QUICK HIT: How long does it take to learn guitar? My answer to this question takes as much context and concrete time lengths into consideration as possible.
This question is difficult to answer.
How long does it take to learn guitar?
It requires a context and variables be taken into consideration, meaning a straight answer should be preceded by a look at your own situation so you can fill in some of those variables.
Yet, as someone who started learning guitar from a typical starting age (I was 9 years old when I started playing) I can give you some conventional answers and estimated lengths of time.
How long does it take to learn guitar? (the simple answer)
Broadly, you can put aspiring guitarists into two camps: Casual and intentional, both with different goals, practice frequencies, and established skills after a set period of time.
- Casual guitarist
- Intentional guitarist
The easy answer to how long it takes to learn guitar - for either scenario - is about six months.
This of course will vary depending on the frequency and length of practice sessions.
However, it also assumes you're talking about the length of time it takes to learn the most common and basic guitar topics. Applying those topics in different styles and creative expression takes longer.
- First six months: Topical learning and memorization
- Second six months (six to 12 months): Application of those topics
You might say that the first six months is where you learn guitar while the second six months is where you learn how to apply what you've learned and actually play the guitar.
Let's look at two possible scenarios for those first six months of topical learning.
Scenario 1: The Casual Learner
- Goals: Playing for self, friends or simple scenarios
- Practice Frequency: 2-3 times per week
- Skill level after six months: Familiar with chords, basic progressions, chord changes and rhythm. Able to play easy songs and simple melodies
Scenario 2: The Intentional Learner
- Goals: Proficiency & specialty. Playing as a serious hobby or semi professional
- Practice Frequency: 6-7 times per week
- Skill level after six months: Comfortable with learning and playing songs, faster tempos, and a mild level of complexity in technique, chords, melody, and theory
Topics for the First Six Months
Here are some of the topics you should be focusing on during the first six months:
- Chords (general)
- Chord Progressions and basic chord changes
- Open, barre, and power chords
- Simple melody
- Basic music theory
This doesn't mean you'll be an expert in all these areas.
However, it does mean that - at a basic level - you should be somewhat comfortable with them within a six-month time frame. By that time you'll be able to start applying them in a more practical way, which will help you begin to cement your own playing style.
What if you want to reduce the amount of time you spend learning guitar and arrive sooner at the application stage where you can start playing?
There are a couple things you can do.
How to Reduce the Amount of Time it Takes
Not everybody processes information at the same speed.
There will be variance in the time it takes each person to learn guitar based on learning style alone.
However, there are things you can do to shorten the amount of time you need to spend on topical memorization, getting you to playing songs and applying musical knowledge sooner.
Use an Online Guitar Lesson Program
I'm a big fan of learning guitar from online video courses and have several that I consistently recommend and use myself.
The following four are all Guitar Chalk partners as I've personally gone through their programs myself and can verify their quality.
ONLINE GUITAR LESSON PROGRAMS We RECOMMEND
Having access to lessons on-demand like this can significantly decrease the amount of time you spend sorting things out on your own. Even if you already have an in-person teacher, I'd highly recommend pairing it with one of these programs.
It's one of the quickest available ways to start playing songs and applying what you're learning as a guitar student.
These programs are also able to do this without sacrificing important details about theory and knowing the guitar.
In other words, it gets you playing without taking shortcuts or cheating you out of important foundational knowledge.
Tweak the Amount of Time You Spend Practicing and the Way You Practice
It should be obvious that the amount of time you spend practicing, especially in the earlier months, will profoundly impact the length of time before you can actually play. During those earlier months where you're laying a foundation of topical knowledge and doing a lot of memorization, it's important to practice longer and more frequently.
You should also make sure you're intentionally back-tracking and reinforcing previously-covered topics.
That type of learning path might look like this:
- Learn topic #1
- Learn child topic of topic #1
- Review topic #1 and child topic before moving on
- Learn topic #2
As you practice this way, you'll build up a body of knowledge that includes chords, scales, melody and basic music theory that you're constantly reviewing.
If you can practice this way, the physical strength will come. You will also develop a familiarity and connectivity with the fretboard by the time the first six months of learning is behind you.
