How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar

How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar

So you've got your first guitar (or are about to) and you're ready to start learning. But before you begin, you probably want a roadmap covering how long it will take to learn (and what you should learn first). There's no standard method of learning guitar, and how quickly you learn depends on several different factors. In this article, we'll explore how to speed up your learning process and suggest a few things to learn first to give yourself a solid foundation. How long does it take to learn guitar? Let's find out.

How Long Does It Take to Learn How to Play Guitar?

There are two main things that can help (or hurt) you along your guitar journey. Those things are the way you practice and what you learn. Even if you have an extraordinary natural talent for guitar, a poor practice schedule is likely to hamper your progress. Similarly, you can have an ideal practice schedule, but if you aren't continuing to challenge yourself to learn something new at regular intervals, your learning is likely to stall. Here are some things to keep in mind as you set out to learn guitar.

1. The Timelines Are Different For Everyone

Every guitar player learns differently. And while it might be nice to have an absolute timeline for what you should learn and when it's important to customize your practice schedule to fit your needs.

For instance, a person who practices a total of one hour per week likely won't learn as fast as someone who practices three hours per week, and someone dedicated to learning guitar will likely progress faster than someone who is just casually interested in learning.

Your guitar timeline also depends on what level of expertise you want to reach. If "learning guitar" for you means being able to strum your favorite songs, then your timeline might be shorter than someone who wants to master the fretboard and learn to improvise solos.

That said, if you aren't quite sure how to begin learning or what path to follow, an online guitar course can be very helpful. Most are made up of video lessons that are 30 minutes or less, and most also let you choose a genre "path" to follow. For beginners (and really for players of all levels), we think Guitar Tricks is an outstanding program and an excellent way to learn guitar. New players can benefit from the Core Learning System, a program of lessons designed to give beginners an excellent footing in the basics. Whether you practice daily or a few times a week, this program is great if you eventually want to play at a higher level.

We also think Guitar Tricks is a great site if you've been playing for years. From technique tutorials and artist studies to guides on how to play your favorite songs, this site has something to make sure even advanced players stay challenged. And if you ever want to take a break from one of the site's established courses, you can learn to play one of your favorite songs from the site's impressive library of song tutorials. This video (below - left) is an example of one of the site's lessons aimed at those new to playing guitar.

If you want to see one guitar player's philosophy on how long it will take to learn guitar, check out this interesting video (top - right).

2. Practice Session Times Matter

You might think that someone who practices for four hours straight each day will be able to play well faster than someone who only practices an hour a day. However, it might be surprising to learn that shorter practice sessions typically lead to better retention of the things you learn.

This because of something called the serial position effect. This effect explains how your ability to recall what you're playing shifts over the course of a practice session. Your recall is high at the very start and the very end of a session. But in the middle, your memory starts to become less effective. Even if you don't really feel tired, your brain can become fatigued, especially if you're learning an especially challenging concept.

In longer practice sessions, your brain has a longer time in which your memory isn't as effective as it could be. That's why much shorter sessions are generally a better idea. But don't let that stop you from putting in serious practice time if you have the time and inclination to -- just break up your practice sessions into 15 to 20-minute increments when you can.

If you're very busy and want to plan your practice sessions around your schedule each day, check out this helpful video on five-minute guitar practice sessions.

Of course, as you consider how long you want to practice each day, remember that each person is different. While studies show that shorter bursts of practice time are better for most people, you may find that make more progress working for a couple of hours at a time. When it comes to creating your path as a guitarist, there's really no singular "right way" to do things.

3. What You Should Learn And When

A site designed to teach you to play guitar can be a great resource when you're new to playing guitar. But what if you want to track your progress? Or what if you want an idea on how much time you should spend on each phase of the learning process, it can be helpful to have a guide covering the time, on average, that it takes to get to key milestones on guitar. This guideline is based on playing approximately 45 minutes a day, or about 5.25 hours a week.

After playing for a month or two, here's what you should have learned:

  • Knowledge of most of the basic open (non-barre) chords
  • How to switch between most open chords and how to play some basic strumming patterns
  • A basic understanding of the major pentatonic scale

After playing for 3 months to 6 months, here are some suggestions for what you should've been able to learn:

  • How to switch more quickly between open chords (if you want some guidance on this, check out this helpful video 
  • How to play a few new chords and scales
  • How to play barre chords (you don't need to be an expert at these yet, but it's a good idea to start practicing them)

After practicing for a year, here's what you can expect to have learned:

  • How both notes and chords work together and the basics of song structure
  • How to play a few riffs (and even how to play some of your own)

How long does it take to become a proficient guitarist? As you can see, you don't necessarily have to have been playing a long time to make significant progress as a guitarist. But when you're thinking about how long it will take to learn guitar, remember that these timeline estimates are based on practicing consistently. If you practice each day for a week and then don't play for a month, you're likely to make little progress in the long run. If you want to see one player's progress month by month, check out this progress video.

4. Optimize Your Ability To Learn

If you're wondering how long it will take to learn guitar, you probably also want to know if there's anything you can do to speed up that learning process. Thankfully, there is. And if you want to learn guitar effectively, you need to consider what it takes to learn just about anything else. To optimize your practice schedule, consider doing the following:

Create a great learning environment - When considering how long it will take to learn guitar, you need to take your learning environment into account. If you can, play guitar in a quiet environment that helps you focus. Natural light can help, and having plants in the room also exerts a calming effect. If you're having trouble focusing or live in a chaotic environment, having an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar with electronics can be useful -- with a pocket amp and some headphones, you'll be able to learn to play without interruptions.

