So, you want to learn the guitar. That’s great. I can tell you as a guitar player; it’s something I found made my life better and allowed me to find a creative outlet. Sometimes when I’m in a foul mood, I will sit and play “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen on my guitar. How quickly those sour thoughts vanish.
If I stop and think about it, learning the guitar probably saved me lots of money. Playing is mental and emotional therapy. That’s not why I learned the guitar, just a positive outcome from doing so. And it didn’t happen overnight.
So, when people ask, “How long does it take to learn guitar?” I tend to just squint and stare at them. My usual response is, “Depends.”
What’s Your Motivation?
Before ever picking up a guitar, you need to know why you want to play the guitar. Is it because you really like how the guitar sounds and looks? Do you think it looks like lots of fun to play? Did you hear Prince perform at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and say to yourself, “I wanna do that!” If yes, please get your hands on a guitar and start learning.
If you think by learning to play pop songs on the guitar, such as “Perfect” by Lil Red Ed, that you will make more friends or get someone you like to notice you, walk away. Learning how to play guitar is not a means to an end. It’s an end, in and of itself.
Searching for fame and fortune leads nowhere
Learning to play the guitar takes commitment. If your motivation is to become famous, you won’t last long at learning the guitar. It needs to be a labor of love, not a desire for recognition.
It’s likely that many of the greatest guitar players who have or will ever have lived remain anonymous. People who never wanted to be on the stage or in the studio. They just wanted to play guitar the best that they could. And so they did.
So, How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?
Like most skills, the time needed to learn how to play can vary. However, there are some things you can expect when learning the guitar.
Stages of Learning the Guitar
Every guitar player goes through the same learning process. Although, they don’t always follow the same steps nor progress at the same pace. There are four stages for learning the guitar, each with a general timeframe. So, it’s important to remember that some stages may be longer or shorter for different people.
The Breaking In Stage (1 – 2 months)
For the absolute stringed instrument newbie, it starts with pain, I’m afraid. Even if you work with your hands and have calluses, you don’t have guitar string calluses.
However, if you play some kind of stringed instrument (violin, cello, bass, etc.), the initial stage of pain will be quicker and less unpleasant. The reason for this is because those people will presumably have development calluses from the strings on their instrument. But again, not guitar string calluses.
No pain, no gain
The amount of time it takes to develop calluses depends on your pain threshold. The longer you can endure the discomfort and keep practicing the guitar, the quicker you will develop calluses. And the sooner you have your calluses, the sooner you can move to the next guitar learning stage.
I’m not saying it’s monstrously unbearable, but the pain from guitar strings is noticeable and distinct. People often get little blisters. This is important for parents to appreciate if their child wants to learn the guitar. And that’s not the only discomfort you can expect in the initial stage.
Most people learn to make basic guitar chord shapes during this time. Those are A, C, D, E, and G chords. As you learn basic guitar chords, you will experience muscle development in your fingers, hands, and elbows. This can result in tenderness, stiffness, and even cramping.
One way to step up training your fingers to play the guitar is to use dexterity techniques. Much the same way warm-ups and cool-downs before and after weight lifting can reduce injuries, the same applies to fingers. This guide to Exercises and Tips For Better Finger Dexterity can help you learn to play the guitar quicker.
What should you be able to do?
I already mentioned basic chords, but you probably won’t be able to switch between them with speed and accuracy. Additionally, during this stage, you should have got a handle on some basic guitar strumming patterns. Therefore, some super easy guitar songs should be within your abilities. Think “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
I recommend checking out the excellent Simple Songs: The Easiest Easy Guitar Songbook Ever and, if you’re an acoustic player, the equally as good First 50 Songs You Should Play On Acoustic Guitar.
The Building Stage (2 – 6 months)
When you start to learn the guitar, this stage is often the most enjoyable. You are learning bar chords and have gotten pretty good at some easy guitar songs for beginners. Your calluses should be mostly formed, and your muscles will be more familiar with the movements.
