take to learn guitar
Until now, you have learned that the time it takes to learn the guitar depends entirely on your practice habits.
Before looking at some examples of how long it takes to learn different things on the guitar, here are the key points to practice:
- Short, regular practice sessions are better than long ones.
- Practicing every day (even for a short time) is much more effective than practicing once or twice a week.
- The quality of your practice depends on how much focus you put on.
- If you are not focusing 100% on what you are playing, it is not an effective practice.
Now let’s take a look at some student-based examples I’ve had over the years to give you an idea of how long it takes to learn different things on the guitar.
This is a rough timeline of what we covered in the lessons. Note that I encouraged her to practice daily for 30 minutes per day divided into three 10-minute blocks. Based on her progress, I feel like she stuck to that recommendation.
- Week 1: Learn how to place your fingers on the guitar correctly and practice some basic finger exercises.
- Week 2: Learn 4 basic open chords and focus on memorizing the positions for each chord.
- Week 3: Practice slowly switching between each chord, playing each once.
- Week 4: learn 4 additional chords, memorize them, and then practice combining them with other chords.
- Week 5: learn some basic strumming patterns and use them in basic 2-chord progressions.
- Week 6: Practice speeding up chord changes and practice 4 chord progressions.
- Week 7: Practice strum chord progressions along with a metronome and drum machine.
- Week 8: Learn to sing about basic chord progressions.
During the weeks following the above timeline, the student increased her confidence with chords, memorized new chord shapes, learned new strum patterns, and learned to use a capo to play different songs.
Her goal of playing the chords with her singing was fairly straightforward, so with some disciplined practice habits, she was able to achieve it within a few months.
Another student I had a year ago had a goal similar to the first example. The only real difference is that she wanted to play fingerstyle instead of playing chords and was not interested in singing about her playing. She wanted to learn how to adapt some songs that are not finger-style to finger-style.
This student did not practice daily but still managed to practice 3 times a week. If you practiced every day, you would have easily accelerated your progress and reached your goal sooner.
Here is the approximate timeline for their progress:
- Weeks 1-4: Learn basic finger exercises and begin memorizing basic open chord forms.
- Weeks 5-7: Work on finger selection exercises with your right hand and memorize some basic finger selection patterns.
- Weeks 8-10: Practice combining different finger selection patterns with basic chord progressions.
- Weeks 11-14: Learn to adapt some basic fingerstyle songs.
You can see that this goal took a little longer to achieve because it required her to learn more technical skills. Instead of just playing the chords, she had to learn to use her right hand to play exact patterns for each chord.
Over the next month or two, she gradually learned some basic music theory and how to turn basic vocal melodies into parts she could play on the guitar.
Play Full Rock Songs
I have had many students who want to play complete songs in rock, metal, blues, and similar styles. This goal is much more ambitious than learning to play some basic chords, so it takes students longer.
Here is a basic timeline for a student who sticks to daily practice:
- Weeks 1-4: Learn basic finger exercises, power chords, and selection techniques.
- Weeks 5-10: Practice basic riffs with and without a metronome at a slow pace.
- Weeks 11-15: Work to increase the tempo until the student can play the riffs at the tempo of the song.
- Weeks 16-20: Learn basic techniques like hammers, shooters, curves, slides, palm mute.
- Weeks 21-24: Work on learning complete songs by playing all rhythm guitar parts and raising those songs to full rhythm.
- Weeks 25-30: Learn the basic shape of the pentatonic box and start basic improvisation on simple backing tracks.
- Weeks 31-35: Start working through a basic single of a song and learn note by note.
Some students can overcome this timeline in less than 20 weeks, while others may take up to a year to reach this level. In all cases, it is reduced to the student’s practice habits.
How fast can I start playing songs?
There are many music teachers or even guitar tutors who will tell you that learning the fundamentals is the most important thing to start.
Many teachers will teach scales even before you start watching a song. Yet realistically, most of us learn to play the guitar with the ambition to play songs that we know and love.
The faster you can achieve this goal, the better it will be for your confidence and enthusiasm. There is nothing wrong with taking the fast route to play songs.
Although it is unlikely that you will be able to play full songs on your first day or two of playing the guitar, it is not unrealistic that you can learn to play riffs and licks that people recognize.
Many people start out learning a simple riff like “Smoke on the Water” or “Seven Nation Army”. There’s nothing to say that you won’t be able to play a section of one of these simple songs in a couple of hours.
To play chords your task is a little more complicated. Chords will mean getting used to and moving between multiple hand shapes, and while this will result in a fuller-sounding song, it can be challenging and it can take a few weeks to play a few simple chords.
There are eight simple chords that can be played in an “open” way. This means that you don’t have to squeeze your index finger along a full fret and play a “bar chord”. These eight chords are enough to play a large number of songs.
Without having to develop finger strength and technique for bar chords, the process is quicker and you can expect to learn three or four chords in 4-6 hours of practice time. You are likely to make more mistakes at this stage, but being able to play something recognizable can be very rewarding.
