Perhaps you recently started your journey in learning to play guitar, and you might be wondering how long it will take you to play with confidence and accuracy, much like your favorite artists. If that’s your question, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we will discuss how long does it take to learn guitar.
To be able to answer this question, we will have to take into account many factors, such as what we’re doing, for how long we can do it, what resources do we have, and what our goals are. For the sake of this article, let’s assume we count with an electric guitar and a friendly approach to learning guitar by ourselves, which includes practicing with songs and speed-building exercises with a metronome. More on that subject here. Having said this and ignoring minor factors such as distractions or forced breaks, we can reduce it to two significant factors:
Factor #1: The time you dedicate to your exercises
5 to 10 minutes a day
This would amount up to 30 minutes to 1 hour of playing a week. Obligations and stress in life can get between you and your practice, making you barely touch your guitar at all. Some days you probably won’t get any practice. This time is barely enough to get familiar with a couple of chords and songs.
15 to 30 minutes a day
Now, this is a more feasible scheme which will allow you to feel comfortable with open chords in around 6 months of steady practice. You will need about 1 year to shift to barre chords with relative ease, learning your way around the fretboard, and techniques such as alternate picking and single and double-string melodies. By the 3rd year of practice, you might be able even to improvise and get more adventurous with techniques.
1 hour to 2 hours a day
Practicing this much would be ideal if, say, one of your New Year resolutions is to learn your way around the guitar in a year and have the time to put into it. Before the year, around the 4th-month mark, you will feel comfortable with playing open chord songs and even some barre chords, and by the end of the year, you will feel confident enough to improvise your chord progressions. Improvising melodies might come at a later stage of your practice.
Beyond 2 hours a day
Now we are entering aggressively into ‘overnight’ levels of success because this amounts to 14 hours a week and around 60 hours a month or more if you’re at the lower limit of 2. Now, when I say ‘overnight’, I mean you will feel comfortable playing most songs and attacking challenges like listening to solos and trying to play them by ear in under a year.
Please have in mind that most professional guitarists, even when they can do amazing things in the technical and theoretical department, will find themselves spending hours and hours on end practicing new techniques or finding new sounds in their studios. The idea behind this is that you never really stop learning, and practice is essential to build up and maintain your skills over time. However, even music needs rests to sound good, and so do you. If you’re starting, you don’t need to oversaturate yourself with 6 hours of daily practice!
Factor #2: The level you want to achieve
From what we discussed above, we will see that the average person will take from 1 to 2 years to be comfortable enough to play any song on their own but, what about the programs out there that provide ‘mastery’ in 3 months or less? Are those true?
The way I see it, these promises are only half-truths, because they can take you (as long as you follow them religiously, that is) to a certain reference, a certain song or the achievement of a particular skill on that time. We often don’t realize that we can reach a point or many points in our learning where we will feel comfortable with what we know until we stumble with technical difficulties (pun very much intended) or are exposed to something that requires more practice and a different level of understanding than our current state. Maybe we can see this better in songs. Let’s choose 5:
Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple. Time to learn: 10 minutes
If learning this legendary riff is on your bucket list, all it takes is some patience and listening to the rhythm. Here’s a challenge for both of us: I’ll explain to you how to play it so you can learn it under 10 minutes. Here we go!
- Place your 1st finger in the 3rd fret of your E string, the 3rd finger in the 5th fret of your A string, along your 4th finger (your pinky) in the 5th fret of your D string. Don’t play any other string, but these 3 together. You will obtain a ‘power chord’, G5, to be precise.
- Now slide your fingers in this position 3 frets down; you will end up with fingers on the 6th and 8th frets of the corresponding strings. This is the power chord for A# (or A#5).
- Slide your fingers holding that position 2 frets more down the fretboard; this time, you will be in the 8th and 10th frets. This is the power chord for C (C5).
- In the next fret, we will find C#5, which is the last power chord we need. We will be in the 9th and 11th frets with our fingers.
- Now to play the song, let’s use the help of a metronome (or a metronome app). The original song is in 112 BPM, but since some of the strums we need to do are off the beat, we will do it in half the speed to be able to match each strum with a beat of your metronome. Set your metronome to 112BPM (224BPM for it to sound like the original).
- For the riff, and knowing every strum will fall in a bit for ease of understanding, we will use a cycle of 32 beats (meaning that everything will repeat itself after 32 beats have passed). Play a chord on every beat, with an X meaning you don’t play in that beat, as follows:
You can practice this rhythmic pattern with a single chord or help yourself by hearing the song until you get it right. It’s an easy, quick, and fun song to learn!
Love me do – The Beatles. Time to learn: 2 weeks to 1 month
This song is a nice, slow, and easy song to practice open chords in a low difficulty setting and a strumming pattern that, although not particularly common, is very friendly to the beginner. You will find more about this song in our article about 10 Easy Songs To Play On Guitar For Beginners.
Stairway to heaven – Led Zeppelin. Time to learn: 6 months
This song can be a tricky one, because you have to be comfortable to stretch your fingers between frets, learning a couple of single-string melodies and different rhythms and patterns of strumming if you want to be able to play the whole song. So I’d say this might take you from 6 months to a year. Again, this is the result of a knowledge buildup and not hours of practicing the same song over and over until you get it right!
Can’t Stop – Red Hot Chili Peppers. Time to learn: 1 year
By now, we will be alternating between picking and strumming, and we will be familiar with some very useful methods to mute the strings we don’t want to be heard selectively. In the same spirit, you could replace this song with Gotten – Adam Levine ft. Slash.
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix. Time to learn: 1.5 years+
Now we are entering ‘groove’ territory. We are able by now to free ourselves from the conventional chords, exemplified in the usage of the ‘Hendrix chord’ (which is a 7#9 chord), we will be comfortable with transitions, improvisation, and even some rearranging of our own. We will be able to play songs in higher speed settings.
Technical Difficulties – Paul Gilbert. Time to learn?
Well, we better ask Paul for this one. Although it’s safe to say that this is one of the songs, you wouldn’t expect even to consider trying until you have an excellent base knowledge and speed in both of your hands. The technical skill, speed, and fluidity on the fretboard that we hear in this jam are the result of years of practice (and somewhat privileged hands to reach every note easily).
As you can see, it might feel that these songs grow exponentially in difficulty, but as you practice, your skills will grow in the same way! Now, whichever way we calculate the time we need to learn the guitar, there’s a common truth: Beginners need structure to learn. For a great program with exercises that will make you feel like a rockstar, check out our Guitar Tricks review!