Learning the guitar can be a lot of fun. It can also be a challenge. Generally, everyone’s journey is a little different.
But you’re probably wondering how much work it’s going to take and how much time you’re going to need to put in to get to where you feel comfortable on the instrument.
That’s what we’re going to look at here.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?
This isn’t an exact science and there are a variety of factors that can impact outcome.
If you practice consistently and have a passion for music, you will improve over time. At what rate is highly individual.
Some players take a long time just to master the basics. Others are naturals and only need to practice new techniques, chords, arpeggios or scales a few times to get them under their fingers.
The good news is it’s okay to take it at your own pace. The not-so-good news is that your pace might not be fast enough to improve at the rate you want to.
So, if you want to get good fast, you’ll want to put in an effort that’s proportional to your expected outcome.
In any case, here are several factors that will play an important role in your progression as a guitarist.
What Do You Want To Be Able To Play?
Let’s just say there’s a significant difference between learning to play Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” and Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s “Black Star”.
You could probably learn to play “Secret Agent Man” in a matter of months. Some could learn it as their first song. Others would need to spend several months or even a year working up to it.
Meanwhile, “Black Star” could take the best players several years if not a decade or more.
That’s because there are easy songs, difficult songs and everything in between.
I like to think of it in terms of a “progression”, even though it’s a bit arbitrary.
The idea is that you can learn one technique, build upon it, learn another, build on it, rinse, repeat. By the time you’ve done this a dozen times, you’ll probably have a solid foundation on your instrument.
Of course, you can take a more scattershot approach to learning, bouncing around from intermediate, to difficult to easy and all around.
But for my students I like to create a staircase they can climb one step at a time.
So, you should do an honest evaluation of what you want to be able to play and how long it will likely take to get to that level.
What Are Your Goals?
This goes hand in hand with the last point. What exactly are you trying to be able to do on the guitar?
Do you want to play the 12-bar blues and be able to improvise over it using the blues scale?
Would you like to learn entire power metal songs written by bands like Sonata Arctica or DragonForce?
Is it that you want to be able to strum a few chords and write your own songs?
Hopefully you can see that each of these paths would be entirely different in terms of the foundation you’d need to set, the techniques you’d need to learn and the effort you’d need to put in, because they are.
I think it’s possible to learn the 12-bar blues and how to improvise effectively in a manner of a few months. To do it well, you’d want to spend several years practicing and studying, mind you.
When it comes to power metal, it could easily take you a decade if not longer. If you’re focused and spend a lot of time practicing, you could probably do it in a few years.
As far as learning a few chords to strum is concerned, you can do that in a few lessons.
How Much Time Are You Willing To Spend In Practice?
I like to think every student begins with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always come across in their actions.
What I mean by that is that most students spend very little time practicing, or don’t spend any time on it at all.
The unworkability, unfortunately, is with the student. There’s a limit to how much a teacher can inspire someone, especially in 30 to 60 minutes per week.
Look, if you’re passionate about music, you will naturally put more time into it. It won’t feel like sacrifice. You’ll enjoy every minute of it.
So, if you want to learn to play fast, just spend more time practicing. Repetition makes you better. And, playing more will drive up your passion. Make friends with practice.
How Much Effort Are You Willing To Put Into Study?
The funny thing about passion is that unless you keep adding fuel to the fire, eventually it will die off.
Learning to play guitar isn’t just about playing. It’s also about:
- Reading blog posts, articles, magazines and books.
- Listening to podcasts and interviews.
- Watching music videos, video demos, reviews and so forth.
“But that won’t make me a better guitarist”, you may say.
Don’t be too quick to judge. If you’re feeding your passion, it’s time well spent. Learning about the guitar, musicians, gear, and other relevant topics is time well spent. It will help you remain engaged.
So, if you’re willing to spend your free time learning more about guitar, it’s a good sign you’re feeling motivated.
Are You Willing To Play Live?
It’s all well and good to practice in your basement, but live performance is where the rubber meets the road.
There’s nothing quite like performing in front of an audience to make you a better player.
You may discover that what you can easily play in your practice room is difficult or impossible to pull off live.
It might seem cruel, but that just goes to show you that you haven’t mastered it yet. If you can’t play it with nerves, you can’t play it!
I once had a student that could shred arpeggios in the lesson room, but when it came time to play in front of an audience, he froze up and couldn’t perform half of what he was capable of.
