Almost every beginner starts out by picking up a guitar, and immediately expecting to be able to shred like Eddie Van Halen, but this is an instrument that will quickly humble any novice with big dreams. After realizing that you won’t be playing lightning fast solos or fingerpicking any time soon, most new guitarists stop and ask “how long will it take to become a proficient guitarist?”
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be discussing what it takes to learn how to play guitar, and what separates those who excel, from those who simply never progress past the beginner or intermediate stage, even after months or years of practice.
The easy answer is that there is no hard and fast rule for how long it will take to become a good guitarist. Someone who practices for 30 minutes a day might end up surpassing someone of the same age who puts in 3 hours a day of practice, and there’s a pretty specific reason for this.
Success in learning guitar is all about setting goals as well as the amount of time and effort you dedicate to the craft amongst other factors. Because there are so many individual variables that can influence how quickly somebody learns the guitar, check out these examples of beginner guitarists and how their level of experience and time commitment affects their progress.
- Example 1
- Example 2
- Example 3
- Setting Goals
- Teacher Quality
- How Can You Speed Up Progress?
- What is Likely to Slow Your Progress?
- Final Thoughts on How Long it Takes to Learn to Play Guitar?
- Connor – 14 years old
- Starting musical experience – None
- Learning Method – Fender Play
- Practice time – Every day for 1 to 2 hours
- Why do you want to learn guitar? – “I’m a huge rock and alternative music fan, and I really want to start a band with my friends”
6 Month progress – After 6 months Connor has become quite accomplished. He is able to play most of his favorite music from online tabs and can pick up basic riffs by ear. He can play and transition between power chords and first position open chords with ease, and can keep good rhythm with multiple strumming patterns. Connor is even able to play some basic solos from memory, and can even improvise over pentatonic scales. He has started to jam with some friends, and is on track to start playing covers to audiences within the next 6 months at this cadence. He still can’t quite grasp pinch harmonics, but this is a high priority goal for him by the end of the year.
- Tony – 52 years old
- Starting musical experience – “self taught” in the 90s, Tony stopped playing around the time he got married in 2003, but finally has the time to start picking it back up
- Learning Method – YouTube videos, Googling chords
- Practice time – 2 to 3 times a week for around 20 minutes
- Why do you want to learn guitar? – “I find I’m able to zone out and relax so easily when I play – It’s definitely nothing to do with trying to relive my youth…”
6 Month progress – Tony can comfortably play the same three songs he first taught himself 20 years ago. He has no issue with picking up new chords, but transitions between anything other than the cowboy chords he’s used to proves challenging, and this really interrupts his strumming rhythm when playing anything new. Tony gives up easily on new skills and goes back to playing his regular favorites. He isn’t truly progressing at all, but will happily play Wonderwall at his local bar’s open mic night. Every time.
- Sydney – 19 years old
- Starting musical experience – Played oboe in high school
- Learning Method – Fender Play
- Practice time – 4 to 5 times a week for around 30 minutes
- Why do you want to learn guitar? – “It’s a great distraction to decompress from long days of classes”
6 Month progress – Sydney had a solid grasp of music theory from her time playing oboe in high school, although she doesn’t have quite as much time to dedicate to guitar as she had for oboe. Sydney’s chosen path on Fender Play is acoustic pop, and she has progressed nicely. She can play simple open chord versions of her favorite tracks, and tries to learn a new song each week in addition to her lesson structure. She struggles with barre chords, and would probably progress faster if she upgraded to a guitar with a thinner neck.
The next question is, what separates those who progress quickly from those who get stuck in ruts?
Anybody familiar with business might have heard of SMART objectives, and these same objectives work perfectly when it comes to progressing on the guitar – make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound.
“Become an epic shredder” is a great example of the kind of goal you should not set for yourself. That might be the ultimate aim, but to get there, there must be smaller, more specific targets along the way. If you’re just starting, your first goal could be to learn 3 power chords. When you’ve learned those chords, and can comfortably transition, the next goal could be to learn the rhythm line to a song that uses those chords.
Learning chords is a measurable, objective goal. Once you’ve practiced, you will either know them, or you won’t. So your first goal is both specific and measurable. Not only is it specific and measurable, but it’s attainable, too. By choosing power chords over open or barre chords, you’ve picked something simple, meaning you’re less likely to become frustrated over slow progress.
Despite the fact that power chords are simple, they are the foundation on which a lot of music is built, so they very much check off the relevance category.
Finally, you should set a time goal – give yourself a realistic amount of time to meet the goal based on the time you are able to commit to learning. If you’re a busy working professional, with only a few minutes a day to practice, you might want to set a goal time of 1 week. Someone with more time on their hands who can commit hours per day might need a day or less to meet the same goal. But, by setting yourself a time limit, you will have a much better measure of how successful your efforts have been.
