If you’re new to the guitar, you might be wondering just how long it takes to be able to play a song or two on this six-stringed instrument. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
We’re here to answer your questions. The length of time depends on how deep you want to go, but you can become a capable player in as short as a few months. Of course, the longer you stick to it, the better you become.
I’ve been through the guitar journey myself and, after 20 years, have reached a level of playing where I feel I know enough to express myself fully.
The guitar is actually one of the easier instruments to learn, so I highly recommend it if you are considering picking it up. This guide discusses how much time and effort you need to put in to see results.
Where to start? Set Your Guitar Goals.
When we say “learn guitar,” it means something different for everyone. Some people want to learn everything and gain total mastery of the instrument. Others want to learn the basics, some chords and songs, and enough to have some simple jam sessions. Playing guitar is a little different to each player.
The key to successfully learning guitar is having clear goals for what you want to achieve. Whether it’s just a few songs, certain techniques, the fretboard, basic chords, or scales, there are many areas you can study the guitar. And the closer you look, the deeper it seems to go.
Before diving into lessons, make a checklist of topics — and pick songs you want to learn. Find lessons that cover them, then add new things to your list when you’ve ticked stuff off. Your goal will largely determine the path to achieving it. If you just want to learn guitar for a bit of fun, your learning journey will be different from somebody who wants to be a professional.
On Average, How Long Does It Take to Learn Guitar?
It is different for everyone, but you can get the basics within a couple of months. After a year or two, playing will start to feel more natural, and you’ll have a better grasp of some technical elements.
There are different stages of learning too, and there is a bit of a learning curve. After you get the core techniques and basic knowledge, the things you practice and learn change when you reach an intermediate level.
After a few months, you should be able to play a few chords and have a basic understanding of the fretboard. You’d probably be looking at basic guitar TAB (simplified sheet music) to learn songs.
After a year, you should have a deeper understanding of the fretboard, allowing you to play more advanced techniques and chords, and probably even barre chords. You should also be able to play basic solos and lead guitar lines
Over the next five years or so, playing guitar should feel natural, and you barely have to think about your hands to play what’s in your mind. After you reach this stage, the way you learn and practice will change.
You will end up becoming more focused on theory and the more complex aspects of guitar, rather than foundational technique. After a few years, you should be able to read music fluently.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Guitar: The 10,000 Hour Rule
There is a famous rule by Malcolm Gladwell, that states that mastery of a skill takes 10,000 hours of experience — in addition to good teachers and lessons (1). I think this is true for a variety of areas, and it resonates with musical instruments.
Within 100 hours of practice time, you can get a solid understanding of the basic skills.
After 1000 practice hours you should be well experienced, and even be at a level where you could start teaching your own guitar lessons.
If you play guitar for 10,000 hours, you will become one with the instrument.
That’s not to say it takes 10,000 hours to learn the guitar, but it is a nice metric to hit for a deep understanding of the instrument.
If you have a practice schedule of 4 hours a day, you can reach 10,000 hours in 2500 days, or about 7 years. That would take some serious dedication!
If you want to become a guitar deity then you will need to practice consistently and consciously. Try to have regular practice sessions and study guitar theory.
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Can I Learn Guitar Any Quicker?
The speed at which you will learn guitar depends on your level of passion and dedication.
You don’t have to practice for 10,000 hours to get good at guitar, it can be achieved in a much shorter time. For some naturals, all it takes is some time in quarantine (2).
But it shouldn’t be a race. Enjoy the learning process! Remember: passion eliminates the time and makes practice feel like a rush rather than a drag.
It’s about going deeper than the technique. There will be a period where you are “preparing the vessel,” where it’s a matter of mechanical and repeated practice to get the physical control. But the mental depth can take much longer to develop, and isn’t something you can always cram in at high speed.
It goes from feeling like something you have to work at, to feeling like something natural. Stay patient, don’t get angry at your mistakes, but rejoice in every small accomplishment. Staying passionate keeps your momentum strong!
