In casual conversations with new acquaintances once the fact that I’m a guitar teacher comes up there are a few common questions. Maybe the most popular is: “How long does it take to learn guitar?” Boy, do I wish there was a simple answer.
So why is there no clear-cut answer? There are many factors involved – such as age, time commitment, skill level, and natural talent. But time is the biggest factor. Learning something new requires learning concepts as well as developing motor skills. The more you already know about a subject, the quicker you learn new things in relation to that subject.
So for this article, I’ve broken down the factors as much as possible to give you an idea of how long it will take to learn guitar!
How Long Does it Take to Learn Guitar?
As a general rule of thumb, I always tell people with an average amount of practice and skill, you will be able to play a beginner song or two in about 2 months. This still varies a lot and will depend on quite a few things.
When I say an average amount of practice, I’m guessing you’ll practice for 30 minutes, five days a week. This will give you an example of how long it should take to learn guitar.
Here are the different factors that can influence this duration:
Age – How old will you be when you learn?
If you’re a young prodigy, then this may only be a few months, or even a couple of days to reach a level that may take an older learner a month.
My younger students also tend to be able to focus longer without getting frustrated. They have no concept of how long something “should” take to learn so they just keep plugging away.
Lastly, I’ve known a few older learners with finger dexterity issues that made fretting difficult for them.
This is by FAR the biggest factor. If you pick up your guitar for 30 minutes a week, it will take you forever to play even a basic song. You may not even pick up your first few chords in a month.
However, I had a high school student a few years ago that committed to playing the guitar an hour a day after school and was playing a few easy guitar songs after about 10 days. This is not normal by any means, but can definitely happen.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he introduced a concept called the 10,000 rule. According to Gladwell, you can become an expert in your field with 10,000 hours of practice. He looked at a wide range of elite performers, from violinists to computer programmers and the trend was the same.
Elite performers, regardless of the craft, averaged significantly more hours of practice than their average or even good counterparts.
Now, 10,000 hours will take YEARS to accumulate. Even practicing 1 hour a day, every single day, it will take over 27 years to accomplish this number.
That being said, the point is the same. The more you practice, the quicker you’ll improve.
If you have never picked up a guitar before you’ll learn slower than someone coming from another instrument. It makes sense that ukulele or banjo players would pick it up quicker, but I’ve noticed that experience with any other musical instrument helps.
There is a foundation of knowledge you develop while learning a different instrument and transfer over.
How Good Do You Want to Be?
The question “How long does it take to learn guitar” is also a bit ambiguous. If playing one song means you’ve learned to play, then not too long. If being able to play at an open mic night is your standard, then it’s going to take longer.
To give you a better idea of what I’d expect to see at different stages, here is a breakdown of the average time it takes to hit, beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels assuming you are practicing about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week (2.5 hours a week).
Beginner: 1-3 Months
In this stage, you should learn 3-5 chords, a few basic strum patterns, and maybe even a few easy guitar songs. Once you learn the basics you can start practicing easy guitar songs and fooling around with some chords and melodies.
Intermediate Level 3 months to 1 Year
This is the time when you’ll learn the fastest. You should be able to play a wide variety of songs, intermediate and expert level strum patterns, and have a good grasp on the basics of music theory.
Towards the end of the year, you’ll be able to experiment with fingerpicking, hammer-ons, and pull-offs and play a wide variety of songs and solo riffs.
Most people who make it to this stage will continue to play guitar in some fashion for the rest of their lives. They’ve gotten past the difficult drudgery of learning the basics and can entertain small crowds or play around a campfire.
Personally, this is the stage I’m referring to when I say that someone can play the guitar.
Advanced Level – 1 to 3 years.
At this advanced level, you should be comfortable with playing songs that are unique to the genre you enjoy the most. You can take time to branch off and focus on skills and techniques that most players never learn.
You should know enough at this level to play small shows or open mic nights if that is your desire!
Can I Teach Myself Guitar?
Thankfully, with the growth of the internet, it’s never been easier to teach yourself guitar!
There are a lot of resources out there that can help you learn guitar at home quickly. These range from online video courses to free video lessons on YouTube.
I like to start with something free – an easy chord progression or an entire song. Then I move on to a book or DVD so I have a bit more structure in the learning process.
Now, it is still easier if you get a guitar teacher locally. THey’ll be able to spot mistakes and fix techniques before you develop bad habits, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to teach yourself by any means!
The Final Note
One of the most important tools in any musician’s arsenal is time spent practicing. Learning to play guitar can take years of steady practice and dedication – but in my opinion, it is worth the time! When wondering how long does it take to learn guitar, remember that the more time you practice the quicker the process will go!