how long does it take to learn guitar

How Long Does it Take to Learn Guitar

How long does it take to learn guitar until you can shred crazy solos? First, let’s start with the basics and then move our way to master techniques, as well as additional advice that will benefit your career as a guitar player.

Do you dream of becoming a famous guitar player? If so, you probably fantasize about being on stage, touring the world, writing music, and recording albums. 

And guess what? You’re not the only one with this fantasy. 40% of musicians play guitar, but that doesn’t mean all of them are exceptional players. To fulfill those rockstar fantasies, you have to first take a step back and focus on the most important thing: learning guitar.

wood guitar

Introductory/Basic/Beginning

When you first learn guitar, you’ll learn the absolute basics that you’ll use in your everyday playing. These include the main scales, chords, and even simple guitar parts. As you learn basic chords and scales, you’ll be able to play more songs. You’ll also learn basic techniques, such as fretting, proper pick holding, pull-offs, hammer-ons, slides, bends, and even some vibrato.

Keep in mind, your technique and rhythm will likely be off at the very beginning. Don’t be alarmed, it’s completely normal. But the old adage rings true here: practice makes perfect. As long as you devote a few hours every day to practicing, you can get past these flaws and grow as a guitar player.

Since you’re still new, it’s recommended you don’t try and play solos. Focus on playing the rhythm parts until you can master general techniques.

How long: between three and six months if you practice daily for at least five hours, over three years if you only practice a half-hour every day.

Intermediate

Once you reach the intermediate level, you’re becoming more comfortable with the guitar. You can likely play a decent array of songs and may even be writing your own songs (or at least improvising on your own).

But the learning doesn’t stop here. While you have basic techniques down, you may be wanting to learn some more advanced techniques that will take your playing up a notch. These mainly vary based on your goals, the music you write, and more.

For example, if you strive to play on stage, you may want to learn how to play without looking at the fretboard. If you want to enhance your knowledge of theory, you may be learning chords outside of the basic ones you already know.

How long: 10 months with at least four hours of playing and six-seven years with a half-hour of daily practicing.

Advanced

At this point, you’re likely taking command of your playing style and songwriting skills. You may even be playing live. You have a good grasp of playing rhythm and have excellent knowledge of various chords and scales.

Once you reach this level, your knowledge is still constantly evolving. You’re likely looking at different ways to evolve your individual playing style, such as achieving the perfect tone and even the right guitar and gear for your needs.

Of course, learning the actual playing part doesn’t end (it technically never ends, we will cover this later). This is likely the time when you start practicing solos.  You’re likely trying to master advanced techniques, such as legatos, pinch harmonics, tapping, and sweep picking.

Keep in mind, many guitar players don’t reach this level — and this isn’t even the highest level. That’s not because other guitar players aren’t good, but because they don’t practice. Because of this, practice during this stage is more integral than it ever was.

How long: about two years if you practice four hours daily and about 14-15 years if you practice a half-hour every day.

Expert

At this point, you’re completely comfortable with the guitar and various playing techniques. You’re likely looking for ways to make playing guitar your life’s work. Many at this stage are ready to give lessons to aspiring guitar players. If you’re playing shows, you play regularly and may start seeing some success. This is the stage when you also may be promoting yourself for session work.

Don’t forget — you may think you know it all but you don’t.

There are always new challenges and obstacles to accomplish. That’s why you should still continue practicing daily. Practice not only includes the act of playing but how much emphasis you put on songwriting, promoting yourself, and pursuing music. Since you’re on your way to become a professional player, it’s also worth it to learn different marketing techniques.

At this point, I’m no longer writing the “if you practice a half-hour a day.” If you’re a guitar expert, you’re playing way more than a half-hour daily, trust me.

How long: three years with four hours of daily practice.

man playing guitar

Professional

At this point, you’re a full-time guitar player. You have a few years’ worth of teaching students and you can perform comfortably. But don’t forget our golden rule: you never stop learning. When most get to this level, they’re actually craving for a challenge. This is the perfect time to try and learn a new style of music.

