How Long Does it Take to Learn Guitar? And How to Go Further Faster

How long does it take to learn guitar?

It’s a common and reasonable question. We’re keen. We want results. And we want them now.

And if not now, WHEN? What does the road ahead look like? How long will it take?

Learning Time for Guitar – The Philosophical Approach

We could take a philosophical approach. We could say that learning guitar is a lifetime journey.

Great musicians practice, study, and learn all their lives.

As Louis Armstrong said, “Musicians don’t retire. They stop when there’s no more music in them.

But How Long, Really? What Should I Expect?

Everybody is different. Everyone works at different speeds. Everyone has different aptitudes.

But let’s look at some phases we will pass through.

Let’s see where we’d be if we played for say, 20 hours. Or 1000.

We could make these landmarks to aim for.

Common Landmarks: 20 Hours

If we’re going to learn guitar, we need to commit to the first 20 hours.

At 20 hours, we are getting to know the guitar. Our fingers will have started to do what we tell them.

We may have learned some notes or chords. We may have started to read music. We could be playing tunes already. We’ll be seeing results.

Pay attention to good technique right from the start. It will ensure those 20 hours are efficient. We’ll advance further.

If we practice for 15 mins a day, it will take 80 days to hit 20 hours of practice. At 30 minutes per day, we’ll hit this mark after 40 days of practice.

Common Landmarks: 100 Hours

It’s a different experience at 100 hours.

By now, we’re learning more about music theory. We’ll know more notes and more chords. We’ll be able to read music and learn pieces.

We’ll have increased skills. We’ll be using both hands with more confidence.

We will have found problems and overcome them, so we’ve more experience behind us.

If we practice for 30 minutes a day, it’ll take us 200 days to reach 100 hours.

Common Landmarks: 1000 Hours

1000 hours is quite a milestone. If we’ve played for an hour every day of the year, it’s taken us 2.7 years to get here.  For most people, this will be 5 years or more.

At this point, we’re refining our technique and expanding our repertoire.

We’ve reached the intermediate level.

From here, we’ll go on to learn bigger pieces. We’ll play with more expression and deeper awareness.

Has It Been Actual Progress?

We can be proud to hit one of these landmark goals.

But have we been progressing?

Have we been learning and moving forward, or have we been playing within our comfort zone all this time?

Playing v. Practicing

Playing is not the same as practicing.

Whether we ‘play’ or ‘practice’ affects the speed of progress.

Some guitarists have been playing for years. But they may not have been practicing.

So if we want to pin down how long it will take to learn guitar, we need to think about our process too.

Anders Ericcson coined the term “deliberate practice,” and it is the way to see more progress in less time.

Let’s say we learned three chords in our first 20 hours. We then spent the next 100 hours playing songs that only contained those three chords.

How much progress would we have made? Can we play those three chords any better than when we first mastered them? Can we play more difficult chords?

Practice is an active process. It seeks to make improvements. It’s intentional and it’s focused.

Deliberate practice is the way to make the most of those hours spent with the guitar. Whether it’s 20 or 1000.

Quantum Leaps in Guitar Abilities

Even when we practice with intention and focus, sometimes we hit a plateau.

No matter how much time we spend on an area of our playing, it can seem like we make little progress.

It may be frustrating. But keep at it. Because suddenly, there will be a shift.

We can call it the quantum leap. Something clicks and we have a breakthrough. The work we have done for the previous days, months, and years comes to fruition. Limitations evaporate. What was hard is now easy.

It can happen in an instant. (It would be nice if we could plan it, but we can’t!)

Change Can Happen in an Instant

Many guitarists have experienced the quantum leap. This is often the way progress happens at the intermediate to advanced levels and beyond.

We can cultivate this. For example, we can be more aware of the tension, and better able to judge what is appropriate. Or we can focus on our breathing, and see how it affects our body, face, and hands.

We can work to become more aware of the basics and how they contribute to more advanced playing.

So to spur a Quantum Leap, play with awareness. Use your attention and train better focus.

And then play with faith, not fear.

Trust and Faith – Letting Go

Fear often blocks us from progress. Fear of missing a note causes us to tense up and lock down. How many of us dread the big fretboard shifts as they come up in the music?

Our brains and muscles know how to do it, but fear means we don’t let them.

But have faith, and we’ll hit every note. We’ll be able to fly through big shifts with confidence and accuracy.

Books have been written about this. It’s called “flow” and it is the way that we can play beyond our perceived abilities.

As we train faith and courage, we’ll improve much faster. Once we’ve trained our fingers through good technique, we are free to release the need to control them. We are free to trust our neurophysiology to get to the next note on time.

It Is Always Now – Today is the Only Day

If the thought of completing 1000 hours, 100 hours – or even 20 hours – seems a lifetime away, don’t let it discourage you. Think about the journey. Think about what can you do today.

So what can we do today?

We can have valuable, intentional practice.

We can find something specific to focus on. We can find a challenge and work on it. We can notice our muscles and mind and urge them into more useful states.

Step by step, this is the journey of learning to play the guitar.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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