Results by Month and Time Practicing
To get really specific, we can make some educated guesses or "sign posts" for what you should know or have experience with after certain amounts of time playing the guitar have passed. Again, this is typical but not necessarily a hard rule.
It assumes an average commitment to practice and perhaps the assistance of an online program or in-person teacher. Needless to say, results may vary.
- 1 - 2 months: Single notes, simple chords, guitar anatomy and basic guitar/music theory-related vocabulary
- 3 - 6 months: Intervals, triadic chords, open chords, barre chords, basic scales and comfort with some songs and chord progressions
- 1 year: Scale-related theory, moderately-complex melodies, rhythm and strumming patterns, broad technique (bends, vibrato, etc.) and full power chord progressions
- 2 years: Style-specific technique, comfort with moderate speeds and tempos, ability to track songs, playing or improvising by ear, understanding of intervalic tones, chord progression theory and guitar-related music theory
- 5 years: Comfort with faster tempos and speed playing, able to follow songs or improvise on the fly, narrowly-focused on particular styles and creative interests, advanced knowledge of applicable music theory
How much time should I spend practicing guitar?
As a general rule and to meet these time markers, I recommend guitar students practice between 30 and 90 minutes at least five times per week. If you can do more, by all means do more. But, that 30 to 90-minute marker is a good "par" to aim for and go above if you can.
The more time you spend with the guitar, in any capacity, the better off you'll be.
How long does it take to learn guitar songs?
As I mentioned earlier, it's common to be able to tackle basic songs within the first three to six months of playing guitar. While there are some programs that are setup to get you playing songs faster (for example, Fender Play's program markets itself on this assumption) I don't advise moving into songs too quickly because you end up short-changing foundational skills in favor of cold memorization.
You might learn songs, but you won't really know how or why those songs make sense. You'll learn to memorize patterns, but you won't understand the structure beneath those patterns.
Three to six months should give you enough time to develop a foundational skill set while also getting into introductory guitar songs.
When it is "okay" to start or join a band?
While it can always be helpful to collaborate or learn in a group with other musicians, I wouldn't advise seriously pursuing music as a profession until you're at least two years into your study of the guitar.
This gives you enough time to get comfortable with speed (meaning tempo and timing) and to develop your own playing style.
How old is "too old" to start?
A lot of people who write about this topic blow a lot of smoke about "never being too old" to start playing guitar. I agree, but I would also say that's an overly-simplistic and incomplete answer.
Regardless of what the topic is, learning and developing news skills are scientifically proven to get more difficult with age and that all learning is most effectively accomplished before adolescence.
This is why it's important to note that if you're trying to pick up a new skill in adulthood, the longer you wait the more difficult it will be.
Implications for Learning Guitar When You're Older
However, this doesn't mean you can't do it. You just need to be ready for some of the implications, particularly if you're just starting to learn guitar in your 40s or older.
Primarily, you'll want to change the way you practice:
- Give yourself more time with the basics (7-8 months)
- Take the time to learn theory and structure (don't skip ahead)
- Make sure you're taking time to improve and perfect the physical aspects of what you're learning (chord finger choice, stretching, guitar exercises, etc.)
Even if you're older, learning guitar can (and in many cases does) still work. It'll just be a more intentional and perhaps longer investment of time.
So how long does it take to learn guitar?
It can take a long time.
There's no way around that fact.
You can shorten the time with more frequent or longer practice sessions, but even then, the general trajectory will be similar to the month-by-month list I showed you earlier. That's a very typical timeline, especially for those just starting out, having never touched a guitar before.
It's possible to be ahead of that curve, but I wouldn't advise moving too quickly. Take the time to enjoy and really solidify the topics you're working on as they come.
Build a foundation during those first six months, then apply what you've learned.
If you have questions about the learning process or how long it takes to learn guitar, feel free to leave those in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer there.
Rebecca Gardner says
I’m glad you mentioned that it generally takes 3-6 months to be able to play basic songs on the guitar. My friends got their son a guitar for his birthday next week and are currently looking for a place where he can start taking lessons. I think they’ll appreciate the info in your article so they have a general idea of what to expect from the lessons!
Thanks, Rebecca. Glad ya’ll found it helpful.