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How Long Does it Take to Learn the Guitar?

By Jon, published on 20/02/2018 Blog > Music > Guitar > What Amount of Time is Needed to Learn Guitar Playing?

Anyone can learn the guitar, whether it be a child or an adult – and learning how to play guitar is one of the great joys on this earth.

I am therefore very used to speaking to future clients on the phone in order to program one or several guitar lessons.

My guitar classes are mainly for beginners. One question comes back again and again with students:

  • How much time will it take to learn the guitar?
  • How much time does it take to know a piece by heart?
  • How much time until one is considered “good”?
  • How much time does it take to master a technique? 
  • AND above all, when should one play the guitar?

a woman playing the guitar How many hours does it take to learn the guitar?

Believe it or not, in general, I have many difficulties answering these questions–even though I understand them perfectly.

In itself, the immediate answer is pretty simple: there is simply no single answer.  

In fact, it is strictly impossible to answer concretely because everything is case by case and every professional will tell you that a music instrument can always be learnt better and that there are as many styles as there are guitar, which is why some people are so passionate about guitars. 

Until then, don’t forget to look back from time to time. It’s better to look back and see the progress you’ve made then to constantly talk about how you have not been playing as well as you hoped. Play slowly but surely. And get those fingers to work: practice often and well!

The time it takes all depends on what you want to get out of the instrument. If you’re hoping to know music theory and be able to navigate the fretboard like the back of your hand, this will take a lot of work. If you are looking for the basics of fingerstyle and rhythm guitar, there is no reason why this should take you so long at all.

To ‘play guitar’ means nothing in itself. It only means something when you know what that means to you. Do you want to play blues guitar – with its pentatonic guitar solos and basic chords, or do you want to play simple and popular guitar songs? Or, by ‘playing guitar’ do we mean being better than Hendrix or Clapton?

It’s up to you.

The Different Types of Guitar.

Here is some useful general information for you before you set out on learning an instrument.

In general, the guitar has 6 strings. When they are in order, they make the following sound: EADGBE. This is from the lowest note to the highest note (although there are many different alternate tunings that you can use!). You can raise the pitch by stringing further up the neck.

The website www.guitarhistoryfacts.com has ample information on the different guitars on the market. 

Have a look to see which one could be your new guitar!

Classical Guitar
It has six strings. The 3 high-pitched strings are nylon and the three bass strings are nylon threaded of metal in order to make them heavier and diminish their vibration frequency.

The Flamenco Guitar
The guitar strings are identical to those of the classical guitar. You will also find some plastic on the soundbox for the guitar player to slam with the rhythm of the song.

The Acoustic Guitar
The jazz guitar has a more narrow neck than the classical guitar and its high-pitched strings are metal. The acoustic guitarist traditionally plays with a guitar pick.

The Rock Guitar
It is often called the electric guitar. An electronic system allows for the detection of the vibration of strings and transmits them to an amplifier. These models are equipped with certain sound effect buttons and a volume button.

What do you think of learning the guitar in your 50s or 60s?

It’s More a Question of Resources than Time.

The answer to this question varies according to people. It’s difficult to answer in a general manner; if I were in your place I would be confused too. So let me share some of my expertise with you, with the experiences I have gathered with students. Perhaps then I can give you a general answer for this large question: How long does it take to learn the guitar? 

In order to answer, start with the notion that this is more a question of resources than time.

Yes, we are all very different. There is no universal law. But there is one little method that I often give as a response, and if it’s applied correctly it will allow you to progress rapidly and answer your initial question.

In order to learn how to play the guitar as quickly as possible: use the OPWM method.

O for the objective you would like to set; PW for the personal work you intend on doing; M for motivation.

This is why I said earlier that this is all on a case by case basis.

My Tips for Learning to Play the Guitar Quickly

1 – Learning Objectives for the Guitar

This is where you need to think about what you want to get from your guitar. Do you just want to play songs? Do you want to know what power chords are or what a barre chord is? Or do you want to be the best guitar player you can be, brilliant in all guitar techniques – from fingerpicking to improvisation to knowledge of every guitar chord?

You need to know where you would like to be, and what your learning objectives are. These can be anything from knowledge of chord progressions to the most outlandish guitar tricks.

Knowing How to “Mess Around” on your Instrument

Some of you will want to learn the basics of guitar in order to play simple melodies or rhythms, whether it be pop, folk, rock or any other type of music. You will maybe want to accompany your guitar-playing with some simple humming and singing. (“No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley, “Knockin’ on heaven’s door” by Bob Dylan, “Jimmy” by Moriarty, etc.).

a woman playing guitar on stage People in rock bands don’t learn how to play overnight.

I can give you other examples, but there are too many, and the list would be too long. It’s not easy to play a song in its entirety and in a structured manner.

On my end, I have a 12 class pack in place – that is, twelve one-hour sessions which will give you the best chance to succeed. Beware, however, you can’t master the guitar just by coming to my classes. Your motivation has to be at its maximum and your personal work has to be regular. The role of the teacher is there to accompany you during your learning.

