Everyone wants to be a guitarist at some point in their life. Whether they make that commitment is another question.
Learning musical instruments, for some people is a fun hobby, for other people, it’s how they pay their rent.
Learning guitar can seem like a scary challenge for some. If you’ve not had any musical experience it feels like you’re learning a new language.
Although, if you practice daily, you will be able to play well in a short amount of time.
The quickest way of putting it is: guitar can be learned in a month or two, but it takes a lifetime to master.
This post explains how long it takes to learn guitar and outlines the key areas of knowledge to learn.
What equipment do I need to learn to play guitar?
Guitars are a brilliant musical instrument to learn and by far one of the easiest, cheapest, and least hassle. Anybody with an interest in music should at least try to learn guitar once in their life.
All you really need is a guitar, tuner, and some way of accessing sheet music, be it a phone, books, or a laptop.
A new good beginner guitar can be picked up for less than $100 these days.
Second-hand guitars can also be picked up from charity or junk shops for under $50.
Either an electric or acoustic guitar will do, I’d recommend buying one of each eventually.
Bear in mind you will also need an amplifier if you use an electric guitar. Acoustic guitars might be easier for beginners as they are more portable, and require less setting up than an electric guitar.
A tuner of some form is essential. I’d recommend buying a clip-on tuner or using a mobile app like SoundCorset or one of the many free tuning apps. I wouldn’t even bother learning until you have a tuner to hand. Playing an out-of-tune guitar will sound terrible, no matter how skilled you are.
Sheet music & technique books are another essential for learning guitar. Whether you use physical books or downloads, these are key to developing your knowledge of music theory and guitar. I’d recommend buying some guitar scale and guitar chord chart books for reference. These days music books can be picked up at affordable prices from your local music store or online.
Ultimate Guitar has a huge amount of sheet music and TAB for popular songs. UG was one of my favorite resources as a guitar student.
A music stand is also super useful and often underappreciated. There’s nothing more annoying than wrestling with a book to keep it open when you just want to practice some basic chords.
As for other accessories, a guitar strap, gig bag, capo, and guitar picks are also very useful. It’s also worth stocking up on spare strings in case they break. Check out my other post about how often guitar strings need changing.
Why should I learn guitar?
If you’re interested in learning a musical instrument, guitars are a great place to start a lifelong journey of musical discovery. If you’re looking for a new hobby, learning guitar is a lot of and practice time is a good way to spend your free time.
Trust me, I’ve tried to learn instruments from all categories: strings, winds, percussion, and more.
I found guitar the quickest and least painful to learn.
Wind instruments felt a lot harder, with breathing techniques taking a long time to master. Not to mention the pain and confusion of transposing, and difficulty finding sheet music.
Drums, they’re my favorite instrument, but also the hardest to practice. Not so much in technique, but space-wise. Drums take up a lot of room, and are super loud, so expect complaints from the neighbors and spouse…
Guitars don’t face either of these issues. They’re portable, small, can be played quietly, and are one of the least fatiguing instruments to play.
Moreover, there is a staggering amount of resources for learning the guitar. From free courses, youtube videos, sheet music websites, I never struggled to find what I was looking for.
Research shows enormous psychological benefits associated with learning a musical instrument. This includes reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, with an increase in confidence, vigor, and happiness. Playing with other musicians is also beneficial, and a lot of fun!
How long does learning guitar take?
To answer this question properly, you’ll need to have an understanding of what you want to learn and decide what your guitar goals are.
What does it mean to “learn guitar”?
I think everyone has a different perception of the term. Think about your end goal, what do you want to achieve from learning guitar.
Do you just want to learn just enough to have fun, and play a bit with other musicians?
Maybe you just want to learn a few chords, and a couple of your favorite songs to play with friends or perform for your family?
Alternatively, maybe you want to become the next legendary guitar virtuoso of your generation, you want to write your own music with maximum skill. Do you want your guitar playing skills to rival Hendrix, Brian May, Frank Zappa, Jack White, or one of the many greats? Because these names are real-life examples of serious students of the guitar.