How Long Does It Take to Learn Guitar Without Lessons?
Learning the guitar without using lessons or music teachers can take a lot longer. It can be frustrating and even slow down your learning if you start playing on your own.
Without lessons, you can get to a decent intermediate level of guitar within a couple of years. But if you have lessons from it will speed the process up and is a much more efficient way to learn. Rather than working out how to navigate the instrument, or guessing things, you can use someone else’s experience.
In other professions, people wouldn’t dream of practicing their skills without lessons (or some kind of education). Imagine a heart surgeon trying to learn without having lessons, through trial and error… it wouldn’t go well.
Private lessons with a guitar teacher are great, although not everyone can afford lessons in-person classes. That’s why I always recommend online lessons to new guitar players.
How Long Does It Take to Learn a Song on Guitar?
Playing songs is a great way to learn theory, songwriting, and your instrument in general.
The time it takes to learn a song ultimately depends on your skill level, the difficulty of the song, and how much time you spend practicing it.
If you already know all the chord shapes and scales used, then you can learn most songs within half an hour. If you are completely new to guitar, it can take a few days to learn a basic song as you need to learn the chords.
After learning the basics of a song, it will take most guitarists a day or two to fully process the arrangement. Giving them more control over their performance, and giving smoother, more seamless techniques.
Also the more songs you learn, the easier you will find it to learn more. You may have learned things playing one song that can be transferred to another, or you may find similar structures.
If you’re looking for some good songs to start with, check out our guide on 23 easy songs to learn.
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Learning The Guitar — By Type
While learning to play acoustic or electric are mostly similar, there are a few differences that change the learning process.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Electric Guitar?
To get a good grasp of electric guitars it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year if you are starting from scratch. If you can already play an acoustic, you will be good to go!
When learning to play electric guitars, there are a few extra components and considerations to learn. You will need to learn how to use amplifiers, and how to control them to get the best tone for your style. Electric guitars also have onboard controls and pickups that take time to understand.
The theory and scales are identical to acoustic guitars, although the strings feel different. Generally, electric guitars use thinner strings, which are easier to play chords on than steel-strung acoustics. So an electric can sometimes be easier on the hands of a beginner.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Acoustic Guitar?
Similarly, learning acoustic guitars can be done in less than a year.
Acoustic guitars are more minimalist than electrics and don’t have the amplification elements to learn.
Although the strings of acoustic guitars tend to require more strength than electrics. They usually have higher action and tension, which requires more muscle to hold, particularly when learning chords.
Steel-string acoustics can be a strain on the hands of new players and can take a little longer to adjust to. Nylon string acoustic guitars tend to be a little easier to play — especially for fingerstyle — and are recommended for complete beginners.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Bass Guitar?
Bass guitar can be learned anywhere between 6 and 12 months.
Learning bass is quite different from guitar. It’s a completely different approach to think bass lines versus chords and strumming patterns. There is a transferable knowledge, however, between the two.
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What Should I Practice?
I’d say there are two ways you can divide your practice checklist. Physical and Mental.
There are two levels of technique. The first is mechanical hard work and coordination – developing the playing techniques you like and working on them until you are comfortable.
The second element is a more mental type of practice. Going deeper, where the technique is at your disposal, but not at the center of your mind.
From a mindset of pure technique, your performance can sound robotic. To get a more expressive and interesting sound, you need to experiment and develop areas of your brain, rather than your body. This includes the underlying theory, but also your connection to the instrument.
Practice, not always in technical terms, but increasing your ability to be present in what you are doing. To be able to listen, observe, and let your imagination flow into what you play. This isn’t something that comes from practicing academics, mechanics, or technique.
The core elements to learn are:
- Playing techniques (strumming, plucking, finger coordination)
- Chords – Basic Open Chords, Bar Chords.