Let me repeat myself once again: here, too, things happen on a case by case basis. Some have more time; others are more gifted. It also depends on the guitarist’s age. And, yes, it’s never too late to learn the guitar.

For really invested and motivated people, a trimester is totally fine to have one learn how to “play around” with the guitar.

Learning How to Play Solos on the Guitar

For some, the objective goes further than that. Their objective is to learn complex songs with difficult arpeggios, barre chords, and complicated rhythms. Sometimes they even want to learn guitar solos involving difficult guitar licks that go all over the fret board.

In order to do this, I recommend three packs of 12 guitar lessons, that is, the equivalent of one year in order to really start to master these kinds of techniques.

Once again, this is only really possible if your time is totally invested in guitar learning and your motivation at its peak.

“Case by case” starts to make sense here. Peter may need a month; Paul may need a year; Jack may need several decades… This will also depend on the first guitar you get.

However, understand that to be able to solo well, you should be able to understand the basics of the major scale, the minor scale, the blues scale, and the pentatonic scale – at least. Because soloing is only about you playing the solos of other guitarists – but you playing your own solos too.

2- Personal Investment: Respect your Objectives

It’s true: we all have different lives, different schedules.

In general, each of us have our married life, our single life, our family life, our life with friends, our hobbies, our obligations, our responsibilities, etc…

No one can invest the same amount of time in a given activity. I always hear my students say at the beginning of a guitar lesson: I’m sorry, I haven’t been able to practice in between classes!

I don’t take it badly because I understand it perfectly. It’s life.

However, know that personal work is two to three times more important than working during a class. The time which you spend with a guitar instructor is only a small part of your guitar course. You should therefore prioritize practicing at home. Take some time to practice the guitar; isolate yourself if you have to, and work.

Half of the answer to the question “How long will it take me to know how to play the guitar?” lies here. If you are a beginner guitar player that doesn’t practice, you’ll remain a beginner guitar player forever.

In general, it’s necessary to play half an hour per day. You’ll have some songs to play (maybe ensure your teacher helps you with your favorite songs to keep up motivation) as well as some exercises, ear training, and theory. Do it all – otherwise you’ll never pass guitar lessons for beginners.

3 – Motivation for Wanting to Learn How to Play the Guitar Rapidly

This third point will put everything into perspective. It’s true, your objective is linked with the amount of time you work and this is linked to your motivation.

With this point, there is nothing to say, really, because it’s like everything else: the more motivated you are, the better you will perform – especially if you follow these tips for learning to play the guitar quickly!

Don’t give up if you have some difficulties!

playing guitar upside down is a skill Don’t abandon the guitar just because you are experiencing difficulties…

How Long to Learn to Play Guitar?

O - ObjectiveThis is about identifying where you want to get with your guitar playing. Do you want to be a shredder or a folk guitarist?
PW - Personal WorkPersonal Work is a question of how much effort you put into your practice
M - MotivationYou will find that PW depends on M - your motivation. So, make sure that you ensure that you are well motivated, that practice stays fun, and that you try to achieve your goals.

The Basics in Order to Learn the Guitar

Reading Guitar Tablatures

A guitar tablature looks a lot like a traditional musical stave, but it has six lines instead of five on “classical” stave.

When you learn to play the guitar, you will discover that the six tablature lines correspond to the strings on the guitar.

You will come to write down numbers that indicate which level of the neck you have to strum and pick (the neck is divided into about twenty frets) on the string or strings.

The tablature is a universal notation system allowing for quick retranscription of the chords but also the riffs and arpeggio. You should know that you will never use the spaces between the lines! 

The 6 strings of the guitar’s necks and which musical notes they correspond to.

  • The bass string (E) is all the way up on the neck. It is all the way on the bottom of the tablature.
  • The high-pitch string (E again) (the thinnest, situated all the way at the bottom of the neck) is all the way at the top of tablature.

From bottom to top, here are how the tab lines and the notes equate:

  • Line 1: E
  • Line 2: A
  • 3: D
  • 4: G
  • 5: B
  • 6: E.

The order of the tablature lines is inverted from the order of the strings on the guitar. It can seem a little disconcerting when you begin to play the guitar, but don’t be afraid, you will quickly get used to it when you take guitar lessons!

The website Guitarzero lists a great tip for guitar playing:

« To remedy this problem, there is a simple solution. Slightly tilt the neck of the guitar towards you to orient the bass string E  (E) down in the same way as it is on the tablature. Obviously don’t keep the guitar down, but only for the time necessary to assimilate reading the tablatures. »

tablature is an important of playing the guitar The tablature is the guitarist’s partition. Every line represents a string.

To read a tablature, you have to know that when you see “0” this means you have the play the string without picking it. The “1” corresponds to the first fret, the one directly under the head of the guitar. The other numbers correspond to the frets down the rest of the neck.