Show me a player who’s performing regularly, and I’ll show you someone who’s improving rapidly.
Will You Be Working With A Teacher?
I honestly think it’s a rare individual that’s able to pick up the guitar without the help of a skilled teacher.
A teacher can help you set a course towards the achievement of your goals, ensure you’re using proper technique and give you material to practice on your own time.
So, in a few words, they can help you reach your goals faster, because they are more experienced and knowledgeable.
But that doesn’t mean you get to delegate the work. You must absolutely put time into your own growth by practicing.
I spent plenty of time outside of lessons practicing and learning new things without the help of my teacher, and that benefited me greatly.
Can You Practice Along To A Metronome Or Drum Track?
The three elements of music are rhythm, melody and harmony.
I don’t think one is more important than the other, but if you have a solid rhythmic foundation, it will pay off dividends, especially if you end up learning other instruments.
One surefire way to develop your rhythm is by practicing with a metronome.
Although most musicians don’t think it’s that much fun, playing with a metronome can help you develop your accuracy, and ultimately speed, which is something most guitar players want.
You don’t necessarily need to spend all your time practicing with a metronome or a drumbeat. But you should spend some of your time doing that, as it will help you develop your rhythmic intuition.
Can You Spend Time Recording?
I often forget, but in my early days I spent a lot of time recording myself.
On some level, it was frustrating, because I didn’t sound how I wanted to sound.
But I learned from that. I discovered that I would need to spend more time honing my craft if I wanted to sound how I envisioned myself sounding.
So, hearing and/or seeing yourself play is exceptionally beneficial. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll notice where you could improve.
I’ve met players who weren’t mindful enough to recognize their own deficiencies, which is sad, and I have no idea how to fix that.
In most cases, an audio or video recording of yourself should be enough of a mirror to help you see your blind spots.
How Can I Speed Up The Process?
So, you want to pick up the guitar and you don’t want to spend months or even years in Exodus (i.e. the desert). What can you do?
If you’ve read to this point, then you probably have a good idea of how to improve more rapidly, but here are some additional thoughts on what you can do.
Set Goals & Track Your Progress
Just so you know, setting goals and trying to reach them on your own might prove to be an uphill battle.
I like to think of learning the guitar in terms of modules, which progress in a logical order. Not everyone thinks of it that way, but I find it helpful.
When you don’t know what that looks like, what to expect, or what to work on, it’s going to take a lot longer to get to where you want to go.
So, first and foremost, find a teacher, and set goals with your teacher. They should be able to help you develop a plan or curriculum.
Then, track your progress. Write down how long you practiced and specifically what you practiced daily.
Look, I know it takes work. But you asked for the goods, and here they are. If you use this tactic and you’re diligent, I swear you will improve faster.
Surround Yourself With Great Musicians
When I joined the local musicians’ association, I started putting a call out for a skilled bassist and piano player.
I wanted to form a trio and surround myself with more experienced musicians.
I had the idea of playing some of my own material, covers, video game music, classical music and other more challenging pieces.
Although the trio never came together, I think I had the right idea.
Surrounding yourself with musicians who are better than you can be inspiring. It will force you to work harder to keep up with them and you’ll want to spend more time practicing.
If you practice more, you will get better faster, so everyone wins.
Plus, if you spend time observing skilled musicians, it can’t help but rub off on you. You will improve faster.
Set A Deadline
Set a deadline for a special performance, recital, tour or recording project. And, set it for the immediate future.
I’m not saying you should set a deadline that’s impossible to achieve. But you should be somewhat aggressive in your plans.
There’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you.
Although it’s fun to have projects without deadlines, you never know when they might be completed, and you may not even have enough motivation to get the work done.
So, use deadlines to your advantage. I’m a big believer in them, especially for the times when I feel like I’m dragging my feet and need to get something done.
Bottom line – learning the guitar takes a while. But if you’re willing to put in the work, you will be rewarded for it.
In my early days as a guitarist, I spent as much time as I possibly could practicing. I felt like I had finally stumbled upon something I was good at.
Within a year, I was beginning to learn Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen tunes. It was exciting.
But I am clear that was possible because of the effort I put into the instrument. If I had spent little to no time practicing, I probably would have still been working on my open chords.
Guitar is more exciting when you’ve got a variety of techniques under your belt, so go at it aggressively and you will get to where you want to go sooner.