Because how far you want to go with it will dictate how long it will take to learn guitar.
Try to map out what you want to learn, and work out a rough timeline to guide yourself.
The learning process differs for everyone. Try to find a routine that balances well with your lifestyle. Fill your practice sessions with topics you are interested in.
The methods you use to learn will also affect how long it will take to learn guitar. Getting a guitar teacher is a better idea than teaching yourself – for some students, it’s the only way. I recommend absolute beginners at least trying out a few guitar lessons.
Although some people will prefer to teach themselves which is also fine.
The basic skills required to play guitar can be learned within a month or two. Provided you practice about an hour to two hours every couple of days. The more practice sessions you squeeze in, the quicker you will progress.
This includes basic strumming patterns, some simple chords, and maybe some simplified versions of 1 or 2 of your favorite songs. Pick songs with simple rhythms and chord progressions – don’t try to learn harder songs early on!
This would include basic knowledge of the strings, tuning, and fretboard.
You should be comfortable when strumming chords and picking basic melodies.
You should start to read music as early as possible, the more you practice the quicker it will become natural.
Maybe pick a simple song like Seven Nation Army and learn it the entire way through.
More intermediate techniques can be learned in an additional 2 months to a year. This would include understanding and implementing bar chords and power chords.
Within this time, you should start learning chords and chord shapes in more detail. You should begin to understand chord construction, and Keys.
During this time, once the basics are mastered, I would recommend having a practice session with other musicians and guitar players.
Practicing with other students will improve your skills massively and is more effective than solo practice hours.
It would also be wise to experiment with both an electric and acoustic guitar. At this stage, after about 6 months you should be able to write your own songs on guitar, as well as play songs from your favorite artists. You should try to learn as many full songs as possible.
Beyond the intermediate stage, becoming a virtuoso or professional guitarist is a lifelong pursuit.
Having a comprehensive understanding of the guitar, the fretboard, musical theory, and associated techniques require a rigorous practice schedule.
Becoming a next-level guitar player takes a lot of dedication and practice time. If you want to get to the same level of skill as famous players, you should probably practice daily, for as long as possible.
You will have to become very critical and aware of your own playing to progress and practice consistently. Record your practice time, listen back, and analyze what you liked or didn’t. Listen for areas where you can improve your technique.
Try to learn all your favorite songs, then rewrite them in your own voice. Develop a unique and recognizable guitar sound. Your signature sound includes the tone of the amp and the guitar, the theory you use, your scales, chords, influences, and the emotions and attitude you play with.
What skills do I need to learn guitar?
First, you need to master the physical technique of playing guitar.
This includes the dexterity and coordination of both left and right hands.
Articulation and expression develop as a byproduct of practicing technique.
You should learn the fretboard and where each note is and how they connect.
Professional guitarists do regular workout exercises to improve their muscle strength and coordination. Your muscles need to form a strong relationship with the feel of a guitar, so playing it becomes natural.
Increasing hand and finger strength make it easier to perform more complex guitar maneuvers at ease, such as hammer-ons and pull-offs. Try to work out your pinky and ring finger as much as possible as these are often the weakest digits.
Although, having pinky fingers as ripped as an ox’s backside is only one step to being a great guitarist…
Understanding theory is essential to becoming a functional guitarist and musician.
There’s a lot to learn here, from acoustics to keys, intervals, modes, melody, harmony, timbre…. The list goes on and on.
The deeper your understanding of musical theory is, the better musician you will become.
Being a good musician revolves around your level of expertise in the maths, science, and art of music. Learning and analyzing your favorite songs is a great way to learn theory whilst connecting with the music itself.
An understanding of theory is important for communication when working with other musicians. You need to be able to talk and understand the language of music – “Play a perfect fifth… use more swing… accent the fourth note of each bar”. You should be able to understand all this lingo, including these specific examples.
If you play in bands there will be a great deal of discussion about theoretical elements of music. Whilst you learn guitar, make sure you are learning theory in parallel.
It’s also important to learn about chords, particularly as a guitarist. A good guitarist will be able to play most chords without much thought. It can take a while to learn them all in and out, how they are constructed, how they connect, but the process is worth it.