How long: about seven years if you practice for four hours a day

Master

If you’re at this level, then you made it! You likely have a fan base and are comfortable playing a couple of different genres. If you’re in a band, your band likely has some level of success and you’re regularly recording albums and touring.

Again, you never stop learning. Play with musicians you never played with before. Challenge your own songwriting. If anything, this is a great chance to take everything you’ve learned these last several years and master it. You’ll be shocked how difficult those first few lessons are 10 years later!

You may continue getting better but you never want to be the best. So continue experimenting with the guitar and always have fun while playing.

How long: 14-15 years if you practice four hours daily.

Useful Tips to Keep in Mind

Learning guitar can be difficult, but it’s also rewarding. Even when you reach a professional level, the learning doesn’t stop. While it’s easy to give a general timeline as to when you’ll learn how to play, understand that everyone learns differently. That’s why we’re also offering some essential tips.

Never Stop Practicing — But Be Smart About Practicing

As you can see, daily practice is the key to advancing in guitar. Even if you can only devote a half-hour a day to guitar, that’s better than not playing.

In addition, the type of practice also matters. Many guitar players don’t know how to practice. For example, you don’t want to mindlessly play songs and scales you already mastered. Sure, they’re a good warm-up, but you’ll want to continue challenging yourself in order to improve. Set goals and devote your practice time to reaching those goals.

While practicing playing the guitar is obviously important, many players forget to practice with the mind. Write music, research, watch videos, and talk to other guitar players about techniques. So even if you’re only physically playing the guitar for an hour a day, you’re still expanding your knowledge.

While many people may say you can never practice too much, you don’t want to sacrifice other areas of your life to guitar.

Carve out time to practice guitar while prioritizing other areas of your life, such as spending time with family and friends. If it helps, take a day to spend relaxing and don’t pick up your instrument. This way, you can recharge the mind (and rest your fingers) so you can get back to practicing the next day.

Set Goals

The key is not only devoting time to practice but also accomplishing goals in that space.

Every guitar player is different so there are no specific set goals that one player should set for themselves. The best way to set goals is to identify the big picture and setting small goals to achieve that large goal.

For example, maybe playing in a successful rock band is your ultimate goal. First, try learning your favorite songs and learn from your favorite guitar players. From here, you can accomplish other goals, such as writing your own music.

If you’re a beginner, your goal may be to improve. At the same time, you may not know how to get there. This is when lessons come in handy. Your instructor will teach you small exercises and basic theory to get you started. From there, they will identify areas of weakness (which we will get to next) and will teach you other techniques that will improve your playing.

To better organize your goals, write them down on a piece of paper. Sure, this is old-school advice, but it works. Your goals become more than a thought; they’re a physical thing you can read. Once you scratch off those goals, you’ll feel more confident in your playing. You’ll also feel motivated to set even more goals. All of this will make you a better player.

Eliminate Weaknesses

Every guitar player has weaknesses. Sure, every player wants to think they’re a rockstar. That’s because it’s fun to play what you know. But working on the material that gives you a hard time will expand your playing and will help you become a well-rounded musician.

Referring back to the previous section about setting goals, eliminating specific weaknesses is a common goal. You can devote overcoming these obstacles during your daily practices to improve.

First, you need to determine your weaknesses. This is more difficult than you think. I suggest being mindful when playing. Maybe you’ve been trying to play a song for a long time but still aren’t getting it down. Or maybe you struggle to write your own music. These are areas that deserve the most attention.

From here, you can identify key factors that make that one song difficult or why you struggle to compose a song. Set a practice schedule and prioritize those difficult parts. As you focus on those hard areas, they will become easier with practice.

Challenge Yourself, But Only If You Enjoy the Challenge

Like targeting weaknesses, you’ll want to understand what makes a challenging song more difficult. For example, maybe a song you want to learn is fast. Even if you’re don’t plan on playing fast forever, it’s still a good skill to know.

