How Long Does it Take To Learn Guitar (Realistic Timeline)

If you’ve found your way to this article, chances are you’re either thinking of learning the guitar or may have already taken the plunge. It’s a pretty normal question to ask – how long does it take to learn guitar?

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Learning the basics of the guitar is not difficult, but mastering it is a lifelong journey full of hard work, challenges, triumphs, and exciting milestones!

Short Answer:

On average it takes around 2 to 6 months, or somewhere between 100 to 500 practice hours, to learn to play guitar at a beginner level. At this point, you will grasp the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to play basic notes, chords, and songs on the guitar.

Here is a table that shows an even more detailed timeline.

Skill LevelApproximate HoursSkills
Beginner100 to 500Basic understanding of fundamentals. Know several notes and chords and even a few beginner level songs. Basic strumming and rhythm ability.
Intermediate500 to 1500Able to grasp concepts of key signatures, scales, strumming techniques, and song structure. Have an expanded catalog of chords, scales, riffs, and songs in your repertoire.
Advanced1500 to 5000Expert understanding of key, tempo, tone, dynamics, etc. Be able to play a wide catalog of songs and riffs. Have an ability to improvise on songs you know and begin to write your own songs and riffs.
Professional5000+Able to effectively play with other capable musicians. Easily able to learn on the fly and play new material with minimal preparation time. Expert improvising skills and ability to compose material. Possess knowledge and ability to begin teaching the guitar to beginner players.

Instead of asking how long it takes, start by asking yourself how much time you’re willing to put in each day and each week practicing the guitar. The bottom line is that your skill on any instrument is directly proportional to the amount of time you invest in it. For example, someone who puts in three hours of dedicated practice every day is going to become a pro at the guitar a lot faster and easier than someone who puts in the same amount of time in a week.

Top Ten Tips To Speed Up The Learning Process

1. Keep all distractions away while you practice. Twenty minutes of focused practice is hands down more beneficial than an hour of distracted noodling.

2. Set achievable goals and keep smashing them.

3. Set up a dedicated practice space that’s comfortable and inspiring.

4. Only practice when you know you will be able to focus (Eg: not when you’re tired or stressed out)

5. With any new chord, scale or exercise, start slow. Building precision takes time, building speed does not.

6. Practice the songs you like rather than learning songs that you’ve not heard before. The return on investment, and the sense of achievement that follows, are always higher.

7. Make your practice sessions as musical as possible. If done correctly, you can make even a chromatic scale sing and swing.

8. It’s good to learn from your peers but bad to compare your progress with theirs.

9. Once you’ve mastered the basics, study other instruments to see what you can learn from them. The goal is to be a full-fledged musician, not just a guitarist.

10. And lastly, even if you practice a little, practice often.

Establish Your Goals

Here is a great video on how to set guitar goals for beginners:

On average, the extreme novice phase lasts around 150 hours, that’s 6.25 days if you’re playing 24 hours a day. Now because that’s impossible, expect the first leg of your guitar journey aka the most non-musical one, to last a few months. This is the time where your fingertips are sore 24×7 and the metronome is your archenemy. See yourself through these hiccups and take time to establish certain goals. Want to learn the guitar just enough that it supports you while you sing? A basic level of proficiency is all you need. Want to join a band and let your guitar do the talking? We’re talking mid to pro levels of efficiency. With a goal in mind, practicing every day not only gets easier but also becomes more enjoyable.

How To Get Started On The Guitar

The first step to learning the guitar is learning how to approach the instrument with the right mindset. Let’s start with two assumptions – everyone learns at their own pace and the beginning is the most tricky part. Ask any guitarist who’s achieved some level of proficiency and they’ll all be glad to tell you how the first few weeks with the guitar are as dull as they are challenging! It’s in this period that most give up because they don’t see how they could ever get the guitar to create sounds that even remotely resemble music.

Mentally Prepare Yourself

Forget the guitar, when it comes to learning anything new, there’s never a standard pace. Some take to the guitar as a duck takes to water and breeze through the basics in a couple of weeks, while others take months. It’s not a race and never will be. That’s why comparing your pace with others is only going to highlight your pitfalls, something that’s unnecessary when you’re gearing up to learn something new.

Enjoy The Journey

The best way to tackle this is to enjoy every bit of the process, even the challenging parts! Sure, this sounds easier said than done but let me tell you something that you may not have thought of. Stop thinking of beginner exercises as punishment. While you think that it can’t get more non-musical than this, a lot is happening under the surface. You are forcing your brain to literally transform. Your neurons are firing in ways they never have before. Your muscles are processing new movements, new sensations, which will eventually become ingrained in their memory. You’re forcing your eyes, fingers, and ears to work at the same time. All this and a whole lot more. So, even the most boring, the dullest sounding exercises are doing their bit by taking you a step closer to the guitarist you want to become.

