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 is to improve hand muscle memory, and to really make progress in playing the guitar one must practice regularly.
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.
The Goal in Mind
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 think about what your goal is to learn to play the guitar. What does playing the guitar mean to you?
How long does it REALLY 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.
What To Expect When Learning the 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.
2. 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.
3. The Hump
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.
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.