At the same time, playing guitar is all about having fun. Don’t learn a song you don’t like simply because it’s challenging. If you constantly challenge yourself for no reason, you’ll burn yourself out.

Instead, prioritize playing songs you love. What if you love songs that are technical? There’s no shame in being ambitious. If the song is too fast for your playing abilities and it requires technical techniques, then by learning those skills, you only have more to gain.

You Never Stop Learning

Are you learning guitar? Good, get used to it. That’s because there’s not a day when you will never learn guitar. Even the guitarists you worship never stop learning.

Guitar is a very complex instrument. There are countless techniques you can learn. Even different genres come with their own techniques and tone. Then there are the lessons you learn when performing, the business lessons you learn when promoting yourself and making guitar playing your living. The list goes on.

In addition, music is a language on its own, so it’s helpful to look at other languages as an example. If you learned a second language, you understand the various aspects of mastering that different language, such as spelling/grammar, pronunciation, listening skills, slang, etc.

Guitar playing and even music theory are the same way. If you think you know everything, there will come a time when you realize there’s something new to learn.

How do you continue expanding your mind, even when you become a guitar master? This is when lessons come in handy. This is especially true if you want to learn a different style of music.

Sure, after 10+ years of playing guitar, you may scoff at the idea of taking a guitar lesson. But master classes are a great way to improve your playing and learn something new. Even revisiting basic techniques will only sharpen your playing. And if you teach guitar, then you understand that teaching others is the best way to learn.

Even simply befriending and collaborating with other guitar players can help expand your mind. Are you too intimidated by other players? Good. That’s because every player has a different approach. Opening your mind to other players and their playing style may improve your own approach.

Something else you can do is look for new sources of inspiration. In addition to music, many guitar players read books and watch movies for inspiration. While it sounds counterintuitive (how can I get music inspiration from not listening to music?) a new art form can help you think of unique ideas that you can use in your music.

Every guitar player also shouldn’t forget about career goals.

Are you in a band? Learn new promotion methods to get your band more exposure. Are you a touring or session guitar player? Find ways to play with bigger bands. Want to be the next Steve Vai? Learn business skills to promote yourself as a virtuoso. Even if you don’t aim to make guitar your life’s work, you would be surprised how many bands need a new guitar player or who’s looking for a teacher.

FAQs

Question: Should You Take Professional Lessons?

Answer: If you’re at the very beginning stages of guitar playing, you may be debating about taking lessons. But is it worth it? Well, this depends on different factors.

When You Should

Guitar lessons are convenient if you want someone to help you out. A good guitar instructor will also motivate you to practice and will continue to challenge you. They will give you feedback on your playing and will help you improve. Professionals also know certain techniques, such as proper picking and fretting techniques, that you can learn early on.

A guitar teacher will tailor a lesson plan to your skill level, the style of music you want to play, and your individual goals.

Even if you’re more advanced, you can benefit from professional lessons. Many master guitar players offer private lessons so you can quickly advance.

But I want to emphasize that not every guitar teacher is good. For example, I tried learning bass when I was in high school, and I didn’t like my teacher at all. If you’re stuck in this situation and you still strive to learn, you can always teach yourself.

When You Shouldn’t

If you don’t like taking lessons and/or don’t like your guitar teacher, by all means, stop taking lessons. It won’t be worth it and you may even want to stop playing guitar.

There are other reasons why lessons may not be right for you, the biggest one being that lessons aren’t cheap. Most guitar teachers charge at least $40/hour. If you attend lessons once a week, then that’s a good chunk of change coming out of your pocket.

Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet. Many guitar players offer free video tutorials on YouTube. There are also guitar playing apps; while most of them only teach you basic theory and techniques, they’re a good starting point.

While method books are old-school, many students still find them useful. It’s recommended you at least purchase a theory book so you can quickly learn different chords and scales.

Speaking of which, do you even need to learn theory?

Question: Do You Need to Learn Theory?