Guitarists need to understand the difference between major, minor and extended chords.
They should understand chord quality, chord construction, and progressions.
A variety of techniques for creating chords are available on the guitar. The more a guitarist learns, the more fluid their playing will become.
Barre chords are an important example of these chord techniques. These chords use 1 shape that can be moved around the fretboard to change its key. For example, take an F Major Chord in a barre shape, move it 2 frets higher and it becomes a G Major. These are different from open chords which don’t always transpose well.
Scales & Modes:
Scales are equally important for guitarists, particularly those looking to play solo or lead guitar.
The more scales a guitarist learns, the more expression and depth they will convey in their playing.
Some important scales to learn are Major, Minor, Pentatonic, Blues, Harmonic Minor.
Modes are a type of scale that evoke certain emotions in music. Their names sound like gibberish at first – Dorian, Phrygian, Locrian, but understanding modes endlessly improves players’ improvisational skills.
Building a large repertoire of learned songs is a cornerstone of good musicianship.
Learning songs helps players put theoretical knowledge into practice. At least half of each practice session should be dedicated to learning a new song or practicing others.
Not only do you learn the song, so you can play it to an audience, or with other musicians, but you also get a better understanding of how the music was written. This understanding will help you write better music yourself.
It helps you to get inside the head of the composer when they wrote the song.
Playing songs is a strong way to learn theory and composition.
Often overlooked in practice, rhythm refers to the timing of playing.
Practicing and understanding rhythm will help you play better with other musicians, and create more compelling performances.
Guitarists should try to practice to a metronome as much as possible. It will massively improve the groove and timing of their playing.
Learning how to read rhythms from sheet music is important if players want to work with other musicians.
Can you teach yourself guitar?
Absolutely. Many great guitarists taught themselves.
It’s an interesting concept because, in some way, most knowledge we learn originates from other people.
When people say they “taught themselves guitar”, they usually mean they didn’t have a guitar teacher.
They probably learned from books or YouTube videos, so in a way, they are being taught by someone else, but really it meant they never had someone sitting in the room with them telling them what to do.
Having a good teacher can be a great idea for, and give learners a clear structure to achieve correct technique. Although not everyone will work well in this way and will prefer to follow their own path, which is equally fine.
I’m mostly self-taught. I had guitar lessons for a year when I was about 8 but didn’t stick at it long. I started playing guitar again when I was about 12 and started teaching myself from books, YouTube videos, and TABs from Ultimate Guitar.
How fast can I learn guitar?
The guitar can be learned relatively quickly, it depends on how much time, and how consistently you can spend practicing. After the basics are learned, it becomes a different game. The more time you put in, the better you get.
If you only practice 1 hour a week, it might take a year to learn to a decent standard. If you play for 2-3 hours a day, you could be getting somewhere within a month. It depends on your learning capabilities and the amount of effort you are willing to commit.
The absolute basics can be learned in about 5-10 hours
Intermediate skills come anywhere from 100 to 1000 hours.
After 1000-2000 hours of practice, most people could be coming to a professional level.
Research suggests mastery of a skill requires around 10,000 hours of practice.
So if you practiced 4 hours a day, it would take 2500 days, or around 7 years to master the skill. At this level, theoretically, you could be on par with maestro’s like Bach, Mozart, Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix, and others.
It’s also about consistency. The longer you wait to practice, the more your technique decays. Your muscle memory and techniques can start to fade after a month of inactivity.
If you play consistently, you will progress faster.
If you want to be the next guitar virtuoso, you better get practicing!
Can I learn guitar in 2 months?
If you practice for an hour or so every day, within 2 months you should have a solid understanding of the basics of playing guitar.
You won’t be the next Slash, but you’ll be on your way.
If you dedicate yourself to long, regular practice sessions, you could probably reach an intermediate level within 2 months.
To increase your skill level this quickly I’d recommend practicing about 6-8 hours a day!
Good luck! My biggest tip is to be patient with yourself, don’t get frustrated, and practice regularly alone and with others!