- The fretboard
- Theory – scales, harmony
- How to play with other musicians
- Basic strumming patterns
- Songs and riffs – expand your vocabulary of the instrument.
One of the best ways to develop your voice on the guitar is to study some killer riffs. Check out our guide on 23 popular and easy guitar riffs for new players.
Learning isn’t always easy, so we wrote this guide of useful tips for learning guitar. Have a read for some extra advice!
Do I Need to Know Music Theory or Are Basic Chords OK?
It depends on your intentions with the instrument.
While theory isn’t essential, it’s a powerful tool that can only benefit musicians in the long run.
Understanding theory helps communication with other musicians and makes learning instruments easier. It takes the guesswork out of a performance and lets you know exactly what you are playing and why it works. It’s also helpful if you write your own songs, and can make the process clearer.
Some people get scared of the ‘rules’ of theory and are worried that it could limit the depth of their expression. In reality, the rules are only guidelines, and learning them helps you to explore beyond them.
Many successful musicians have a limited understanding of theory — you can certainly get by without it. I wonder how many charting musicians have no clue about complex harmony or polyrhythms. It’s like a language, and the more you can speak and understand, the better you will be able to express yourself.
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Learning Guitar FAQs
Is guitar really hard to learn?
There’s a reason a lot of people ask, “How long does it take to learn guitar?” They want to know if it’s hard or not! Personally, I think it’s easier to learn guitar than other instruments.
The guitar is one of the easier instruments to learn and play, from my experience. Several features of the guitar make it easy in comparison to other instruments. I also find there are a lot more readily available lessons and guides for learning guitar. It’s not rocket science!
Once you learn how to play basic chords, you’re well on your way to being able to play your favorite songs, and even writing your own music,
How many hours a day should you practice guitar?
The amount of practice time you need depends on how quickly you want to progress your guitar skills, and what your capacity for learning is. In general, one hour a day is a good place to start. If you are taking it more seriously then you could spend anywhere between 2 and 4 hours a day, or even more.
Which other instrument helps you learn the guitar well?
Learning any other musical instrument will help you play guitar better.
The more you expose yourself to different instruments and approaches to music theory, the wider your overall understanding of music will be. It helps you to become a more rounded musician. Specifically, other stringed instruments are good like ukuleles. Piano helps for understanding chords, and drums are recommended to increase your rhythm.
How do you continue expanding your mind, even when you become a guitar master?
With guitar and any musical instrument, there is an infinite field of discovery waiting to be explored. Even the most seasoned professionals learn new things every day. Maintain your passion, and expose yourself to new influences. Music is constantly progressing and evolving, it never stays still, so you can always find something new to listen to and inspire your learning journey.
Take inspiration from your favorite guitar players. Study their performance, work out what you like about it and try to incorporate their techniques into your playing style.
Am I too old to learn guitar?
Nobody is too old to learn the guitar! As long as your fingers can move — you can play guitar! There isn’t any age where it becomes too late. If you start early you will have more time to enjoy the instrument. As long as you have the physical and mental strength to try, that’s all you need.
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Good luck on your guitar-playing journey!
Thanks for reading this guide. You should now have a good idea of how long it takes to learn guitar, and what you need to learn.
My main tip is to be patient and passionate. It can take a while to see results, and it definitely takes effort. Stay passionate and dedicated, be open to learning new things, and get lessons where you can.
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- Jeffrey Young, “Researcher Behind 10,000-Hour Rule’ Says Good Teaching Matters, Not Just Practice” as published https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-05-05-researcher-behind-10-000-hour-rule-says-good-teaching-matters-not-just-practice
- John Le, “‘Music is in some way calling me.’: Gastonia teen took up guitar during pandemic and found his calling” as published https://www.fox46.com/news/heartwarming-news/music-is-in-some-way-calling-me-gastonia-teen-took-up-guitar-during-pandemic-and-found-his-calling/