How To Make Practicing Guitar Fun

In the first few weeks or your first 150 hours, nothing is more important than what you practice and how you practice it. Prioritize the guitar on your list of extra-curricular activities. Replace your binge-watching sessions with binge-practice sessions, and while those hours won’t be as much fun, you’ll be building a solid foundation for your guitar playing in the future. Also, remember to maximize your practice sessions. If you have just twenty minutes to dedicate to the guitar every day, let it be twenty minutes of undivided attention. Keep all distractions like your phone, your siblings, your pets, etc. away and focus ONLY on the guitar.

Your practice sessions needn’t be limited to just physically playing the instrument. Take time out to bookmark your favorite lessons on the internet and build a timetable to follow. With set goals in mind, you’ll automatically align to achieving these goals, because FOMO affects our generation more than ever. When you look back after a few years, it is these grueling practice sessions that will become your warm-up sessions before you play a gig or set up in the studio.

Research your practice extensively because this is a time to strengthen your finger muscles as much as your ears. From playing chromatics (one note per fret) on a metronome to learning the basic shapes of chords to learning how to alternate pick – it all starts here and how you practice during this time will invariably reflect in your guitar playing in the future.

P.S – It’s easy to get lost in or overwhelmed by the number of online lessons on the web. My tip is to make a note of them all and perfect one before progressing to the other.

Learning To Play Your Favorite Songs

Oh, the reason why we started in the first place – playing our favorite songs! Contrary to popular belief of perfecting fundamentals first, you can start playing a two-chord song in as few as two days, but that’s not all you want out of the guitar, is it? Most guitar tutors, in person or online, will spend weeks on the fundamentals. While that approach has its merits, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few shortcuts. Realistically, learning to play a song you know and love is going to be a lot more rewarding than learning all the positions of the major scale. The quicker you get to the goal of playing your favorite songs, the better it is for your enthusiasm.

While playing the whole song from start to end may be biting off more than you can chew, break the whole thing down into achievable parts. Maybe start with the notes of the intro to Smoke On The Water than the power chords or get comfortable with picking the open notes of the intro to Nothing Else Matters. Remember to move to the next step ONLY after you’ve perfected the previous one.

This is easier said than done and like us all, I too am guilty of rushing straight to the complex parts. It’s only experience that’s making me write these borderline preachy things, but in time you’ll see the truth yourself. Start small, go slow, and make the metronome your best friend.
Nothing wrong with playing you the songs you want and there’s loads of merit in learning the fundamentals – we’ve established this much.

We live in an age where we have access to more information than we’ve ever had before and with a few well worded Google searches, you’ll be able to build a practice schedule where you can club learning both fundamentals plus your favorite songs. For example, take a look at our article covering two-chord songs here. While you’re learning these songs, you’re also learning rhythm, chord switching, and strumming. Two birds, one stone.

Timeline To Learning Guitar

Let’s take a closer look at your timeline to learning guitar:

First 1 to 3 months

In your first three months, the things you want to focus on are finger independence – being able to move your fingers at will, a basic sense of rhythm, and a set of beginner chords. If you perfect these three aspects, you’ll be well on your way to playing songs close to the six-month mark, I promise. Along with playing the guitar, this is a great time to focus on a few ancillary things which I’ll be happy to list out for you.

Perfect Your Posture

Let’s start right at the beginning – your posture and the way you hold your guitar. A few internet searches should show you a fair few ways of how to do it right. Pick the one that feels most natural and comfortable to you. You’ll notice the way you position your entire body, not just your fingers, has a big impact on your playing. This is a tip that I’d like you to carry all through your guitar-playing journey. There have been innumerable instances of students being unable to play barre chords or scales only because of their posture and the way they hold the guitar wasn’t correct

Make Rhythm and Time Your Friends

Timing is what gives music its structure. If you’re finding it hard to keep time to a basic rhythm, it’s alright to put your guitar down and first simply learn to effortlessly clap your way through a song. Let me tell you another thing that’s stuck with me through all my years of playing the guitar. The human body is naturally primed to keep time. Our hearts beat inside us at equal intervals from the day we’re born till the day we die. We’re literally walking talking metronomes. And if your heart can do it without your active involvement, there’s no way you can’t keep time with a little bit of attention and determination. Once you’ve gotten the clapping section down to pat, pick up your guitar and let metronome guide your practice sessions.