People who purchase guitars, and other instruments for that matter, only to pick them up every once in a while, noodle, and put them down again tend to get stuck in the doldrums. You might technically have been playing guitar for 20 or more years, yet your repertoire is limited to just a few songs because of the lack of time commitment and willingness to learn new skills.
One distinct advantage that today’s beginners have over anybody who started learning over 10-15 years ago is the internet. In years gone by, you either learned from a guitar teacher and sheet music, perhaps a friend or relative taught you some basics, or if you were musically inclined you learned by ear, or from a book. These options are all still available, of course, but we’ve come a long way since these were the only choices you had.
The internet has changed the game when it comes to learning guitar. Sites like YouTube are full of great tutorials and gear reviews, forums provide a great place to get advice from other players, and of course online lessons, like those from Fender Play, have put quality music education into the hands of so many people.
Affordable services like Fender Play have gone a long way to replacing in person lessons, and in many cases way beyond what can be done face to face. To begin with, in person lessons last a finite amount of time, after which you would go away and practice what you’ve learned until the next lesson. With Fender Play, you take a lesson, practice, and when you feel you’ve mastered that section, you move on when you are ready, whether you need more time, or less.
Especially with group lessons, you might also find that your instructor is pushing you towards a style of music of their preference. Fender Play allows you to choose what they call a ‘Path’, which starts with choosing either electric or acoustic. After choosing which guitar style you want to lead, you’ll next get to choose a genre, with pop, rock, blues, folk, and others available to pick from.
By learning the style of music that you specifically want to play, you’ll be much more inclined to practice, which leads to a better chance of successfully mastering the instrument.
How Can You Speed Up Progress?
There aren’t truly any shortcuts to success, but these hacks can definitely help you to pick up the pace at which you learn.
Buy the Right Gear
While it’s typically frowned upon to say that new gear will make you a better player, it’s actually the case in some instances. A child learning on dad’s dreadnought acoustic will struggle to hold the guitar properly. Someone with small hands learning on something like a Les Paul Special with a 50s neck profile might struggle to get their fingers into position, making some chords difficult, if not impossible, and making chord transitions shaky at best.
By choosing the right gear, you’ll have an instrument that’s comfortable for you. If it’s comfortable, you’ll likely spend more time using it, and you’ll progress faster.
It’s Never Too Early to Jam
The sooner you can start playing with like minded musicians at a similar skill level, the sooner you will all progress. Working with a drummer and a bass player will rapidly help you to improve rhythm and timing, which are both essential to sounding good. If you aren’t able to piece together a band, you can find backing tracks on YouTube that will help you, too. Even working with a metronome is going to help.
In addition, playing with friends keeps you accountable. If as a group, you’ve decided on a set list, or even a single song to learn and play together, you’re much more likely to practice until you’ve nailed it when you have the added pressure of an upcoming jam session.
What is Likely to Slow Your Progress?
Just as there are steps you can take to accelerate your progress, there are some commonly made mistakes that can be easily avoided to prevent you from getting in your own way, and ultimately slow down your progression towards mastery.
Failing to Understand The Importance of Theory
As the majority of guitar based music is not played from sheet music, many people tend to dismiss music theory as unnecessary. While it is theoretically possible to become a great guitarist without understanding theory, this is definitely more an exception than it is the rule.
By even having a basic grasp of theory, you’ll be able to understand why certain chord progressions work, and why others don’t. You will be able to better improvise, an essential skill if you ever hope to be able to rip solos and play lead in a band. Plus, if you ever hope to write original songs, this is a skill you will absolutely need to have.
Dipping In and Out of Different Skills
If you are in the process of learning guitar and find yourself bored by a skill or lesson and you find the urge to move on before mastering it, try to fight that urge. By leaving this skill for a shiny new one, you’ll probably forget much of what you learned in the previous lesson, meaning any time you’ve invested there is, in effect, wasted. If you do this with one skill, it’s likely that you’ll do it with others, too.
This is why SMART objectives are so important. It may feel like it’s taking longer to learn a skill or a song by going through the fundamentals step by step, but, if you gloss over the basics and skip ahead then it’s unlikely that you’ll ever sound as good as you would have had you mastered each step.
Final Thoughts on How Long it Takes to Learn to Play Guitar?
As with most instruments, the key to success is always going to be persistence. Yes, having the perfect guitar helps, of course being Eddie Van Halen’s son is going to make a difference, but the vast majority of those who succeed in mastering the guitar are almost always those who apply the principles of objective setting, and those who set (and stick to) a proper regimen. Services like Fender Play make success easy, and signing up to their on demand classes is a breeze, plus with the purchase of any Fender guitar (this includes Squier products) you’ll get a free 3 month trial.