How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?

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How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar? Here Are Our Thoughts!

Learning to play the guitar – acoustic, electric, classical, or bass – is a great way to be creative and a nice hobby to pick up for enjoyment and a love of music. However, learning how to play the guitar is something that takes time, effort and a bit of passion.

Many people’s first question when they start to learn guitar is usually “how long does it take to learn guitar?” And don’t get us wrong – this is a fair question.

It’s good to be able to gauge what you’re getting yourself into. People are always wondering “How long on average does it take to learn guitar”. So, how long does it take to learn guitar? 1 month? 6 months? 2 years?

The truthful answer is: It really depends. The amount of time it takes to learn guitar depends on a number of factors. Below, we’ll break down the various aspects of learning guitar – different learning styles, practice time, skill development, and resources – and how they can affect your guitar learning time.

This way, you can gauge for yourself what you realistically need to do for you to learn guitar and how long that would take.

Your Guitar Goals

When you start off learning guitar – any type of guitar – you really should define your learning outcomes. This way, you have something to shoot for.

Put it this way: You usually wouldn’t just start driving away from home without knowing where you are going, would you? You have to have some sort of direction – or end goal – and the same goes for guitar.

Ask yourself: Do you want to learn one song to sing to your special person, play tunes at a campfire, form a band, get into songwriting, or jam out for your own pleasure?

How “good” you want to be or how much guitar mastery you intend to have will dictate which methodology you choose to learn and how much time you dedicate to the craft.

Having some idea of the end goal is also helpful because it allows you to chart a path to get there that makes sense. It’ll help keep you on track. If you want to learn fingerstyle, a master course on strumming techniques isn’t all that useful.

My guitar journey – mainly on acoustic – spans over a decade and started off with wanting to play the songs I had on my mp3 player. (Yeah, going a ways back for that reference).

Looking back, I wish I had set a better goal than “just play stuff”. I didn’t take the time to learn basics like I should have and it has taken time to catch up on that.

The Guitar Type You Choose To Learn

People who ask “Is it easy or hard to learn guitar?” aren’t really asking a good question. This is because there are lots of different types of guitars. How long it will take to learn electric guitar – while seemingly similar – is going to be different than how long it takes to learn acoustic guitar.

Electric guitars require learning about other aspects of playing like sound and equipment such as cords and amps. Acoustic guitars are more of a “pick up and go” kind of instrument. However, they still require you to dedicate time to learning.

Classical guitar and bass guitar are going to require different techniques and/or equipment altogether. So, the guitar you actually choose to learn will also dictate the time it takes for you to learn how to play it properly.

Prior Music Knowledge

Do you need music experience to start learning to play guitar? The answer is no – but it sure might help if you have any.

When we say “music knowledge” this goes for both music theory as well as any experience playing other instruments (string instruments or not) before you pick up a guitar.

Assuming anyone asking this question/reading this article is a complete beginner, having music theory knowledge isn’t mandatory. It’s nothing that can’t be learned at the beginning of your guitar journey.

If you know notes, chords, and keys and how that relates to a fretboard, this may help you learn guitar fundamentals faster. This prior music knowledge can also help you understand why you are doing the things you do on the guitar.

I had musical theory knowledge and playing experience because of years in music class/various performing bands. I’d say this helped me in the early days of my acoustic playing. Hearing notes in tune, building chords – that stuff came more naturally to me.

The Time You Dedicate to Learning

One of the biggest factors that dictate how fast someone learns their guitar is the time they put into practice. Practicing time is arguably the second biggest factor in dictating your success when it comes to learning guitar. The other, larger factor, would be the quality of practice.

It’s not a bad idea to assume that the more time you practice guitar, the better you will be. In sports (more on this example below), it’s shown that for elite-level mastery of a sport skill it can require 10,000 hours of repetition over years. However, if you just want to strum “Happy Birthday” for your partner you probably won’t need years to learn how to play it.

The time you put into both learning and practicing new skills is important. It’s also important to space that time out. For example, practicing over the course of a week consistently each day can be better than cramming all those hours into a single day. This way, your brain gets constant training to remember what you’ve learned.

Practicing Properly

Ever heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”? Then have you heard the rebuttal to that phrase that “perfect practice makes perfect”? I have – and it couldn’t be more true when it comes to learning how to play guitar.

Related to the above, you need to put in the time to learn and practice and be consistent with it. However, the time you put into learning and repeating drills like scales needs to be quality time. You shouldn’t be forming the chords wrong each time and call is “practice” – you have to self-correct.

To be honest, learning guitar isn’t too different from learning a new sports skill. I come from an academic background in sports development. So I know this to be true and based on research and literature.

Phases of Learning a New Skill on Guitar

Learning to play guitar isn’t that difficult when you break it down. You learn finely-tuned skills (like chord shapes with your fingers, techniques) and then just do them over and over and over again until you can execute them perfectly without thinking about it.

