A question that I get every so often from students is: How long does it take to learn the guitar… or more specifically, how long does it take to learn the acoustic guitar?
Or even MORE specifically: How long will it take before I become a famous rockstar in the style of John Mayer or Taylor Swift?
All of these are great questions… and they all have a very disappointing answer: “It depends…”
So, in an effort to provide good information (so I don’t waste your time), I’ll try to answer this more precisely. And, like I said above….
It depends… on how much you practice.
Obvious but true. For anyone who knows me I’m all about efficiency – and making the most of my time. I’m a strong proponent of deliberate practice. This is how elite musicians become elite musicians. But it’s also how beginners (or anyone) can learn more quickly – without spending a lot of time. Essentially it boils down to practicing the right material. As I said, I’m big on efficiency.
It depends… on what you want to learn/what your goal is.
Arguably, more important than practicing, your level of skill and/or satisfaction with the acoustic guitar (or any guitar) depends on ultimate desire. If you want to reach Rodrigo y Gabriela proficiency… it’s probably going to take you 10,000 hours (yup – that’s 20 hours a week – of practice – for 10 years). However, there is hope! As I said, it depends on your goal. If you want to be able to play your favorite songs, strum the chords, sing along, and impress your friends (and the ladies), it will take MUCH less time. You can accomplish this in less than a month.
Yeah…but really… how long does it take to learn the guitar??
Ok. I’ve seen some other websites give timeframes (like: “if you practice regularly, in 1-2 months you can play most chords”; or “in 1 year you can play most songs”). I think that’s crazy. What does “most songs” mean? Or “most chords”? And what does “regular practice” even mean?
So let me give you specific examples:
Case Study 1: Steve – The Brand-Spanking-New Beginner Guitar Player
Skill Level when starting: ABSOLUTELY NO MUSIC OR GUITAR EXPERIENCE.
Goal: Just loves the guitar and wants to play. Just loves it.
Frequency of Practice: 4-5 times a week. For around 20-30 minutes. (To me – that’s A LOT of practicing).
Skill Level after 6 months: Can play rock/pop songs easily: strums the chords, clearly plays the chords with no trouble switching. Can easily learn new chords via chord chart and/or tablature. Can read tablature and play small riffs (or can learn riffs by listening to the song). Can read some standard/staff music (but hates it). Has great rhythmic timing. Can play a few of the minor pentatonic modes (for newbies – this means that he can solo and improvise). Can’t quite play barre chords but is getting there. Not interested in the theory behind music…which may limit him (at least for now).
Case Study 2: Jenn – Played Trombone 20 years ago in High School – nothing since.
Goal: Always wanted to learn, not a lot of time to practice, but really really wants to learn to play her favorite songs.
Frequency of Practice: Practice? A little bit every day – but when I say “little” I mean like 2-3 minutes (total). In between commercial breaks she picks up the guitar and plays a few chords (one of my preferred practice methods).
Skill Level after 6 months: Has memorized 5-10 first-position open chords and can clearly play them. Can execute some basic strumming patterns. Not much outside of down-up-down-up-down-up. Can execute some basic fingerpicking styles. Has reached her goal of playing her favorite songs!
Both Jenn and Steve could call themselves guitar players. Both Jenn and Steve started playing at the same time. But obviously, both are very different in their goal and level of practice. No judgement is meant to either of them – they are both happy with their progress (and they should be!!).
When Steve practices – it is hard work – mentally. He’s actively trying to push himself.
When Jenn practices – the mental piece isn’t as draining – but she’s training the muscles in her hand and fingers to remember those chords – and again, it meets her goals.
So, like I said above, the length of time it takes to learn the guitar truly depends on those few personal factors.
Access to good teaching materials:
Lastly, having access to good guitar teaching materials will help you learn much faster. Having a great guitar teacher (who clearly understands your goals) is probably the fastest way to learn how to play guitar.
Not all of us have time for guitar lessons. I get it. I was self taught (before there were things like JamPlay, or Youtube). I think I turned out ok.
If you want to learn to play guitar for free… something like Youtube lessons, or even chord charts and tabs from Ultimate-Guitar.com are a great place to start. However… the downside is that this will take longer – mainly because you have to find all of the resources yourself (e.g. they’re not tied up in a nice little package).
If you really want to speed up the learning process, and don’t mind spending a few bucks, I’d strongly recommend something like JamPlay. It’s cheap, comprehensive, and you can cancel anytime you want (so you’re not spending a fortune). If you can’t learn to play with something like this… you’re probably not going to learn to play the guitar. As we talked about above: it depends on your… and your how you practice.
If you like these little case studies – let me know and if you want to know how long it will take YOU to play the guitar – drop me an e-mail and I’ll tell you what I think (or leave a comment below).
(Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at email@example.com).
(Note: Image above courtesy of The Present Season’s Gibson J200 Acoustic Style Guitar Shape Wall Clock – also… I’m surprised at the number of images that appear when you google “Guitar Clock” – weird.)