These beginner songs are brilliantly classified in a way that can show exactly what chords you need to learn in order to play simple songs.
Do I need lessons?
This is an interesting topic of debate. When it comes to learning to play the guitar, there are different schools of thought. The truth is, there are many ways to reach the end result of being able to play, and many exceptional guitarists have never had a lesson in their lives.
Learning the guitar in the modern era is easier than ever historically. Imagine trying to navigate a new instrument without the internet.
There’s a famous story about how the Beatles once took a bus through Liverpool to find someone they’d heard knew a chord they didn’t know so he could show it to them. It’s really amazing to have all this knowledge at your fingertips in the modern era, but has it completely eliminated the need for lessons?
A great advantage of guitar lessons is interaction. If you’re watching a video or reading chords or tablatures and trying to play them, it’s sometimes hard to tell if your technique isn’t up to scratch.
A teacher will be able to point out if you are playing a chord incorrectly, or even if you have a real fundamental error and you are not holding the guitar correctly, for example.
Online learning is a wonderful tool, but ultimately it doesn’t allow for much feedback. There is a chance that you could play a bad song for a long time without realizing it.
A good teacher will have many techniques and methods to help you learn and keep the process exciting for you.
If you have a day when you want to focus on something specific, then a teacher should have specific exercises and methods to help you.
This is not the cheapest way to learn, it will certainly play an important role. A weekly lesson can be expensive. It also links you to a certain time that has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Our main advice for those who have the luxury of being able to have lessons is to take many lessons in the beginning while developing your basic skills and understanding.
This is probably the time when you have a lot of questions and when your technique needs more work, and a guitar teacher should have taught many people that they are beginners.
Once you reach a certain skill level, the ability to learn independently becomes much easier. This can minimize the time required to learn the guitar. Realistically, 2-3 months of weekly lessons should give you a decent foundation for independent learning.
This is undoubtedly one of the most important factors that will affect the time it will take you to learn the guitar. The number of different courses and websites that claim to be able to help you learn guitar is huge.
Some are much better than others, especially for beginners. It’s easy to jump into an advanced course and get lost or choose a course that moves too fast or too slow for your needs.
What To Expect When You Learn Guitar
There are some things that will happen as you learn guitar, some awkward but necessary things.
The best-known side effect of learning to play the guitar is having calluses. This is when the fingertips start to develop hardened skin or even minor blisters.
This is a normal and necessary stage to learn to play the guitar. Calluses will become part of your fingers and the blisters will disappear as long as you keep practicing. When calluses form, keep pressing, and remember it will be easier.
Hand And Forearm Discomfort
This is one thing my nine-year-old student complained about. I showed him how he could position his arm and hand to lessen the discomfort, which in his case was not strangling the neck of the guitar with his hand because it allowed his elbow to be at a strange angle.
This is something you can experience while learning the guitar, so if you do, there is no need to worry. Try to leave some space between the palm of your hand and the back of the guitar neck.
The Hump is something that many (maybe all) guitarists go through. This comes after you’ve been learning guitar for a while just to hit a plateau. You get stuck on something: a chord, a beat, or even a negative mindset. This is the hump.
It’s hard to beat The Hump, but the only way to do it is persistence. Keep practicing, slow things down until you understand, or try the Song-by-Song Method to make things a little more fun.
Minimizing the time needed to learn guitar
Our top tips for learning how to play the guitar in the shortest possible time and streamline the process include:
- Establish your learning style and try to combine the learning materials you finally choose. We all learn in different ways, and knowing more about how your brain likes to absorb information can help you simplify the process.
- Having the right equipment can go a long way. If you’re learning to play guitar with some damage, then it’s easy to spot bad habits or not notice that a string is still out of tune, for example. There are plenty of great beginner guitars that don’t cost a lot, but they’ll be good enough for you to learn the hobby.
- Play with others. Whether this means getting a teacher, asking a friend to play some casual lessons, or eventually joining a practice group or club, it’s vital to play with others to make sure you haven’t inadvertently acquired bad habits.
- Be dedicated. Practice as often as you can and don’t spend a lot of time without playing your guitar, this way it’s easy to forget the previous things you’ve learned. Even if you play for four or five hours, knowledge can be forgotten if you don’t play for a few weeks. Regularity is the key.
- Find a style that interests you. Once you have a basic level of knowledge, it is important to keep the passion alive, and the best way is to learn songs that you enjoy listening to and are proud to be able to play.
The key lesson to be drawn from the examples above is that while it all takes time to learn and master, you have much more control over the time it takes to learn than you think.
If you are really disciplined and motivated to learn guitar, you can go a long way in a couple of months if you consistently practice the right things.
Once you choose a goal you want to achieve on the guitar, find out what you need to learn to achieve that goal, and start practicing those things.
Practice daily and don’t get frustrated if you don’t master everything from the first moment. As you learned earlier, several repetitions of a practice session are required before the skills and techniques begin to sink into your memory.
How long does it takes you to learn guitar depends on what you want to learn and how much effort you are willing to put into learning it.