According to Fitts and Posner (1967), there are three phases of learning a new skill: cognitive stage, association stage, and autonomous stage. Let’s use the simple example of properly playing and strumming a G chord on a guitar. (I’ll strip out the technical physiological jargon to make it easier to understand!)

Cognitive Stage

The Cognitive stage is where you learn the skill for the first time. It’ll feel clumsy and uncoordinated when you move your fingers to the right position and try to strum properly at the same time.

This is natural. The important thing here is to try and do the movements correctly each time. This trains your fingers and your brain to start mapping out what they have to do to get it right.

Eventually, using feedback (see below), you’ll start to remember the shape of your hand, exactly where to press, how hard to press, how to strum at the same time, etc.

Association Stage

The Association stage is when the skill (strumming a G chord) is no longer new. This stage is about doing the skill over and over and over again.

You begin to put movements and skills together to execute more difficult ones. The idea of feedback is important here as you have to correct things that are done wrong before moving on.

We don’t mean feedback like the sound you get from the guitar amp – we mean feedback as in realizing you are doing something right or wrong. In guitar, feedback can be pretty auditory. Play a wrong note or strum incorrectly and you’ll hear it was done wrong.

Feedback is important as you repeat the skill because if you don’t correct things, bad habits can form and solidify. It can take years to unlearn things once they are set in stone in your brain.

Autonomous Stage

Lastly, the Autonomous stage is when you do the skill without thinking. It basically becomes “automatic”. All the practice and correct repetition have come into play and you now just do the skill without much conscious thought.

For our example of strumming a “G” chord, you’ll move your fingers to the right place on the right strings, and you strum correctly with the right technique to produce the sound each time.

If we think about all guitar skills as skills that just need to be practiced and repeated correctly over time, the better your practice, the faster you can learn.

And learning the “simple stuff” isn’t for nothing. Having basic skills down quickly will be helpful as they form building blocks to tackle more difficult skills later.

Your Mindset/Determination

Lots of people head into learning guitar by asking “Is guitar hard to learn?”. Well, if you think it’s going to be tough, it will be. Mindset is key and your own mindset to learn guitar is hugely important in how fast you can progress overall.

Determination is also important when practice days don’t go as planned. You will have off days where you think you haven’t progressed. Having the passion to keep going despite adversity is what will keep you learning – and learning quicker than those who get discouraged easily.

This is important because if you give up all together, it doesn’t matter how much your guitar lessons or your new guitar cost you. At the end of the day, you have to want to learn to play guitar.

Remember: Knowing what your goal is can help you stay motivated to reach your guitar outcomes.

Phases of Guitar Learning Mindset

We talked about the physical skill development above. There are also phases of guitar learning when it comes to the mindset you have. We’ll break them down below and walk you through so you know what to expect when you pick up your first guitar.

  • Discovery – The discovery phase is where you start to learn and everything is very positive and fun. You often learn basic skills quickly and there is still lots of novelty to learning this new “thing”. You build confidence as you master basic skills, too.
  • Plateau – After discovery, your learning slows because skills get harder. It takes more time to progress. This can feel like you’re moving backwards. If you practice the right things the right way, you’ll actually be progressing forward… it just may not feel like it. It’s important to push through the plateau mindset and keep focused on putting in your quality practice.
  • Re-Discovery – Over time, the effort you put in while in the plateau phase will make you better. You’ll have a point where you realize that you are actually progressing and that you’re genuinely better than when you first started off. You’ll be driven to keep learning harder and harder skills. This is huge for confidence building. You’ll continue to plateau and break-through as you face new skills and overcome them.
  • Mastery – Over time (months or years), as you do this process of skill acquisition, you’ll begin to put in enough hours and practice to have mastery of the guitar skills you learn. You’ll be able to do much more than when you first strummed the wrong chord on day 1. You can pick up most things and play them or at the very least be able to sight-read things the first time. From here, you can continue to push yourself or simply maintain where you are through the love of playing.

Your Learning Style

Another really important factor to learning guitar is knowing how you learn. This is called your learning style. Knowing your preferred learning style is important. This way you can then choose a guitar learning method that works best for your mindset, skillset, and interests.

If you are a visual learner, you may want to watch videos to see what the chord fingerings or techniques look like when done correctly.

In case you are a book learner or more analytical, maybe invest in a music/guitar theory book to learn the basics from the ground up at your own pace.

If you are a kinesthetic learner, you’ll want to move and just do the skill/technique right away to see how it’s done.

Knowing how you learn (everyone is different) allows you to choose the best tool or methodology for you to learn guitar. Choosing the best method for you can also help you learn faster!

The Method You Choose

Related to your learning style, the method you choose to learn guitar with is also going to dictate how fast you end up lerning guitar. There are so many different methods out there today – all indicating that they are the best one for reasons x,y, and z. This is false.

The best method to learn guitar for you is… the best method to learn guitar for you. It’s going to be different for everyone.