Learn What You Love - If you learn to play using a music course, chances are good that you'll need to learn songs via video tutorials. These types of lessons have their merit -- most songs are carefully selected to illustrate a concept from music theory. But if you don't ever practice songs that you really want to learn, you may run out of motivation relatively quickly. As you learn guitar, make sure to take the time to learn songs that you love. Once you're able to play them, you'll have a sense of accomplishment and a connection to the music you make.

Record Your Practice Sessions - This practice has a couple of benefits. First, if you record yourself playing, you'll be able to go back and listen and see what you play well. You'll also be able to hear what you need to work on. If you write songs, recording yourself playing has the added benefit of effectively saving any riffs or chord progressions you may want to use later. You don't need a fancy recording device -- even an inexpensive field recorder works fine. This video helps explain why recording yourself playing is so useful.

5. Make Sure You Have An Effective Instructor

Obviously, practicing on your own is a vital part of learning guitar. But you'll also want to make sure you have a capable instructor. Maybe this means going to an in-person lesson every week, or it might mean taking lessons through an online course. If you're very motivated, teaching yourself with a good guitar book can be helpful, but it's still good to have a video or in-person demonstration of key skills from time to time. And in the early stages of learning, having an instructor to play along with really makes a difference.

When it comes to learning online, it's important to consider whether you want to learn from one instructor or a few. Some sites have one instructor teach each course, while others have a different teacher for each lesson. Since you'll likely be learning from these instructors every day, it's good to choose a site with instructors you like.

One great example of a lesson site that uses several instructors is Fender Play. While Fender Play doesn't have a whole lot for more advanced players, it's ideal for taking you through your first six months or so of playing. Each time the site teaches you new basic chords or picking patterns, you'll be asked to practice a song incorporating those elements. Lessons are concise, and most incorporate an over-the-shoulder angle so you can see what your instructor is doing.

While you may not spend a long time learning from Fender Play, this site gives you a great foundation to move ahead. We like that you can choose a genre path, and the site offers more choices than you usually see -- you can choose from rock, pop, folk, country, or blues. Fender Play also recently added lessons in bass and ukulele, which is a nice perk. To learn a little more about Fender Play and what it can teach you, check out this informational video.

6. Set Goals And Make A Practice Plan

When it comes to learning an instrument, setting a goal (or several) is a great motivator. On guitar, some people end up initially practicing every day. They learn their chord shapes, learn a few strumming patterns, and then stagnate. Of course, if those are the only things you need, there's nothing wrong with stopping there. But if you want to be able to play difficult pieces or take your playing to the next level, setting a learning goal will help you get there.

Try to set a big-picture goal and a small-picture goal. An example of a big-picture goal would be to record and distribute music. An example of a small-picture goal would be to learn a new chord every week. You may want to reassess your big-picture goal every 6 months or so and take a look at your small-picture goal each week. By choosing what you want to learn and then working toward it, you'll be able to learn guitar much faster.

Of course, part of reaching your goal is setting aside the actual time to work toward it. This is where making a guitar practice plan comes in. To keep yourself motivated, plan to practice guitar for a small amount of time each day. That way, you'll be sure to meet your goal (and you can always practice extra if you want). If you aren't sure how to start making a plan to learn guitar, there are plenty of resources out there like this helpful video on creating a practice schedule to play guitar.

7. Break Through Plateaus

No matter how long it takes to learn guitar, hitting a plateau is inevitable. But how long does it take to reach a plateau? There's no singular answer. Sometimes, you may feel stuck once you've passed the beginner stage and don't know where to go next. If you've been playing for years, you may be unsure of how to continue to challenge yourself.

If you get to the point of a plateau, it's probably a sign that you need to change up your routine. Just like with any other exercise, you need to change the way you practice guitar periodically. If you're an athlete and only train by running, you're likely to develop strength imbalances. On guitar, you'll want to work on different facets of your playing to ensure you become a well-rounded player.

One way to break through a plateau is to practice something a little different. If you typically play electric, pick up an acoustic guitar. If you typically play the lead, work on a new rhythm. If you're a songwriter, work with another instrument, even if it's one you aren't very good at. If you have effects pedals, experiment with creating a new sound. In the time it takes to learn, you're likely to hit several plateaus. Somewhat paradoxically, this is a good thing -- it means you've been learning and retaining guitar techniques and concepts.

If you're really stuck and want an out-of-the-box way to keep your practicing going, taking an unusual guitar course like the Tom Morello Masterclass can help. Tom Morello is one of the founders of Rage Against the Machine, and Rolling Stone has called him one of the greatest guitarists of all time. This is a course that can work for any level of a guitar player, but it's good to at least have some experience on guitar.

In this course, Tom takes you through some of his influences and playing techniques. He'll also break down many of the riffs that made him famous. But perhaps most importantly, Tom's class doesn't just cover his own musical style -- it's designed to teach you how to develop your own approach to creating music. Even if you already write your own songs, you're sure to learn something from taking a different approach. If you want to see what Tom's masterclass is all about, check out the class trailer here.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there's no easy answer to the question "how long does it take to learn guitar?" If by "learn guitar," you mean being able to play basic chords and strum effectively, it may take you a few months. But if "learn guitar" means being able to play complex solos and master the fretboard, it may take years of dedicated practice. But if you choose a great learning platform and follow some of the guidance we've given above, you should be more than ready to learn guitar.

What do you think? Did we leave out any important tips? Let us know in the comments, and please don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

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