This is when you gain some fundamental guitar muscle memory. Gradually most of the initial discomfort in your fingers goes away, and you find moving between basic guitar chords is easier, smoother, and quicker.
This can happen quickly. You may be surprised that your guitar skills seem to be rapidly improving. Indeed they are in certain respects. And remember, the more frequently you practice, the faster you build that essential musical memory.
What kinds of music will you be able to play?
Along with the basic chords, you will likely begin to learn more complicated chords such as barre chords like F#m and C#m.
Once you have a handle on those, you should be able to play songs like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan and “What’s Going On” by 4 Non Blondes. You may find you can even play songs like The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” or Blur “Song 2”.
The Plateau or Hump Stage (6 – 24 months)
If you have learned how to do anything and stuck with it, you know this is just a fact of skill development. There comes a time when you stop improving. You just level off or face a challenge that you can’t overcome.
The most important thing about this stage is to not let it get you down. Yes, it can be frustrating, and it can take as long as two years before you “breakthrough.” But keep at it. Work on strumming patterns, playing simple songs at different tempos, and memorizing chord patterns and scales.
Trust the Process
It could be a chord shape you can’t get right, a picking pattern you constantly stumble through, or something else. Whatever it is, learning the guitar is not a constant linear progression.
Think about it like this. You probably fell off your bike when learning to ride. Did you give up or get back on the bike? Learning the guitar requires the same commitment. No matter how long it takes, you just have to keep picking up your guitar and practicing. Eventually, you’ll reach the other side.
Furthermore, during this stage, you can add to your song library. Try some Oasis and Nirvana songs. Work on perfecting easy guitar songs. Spend more time practicing. “Nothing Else Matters” could be giving you fits, but nailing “Folsom Prison Blues” shouldn’t be too hard.
The Specialization Stage (continually after 2 years)
Usually, once you cross your plateau or get over your hump, the last stage in learning the guitar never ends. At least until you stop trying to get better at playing the guitar. At this stage, you can start to focus on the style of music you want to play and work specifically on challenging songs.
Choosing a Path
You are likely going to gravitate towards certain genres, bands, and playing styles after you have a solid handle on guitar basics. However, some people will just want to play whatever challenges them on the guitar.
But, this stage of guitar learning is when you generally pick a direction you want to head. It could be focusing on Heavy Metal shredding techniques or developing your songwriting skills. The key is that you are following what you want to do, what feels right for you.
Whichever path you choose, understand that you will be narrowing your focus to a degree. As a result, you need to spend more than an hour a day practicing. Additionally, this stage will never see exponential growth. It will be slow and steady as long as you dedicate your time to the craft.
Hints and Tips for Learning Guitar Faster
These can be applied to any stage in the learning process. Using these can help you shorten the time it takes to learn guitar.
- Use a metronome.
- Record yourself playing guitar, then listen back and see what you can improve.
- Learn how to tune and maintain your guitar.
- Identify areas where you struggle and focus on them.
- Find a guitar instructor.
Interested in the Guitar?
Then check out our informative articles on How Much Do Guitar Lessons Cost at Guitar Center, How to Learn Guitar for Beginners, How To Hold and Use a Guitar Pick, How To Practice Guitar Chords, and the Best Guitar Games to Help You Learn Guitar for more useful information.
Looking to get a guitar and start learning? Have a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Electric Guitar For Beginners, the Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners, the Best Beginner Electric Guitar Packages, the Best Electric Guitar For Kids, and the Best Left Handed Guitars For Beginner you can buy in 2021.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar – Final Thoughts
Hopefully, this article sheds some light on how long it takes to learn the guitar. Most importantly, you should be aware that the time it takes to learn the guitar is directly proportional to the amount of time you invest in learning.
In other words, the more time you spend practicing the guitar, the faster you will learn the guitar. Don’t let the plateaus or humps you are going to face discourage you.
On a personal note, I had a plateau that lasted for two years. I got through by remembering this quote, “You don’t need to be great to start, but you need to start to be great.”
Until next time, let your music play.