There are a number of different methods out there – from in-person to online videos and workbooks – for how to learn guitar. Each have their pros and cons and it can absolutely be overwhelming to choose the right one. Below are a handful of different ones so you know the learning landscape before you dive into learning guitar.

  • In-Person Lessons – More traditionally, lessons with a guitar teacher or instructor, generally one-on-one to help guide your learning and help you progress.
  • Online Lessons/Video Tutorials/Apps – There are a number of online lessons or modules (free and paid) that will guide you through skills and drills, knowledge learning, and playing techniques. The online space includes videos on YouTube and paid lessons through guitar authorities like Fender with Fender Play.
  • Guitar/Music Theory Books – There are a number of physical books that cover the fundamentals of music and guitar theory. These are a great resource if you want to learn how to play guitar from the ground up at your own pace. They are also good if you enjoy learning from a book.

Of course, a big question is whether you should be self-taught or taught by a professional/instructor via lessons. If you do want to teach yourself guitar, there are a number of resources you can take advantage of (as mentioned above).

The best way to self teach guitar is – surprise – the way that works best for you. If you don’t what that is, try out a few different methods and see which one you both enjoy and actually progress with.

Of course, you might be more comfortable with a professional guiding your learning. This makes total sense. Keep in mind that lessons or online resources can cost money. You have to be willing to invest in them to get a return (i.e. you being better at guitar).

At the same time, we now live in a world where distanced or online learning is a prevalent way to consume information and learn new things. It might even be more difficult to find in-person lessons in your area (depending on where you are). Just something to keep in mind.

Your Guitar/Equipment

This factor is not related to the kind of guitar you have – but more to the quality of that guitar. To a certain extent, the quality of the guitar you are learning on will affect the time it takes to learn. This really comes down to motivation and frustration.

If you jump in too fast and buy a cheap guitar that can’t hold a tune or hurts your hand to play (from the frets popping), you’ll likely get frustrated and give up. With a good quality guitar, you (at the very least) give yourself a decent shot at wanting to come back day after day to play a nice sounding, proper instrument.

As a beginner, you might want to have a look at some of the best acoustic guitar brands to get an idea of some of the brands out there. You definitely don’t need a $3000.00 Martin to get started – but hey, it might motivate you over the long run!

How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar FAQ

There are many different questions people ask around the topic of how fast one can learn guitar. We’ve tried to address a number of them below to give you a better sense of what to expect:

Can anyone play guitar?

Yes, assuming you have both access to a guitar and the ability to put in the practicing time required.

Can I learn guitar at X Age?

Yes, of course. Age really has absolutely nothing to do with one’s ability to learn the guitar. Kids should have a smaller guitar if they are keen to learn while older folks should be careful to aggravate any pre-existing injuries or ailments like arthritis. In fact, many people choose to pick up hobbies later in life – and guitar is definitely one of them.

Can I take a break from learning guitar?

Of course you can. Like with literally anything we like to do, life gets in the way most of the time. Some people take a break for a few years and come back to pick up their guitar. The guitar basics you learn are similar to riding a bike – you just remember how to do things (most of the time) so you don’t necessarily lose all the knowledge you’ve previously gained. You might forget the chords to a specific song but at least you know how to play those chords in the first place!

What’s better: Self-taught guitar or professional guitar lessons?

Again, this really depends on things like the time you have to commit to formal lessons, your budget, and your learning style. If you learn best from an instructor, seek out lessons or trial a guitar teacher in your area. If you want to watch videos or use online resources, you’ll find a wealth of online guitar knowledge (both paid and free).

How many guitar lessons do you need?

Once again, it depends… but more than one is probably going to be helpful. If you have progressed with six lessons, great. If you need more and have the budget, sign up for 12. Just remember, you also can’t rely on lessons alone to help you progress. You have to put in the time outside the formal lessons/learning time. Teachers teach you what to do but you have to do it over and over to make it stick.

How many hours a day should you practice guitar?

As many hours as is required for you to properly execute the skill you are focusing on. The idea of consistency is more important than purely counting hours per day. To put a number on it, one hour a day each day of the week of focused, repetitive skill-based learning can do much more than just messing around with chords you already know for two hours a few times a week.

Overall, how quickly can you learn guitar?

Again, it depends on what your intended outcomes are and how much time you dedicate to it. If you agree to practice each day (and practice well) and learn the fundamentals before moving to songs and more advanced techniques, you’ll likely learn your way to intermediate levels in a few months. After that, it really depends on where you want to take your guitar playing. Some things – like advanced fingerstyle or solo improvisation – can take years to perfect.

And there you have it – a whole post dedicated to learning the guitar. So, how long does it take to learn guitar? Again, the answer is fundamentally going to depend on the person learning, to what level they are learning, and the effort they put in.

You can be sure that if you practice well and often, you’ll be where you want to be sooner rather than later!

As always, Happy Strumming,

-E