Often the tablature is accompanied by a classic stave with the musical notes (black, white, eight-notes,…)

Finally, the guitar tablature should be read from left to right and in a linear fashion. Often you will see several numbers aligned vertically. This means that you have to play two notes at the same time and pluck more than one string of the guitar at the same time. These will be used for open chords, a simple major chord, as well as any chromatic playing you do.

Playing the Guitar: Reading Chord Diagrams

Now, let’s go on to a different diagram: the chord diagram represents the guitar chords when we have the neck in front of us.

Here is a presentation of the chord diagram:

  • Horizontally, you will see the frets in the neck.
  • The vertical lines represent the different strings in the neck, from E all the way to the left to E all the way to the right.
  • The horizontal line above the first fret of the diagram is called the nut and represents the 0 fret (the empty sound of the string, do you remember?)

With this notation system, the strings needing to be plucked are indicated via points on the diagram and copy the position of the fingers on the neck.

Below you will find how the numbers and the fingers of the left hand go together. A budding guitar player will have to learn this to strum some chords.

  • T : Thumb.
  • 1 : Index.
  • 2 : Middle finger.
  • 3 : Ring finger.
  • 4 : Pinky finger.

To sum things up, and in order to make sure that you have understood everything, here is the E minor (Em) chord, which is amongst the most popular when you learn how to play the guitar. Let’s decode it:

chord diagrams for E minor chord The mi minor chord is a classic for the guitar player to learn!

  • First point (A2): you have to play a A with the middle finger (2) on the 2nd fret (second fret starting from the top).
  • Second point (D2): you have to play D with the ring finger (3), still on the second fret.

The other strings have to be strummed without applying pressure to any of the frets.

Knowing How to Play Riffs on the Guitar

Once you figure out how to play chords, you can raise the stakes and try to really play the guitar by learning riffs, which are short musical motifs, that is to say a combination of chords.

In the same right you will discover the pick which allows you to pick the strings even when you aren’t doing it with your nails or the ends of your fingers.

There are many tips in order to learn how to hold a pick correctly. Know that you should hold it between the thumb and the index finger. This is one of the guitar basics.

There a number of websites where you can learn how to play riffs, but the best is to turn towards a private guitar tutor who will allow to you progress more rapidly than if you were teaching yourself. You can also find online guitar video lessons or online guitar lessons with an instructor.

When you start to do well with the guitar, why not try and imitate that Nirvana song which is so famous?

At one point during your youth you dreamt about being Kurt Cobain in order to pick up girls, right? 

Nirvana’s Come As You Are, from the album Nevermind in 1991 was an enormous success.

Hand Positions When Learning the Guitar

We could dedicate an entire chapter to the correct positioning of hands and fingers when it comes to strumming good chords. Instead of detailing everything you will see during a guitar class, here is what you need to keep in mind:

  • You need to apply the right pressure with your fingers in order to obtain the right sound.
  • You have to press the string near the nut that corresponds to the fret. This is situated nearest to the inside of the guitar, in order to avoid disagreeable vibrations.
  • It’s possible to go after strings with the bottom of the fingers. The position of fingers is totally different in both cases.

All these notions can be reinforced during a guitar class with a qualified tutor. 

Learning Guitar with an App: A Fantasy or Reality?

And yes, applications have not stopped short of the musical instrument lesson. It is now possible to download some programs on your smartphone to learn the guitar!

Guitar Coach, available on the App Store, contains a visual method for learning to play famous pieces on the acoustic or electric guitar. The advantage is that this app is free and so you can use it in addition to your lessons with a guitar teacher. Nothing to lose, everything to gain!

For Android smartphone users, Ultimate Guitar Tabs & Chords is a gigantic catalog of guitar chords, tablatures and, world lyrics. You can learn more than 1,000,000 songs with daily free updates. It also promises to teach you how to play the guitar even if you are a total beginner.

Its hourly cost is reasonable. More than 150,000 people have already downloaded this app and it has a rating of more than 4 out of 5 stars.

You’ll Need a Minimum of Three Months in Order to Learn How to Play the Guitar

As you will have understood, the question is not how much time you need to learn to play the guitar but rather how to optimize your learning to reduce this time and enjoy the process.

I insist that these recommendations and opinions are the sole responsibility of me. All teachers do not necessarily see or feel the same things as me.

Moreover, even if you understand the role of OPWM (Objective, Personal Work, Motivation), we do not all have the same capacity to apply them.

It is therefore widely conceivable to start playing simple accompaniments with simple chords and rhythms, or even to accompany singing within a period of 3 months if you put in a lot of personal work and motivation.

In order to play much more complex pieces, elaborate arpeggios, solos, and more complete structures, a year should do (around 40 hours of guitar lessons).

a man playing the electric guitar Practice a whole lot before trying out the solo!

What about in order to do everything you want?

What’s magical about music is that we continue to learn throughout our entire life. This makes guitar playing even more passionate!

Until then, don’t forget to look back from time to time.

This will also help you define what’s the best moment to practice guitar.

It is better to watch and see the progress that we have made, that is, from which we share, than to constantly blame those things from the past we cannot control.

Slowly but surely, and save your fingers!

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