Answer: This is probably one of the most debated topics among guitar players. Is it necessary to learn theory? Everyone has different answers, but honestly, the benefits outweigh the downsides. As a guitar player, learning theory is one of those things where you have nothing to lose. You’ll improve your compositional skills and knowing theory will make you look more credible.

However, learning theory isn’t exactly necessary. Many guitar players can learn by ear. It’s also common to learn tab before you learn theory.

However, the music you compose by ear may be different from someone who knows theory. This isn’t a bad thing and you can still hone your own compositional style. But composing music is significantly easier when you have theory knowledge.

But does this mean your theory skills need to master that of Mozart or Beethoven? Even knowing basic chords and scales will make songwriting easier. If you’re interested in learning more theory, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to dig more into it.

Question: When Are You Good Enough to Play on Stage?

Answer: For most guitar players, you’ll likely be comfortable enough to play live after a year. This means if you practice for four hours a day, you’ll be close to advanced at that point. At the very least, you’ll be at an intermediate level.

Performing can be playing your own material or playing covers, it depends on what you can play and the purpose of your performance. But this is a general answer. Some guitar players play live immediately and others may never play live.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to be perfectly proficient to play on stage. So if that holds you back, understand that playing live is another learning process. That’s because playing on stage in front of others with an entire band is significantly different than playing alone in your room.

Because of that, I suggest simply jamming with other musicians before hitting the stage. This way, you get a feel for playing with others.

If you would rather be prepared when you play on stage, create a setlist and practice it every day from start to finish. If you can play the entire set with no mistakes, you’re ready for the stage. That setlist can be your own material or covers, it all depends on your goals.

Here are a few additional tips when performing live:

  • Practice, jam, rehearse, etc. You can never be too prepared.
  • Stage presence is just as important but is nothing to stress over. Just be yourself and have fun on stage.
  • Being nervous is normal. Just don’t forget to breathe, drink some tea (it helps me at least), and relax your mind.
  • A small audience is still an audience. Don’t feel discouraged. You’re still getting the experience and exposure you need to move up in your career.
  • The audience likely comprises normal people who want to enjoy a show. Don’t expect them to be critics.
  • Become comfortable with the musicians you’re playing with
  • Made a mistake? Keep playing. Again, there’s a chance the audience won’t notice.
  • The more you play live, the easier it will become.
  • Have stage fright? Overcome your fear. You will feel better afterward, even if you don’t play a perfect set.

Last but not least, the goal is to have fun and enjoy being on stage.

Question: What About Naturally Gifted Players?

Answer: Sure, they exist. Those people who magically knew all about playing the guitar immediately and never cease to write brilliant songs. But those people are the minority.

When we talk about “naturally gifted players,” we’re mainly referring to those who had a head start. Maybe music theory is easy for them. Maybe they only took a few lessons before getting the hang of playing. But even naturally gifted players need to learn how to play the instrument and apply it to their abilities, which is the same thing you’re doing now.

You also have to remember, gifted players likely didn’t “get it right” the first time. Sure, they may have recognized notes quickly and learned a song only after a couple of tries. That doesn’t mean their technique was up to par. Even virtuosos were sloppy in the beginning.

The most important thing is practicing regularly and overall putting in the effort. The more you play, the better you get. When you play, you can develop your own style and accomplish your goals.

And again, just because a player is naturally gifted doesn’t mean they will be successful. The dedication and ambition you hold matters more than anything.

I’ve been a music journalist for nearly 10 years and have met various guitar virtuosos. But do I bother to do press for them if they’re not successful? No.

That’s because many virtuosos I met don’t take the time to promote themselves, play shows, regularly release music, etc. I would rather promote artists who invest in themselves and their playing. Because those are the artists who gain success, regardless of how amazing they are.

Bottomline

If you’re just learning guitar, you may be wondering how long it will take to be a rockstar.

While it’s easy to create a timeline, every guitar player has their own ways of learning, different goals, and other aspects that may affect how they learn. The best thing to do is learn the basics, identify your weaknesses, and set goals. At the end of the day, you never stop learning, so have fun while climbing up the guitar totem pole.

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