Build Your Finger Strength

Next, I’d like to address finger strength. Building strength and flexibility is not a one-time process but a lifelong journey. Initially, you’ll find playing the guitar for even five minutes painful but slowly and surely, you’ll progress to a stage where you’re unaware of how countless hours have passed you by. Understanding how to hold the guitar correctly is a very important aspect of building finger strength. Ensure your thumb rests across the fretboard, acting almost like a pivot while your fingers do the rest. When done correctly, this should help distribute the pressure evenly between your thumbs and fingers. One exercise that I swear by is the basic chromatic exercise which ensures all your fingers are forced to perform at the same efficiency. In the beginning, people generally tend to ignore the pinky but this exercise ensures that all your fingers get equal attention.

Prioritize Practice

Practicing regularly is great, practicing every day is even better but pushing your body beyond its limits is where you should draw the line. In the first few weeks, the enthusiasm may take over causing you to push yourself long after you’ve worn your fingers out. This can have disastrous effects on your hands in the future (look up carpal tunnel syndrome) and may force you to abandon the instrument for good. Pro tip – stop when it hurts, resume when it doesn’t.
If you’re like 90% of the guitarists who’re just starting, chances are that you’ll play the guitar with a pick. Get comfortable holding that little piece of plastic between your thumb & forefinger and while you perfect your up and down strokes, don’t ignore alternate picking. As with everything else on the guitar, start slow and build speed only when you perfect the previous stage.

Start with Basic Chords

With chords, I suggest starting with the most basic set, which sounds good in conjunction with each other and also requires the least finger intervention. My picks would be learning and perfecting basic open chords such as Em, A, Am, E, Dsus2, Cmaj7, and G, before moving to slightly more advanced chords like F, Bm, Bb, and the rest.

These chords are your gateway into working your way through songs and building your way to complex barred chords, giving you a much-needed sense of achievement in your first few months. In your research sessions, you’ll find multiple ways of playing a single chord. Try not sticking to just the easy options. Build your repertoire by adding different variations of chords.

Rhythm & Strumming

During this time, you’ll also build a feel for rhythm and strumming. If you’ve played Guitar Hero growing up, this process might seem a bit more natural, but nothing that should worry you at this stage. With strumming, you’ll learn how to control the movement of your hand to mimic the rhythm sections of your favorite songs. More than thinking of strumming as a pattern of up and down strums, think of it as a reflection of the rhythm of the song that’s dictated by the beat and swing.

3 to 6 months

You’ve practiced your chords, you’ve figured out at least one scale, you’ve tried learning elementary songs, but something still doesn’t feel quite right. Welcome to the section of guitar playing where most people call it quits thinking the guitar isn’t the right instrument for them. This period of time is the true test of how bad you want to learn the guitar – was this a fad or is this an activity that brings a sense of satisfaction to you? If you sail through this period smoothly, the answer is option two, otherwise, unfortunately, it’s the first. If you’re committed to the craft, during this time you’ll be aware of your strengths and limitations.

Comfortable With Chords

Your fingers should have developed the beginnings of a callus and you won’t wince as much as you used to. You’ll be fairly comfortable with the basics and switching from the D chord to Em and back to D shouldn’t cause debilitating anxiety. This is a decent time to progress to slightly compound chords like C and F. With the addition of just these two chords, a whole library of new songs opens up and you could very well be on your way to playing your first 4-chord song.

Put In The Work

We’re painting quite a rosy picture for you but the truth may not always be so. It is at this time that making any new progress takes weeks, if not days. Practice regimes start getting repetitive and you’ll find yourself at the cross-section of being able to play the basics but struggling with anything beyond. Relax, you’re not alone. We’ve all gone through this grey patch without knowing how long it will last.

Remember Why You Started

My advice to anyone at this stage would be to just stick with it if it gives you joy. At this stage, it is true that you can’t call yourself a guitarist, but you aren’t just limited to the basics either. Rather than just making a list of things to achieve with deadlines next to them, inject fun back into your practice sessions. Playing guitar is all about channeling music and the process of channeling music first starts in your head, not your hands. Take the time to listen to more music, find similar artists, and explore new genres. With this, your musical acumen and your capacity for consuming and retaining new music start growing.

With more music inside your head, you’ll be playing more music with your hands. On some days you might suddenly get possessed by the thought of transcribing a melody, on others you might become infatuated with an exotic-sounding rhythm. Rather than a myopic view, now is a great time to holistically start looking at music and not just music that you can play on the guitar.

Also, another thought that should give you comfort is that at one point in time, every single guitarist that you adore has been through this same patch. But they didn’t give up and if you want to mimic even a fraction of their ability, you shouldn’t either. It’s not easy, I won’t lie, but you don’t need me reminding you that no great thing is.

6 to 18 months

You should find yourself in a comfortable space each time you pick up the guitar. You may not be busting face-melting solos or riffs just about yet, but you’ll find yourself at home playing a typical 4 chord song. At this point, you’ll start consuming music slightly differently too. Each new song you hear becomes either a song to learn or learn something from. You’ll foray into the world of scales and you’ll easily be able to tell the difference between the major and minor scales.

You might even be confident enough to pull out your guitar and play it in front of people – but all this only if you dedicatedly put in the work in the first six months. At this point, you’ll be in a position to decide if you want to stick to the guitar as a hobby instrument or really get into its unending world. With the exposure to music and data, you’ll always find yourself with that next thing to want to learn and perfect.

Some may even find this stage the right time to try out the electric guitar. While not the benchmark, this may be the time you start developing your own voice with music too. You’ll find that some genres speak a lot more to you than others and you’ll find yourself pursuing these territories sonically, even with your guitar playing.

2 Years And Beyond

At this point, you should be able to practically find your way all across the fretboard. You’ll pick barre chords over standard ones because they’ll sound fuller, giving you a lot more control with your rhythm playing. You’ll also be able to slide in some smooth licks between your rhythm playing. Your friends and family will finally recognize you as a legit guitarist. At this point, you may even find yourself wondering what to play next, having covered most of the elementary and intermediate stuff. And this is not the first time you’ll feel like this.

Through your guitar-playing journey (if you stick with it), you’ll find yourself reaching the end of your to-do list, wondering what to explore next. A foolproof way of finding your mojo again is to listen to music that lies way outside your comfort zone. You don’t know which section will trigger your brain and in which direction that trigger might take you. But wherever you find yourself, at this stage one thing is certain – you’ll find joy in exploring and learning new things, and playing the guitar won’t seem like a chore anymore.

You’ll even come up with your own hacks which you can pass on to other players and vice versa. It is at this stage that you’ll start thinking of music less from a guitar and more from an arrangement point of view. This is also when you’ll start writing material that reflects your sensibilities and expression. From here on, if you keep your practice schedules efficient and consistent, things are bound to only look up.

The above timeline is mostly keeping the acoustic guitar in mind. However, while we’re on the topic, let me also briefly address a few other string instruments that you can progress to.

Recap:

Infographic Showing How Long it Takes to Learn to Play Guitar

How long does it take to learn electric guitar?

While there are and will always be anomalies, most people start with the acoustic guitar and then progress to the electric. There are several reasons that justify this progression. An acoustic guitar is a no-frills instrument that you can pick up and start playing; the electric guitar requires amps, cables, pedals, and more. The acoustic guitar is also not as sensitive or resonant as the electric, thus helping you build finger dexterity, strength, and precision.

And last, from a monetary point of view, an acoustic guitar will set you back by only a few hundred dollars while an electric guitar is a much more significant investment. I’d say switching to the electric more or less after two years is a decently timed move. But, as you dive deeper into the electric style of guitar playing, you’ll realize that the world may call them both guitars, but as instruments, they’re as different as chalk and cheese. The electric guitar comes with its own fundamentals, which means it’s back to school again in a number of ways, but if you find the process of learning music fun, this should be more exciting than overwhelming.

How long does it take to learn bass guitar?

If you ask me, I’d say other than theory, there’s nothing in common between the guitar and the bass. As an instrument, I’d place the bass exactly in between the guitar and the drums. While you can use your theory along with your comfort with the pick to kickstart your journey with the bass, fundamentally, the instrument has a completely different playing style, sound, and purpose.

However, it’s easier for an elementary guitarist to start learning the bass rather than the other way around. Considering you’ll be starting from scratch; the bass should take around the same amount of time as the acoustic guitar to attain a certain level of proficiency.

Final Thoughts

There is no perfect answer to the question – how long does it take to learn guitar? Learning the guitar, or any instrument for that matter is similar to riding a bike. Go too fast without mastering the basics and you’ll crash. However, once you’re through with the basics, you’re in it for the long haul. If for some reason, you have to quit and return to the instrument years later, you’ll find that your chops haven’t completely deserted you, and getting back on track is easier than you thought it would be. I’m more than excited for you to embark on this journey, which will arrive with its own set of unique challenges, but when you’ll look back you’ll find nothing but joy.

If you’re a guitarist, it would be great if you would leave a comment on how long it has taken you to learn guitar. It would be valuable information to others who are just starting out. If you’re a newbie and are bursting with questions, leave them in the comments below. Also, take a look at our step-by-step guide of how you can teach yourself to play the guitar here.

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