How Long Should I Practice Guitar Each Day?
How long does it take to learn classical guitar? And how much should we practice guitar each day?
These are common and reasonable questions. When we start something, we naturally want to know what we’re in for.
And while we all progress at different rates, there are a few benchmarks you’ll pass on your guitar journey. Below, you’ll discover what to expect, and how long different phases of your playing will take.
Classical Guitar is a Journey, Not a Destination
That’s because we’re never finished. We keep learning and growing for as long as we stay with it. If we practice well, there is no finish line.
We may reach milestones and goals. And these feel good. More on these below.
But attitude is important when tackling such a complex instrument. We have more fun and see better improvement when we think long-term.
We can still solve problems and build skills quickly. But if we try to shortcut classical guitar progress, it usually backfires. Building the skills, habits, and muscle-memory to play beautifully takes some time.
That said, there are some periods of time that often produce predictable levels of growth. These are estimates, and vary person to person. But knowing these can help gauge the point at which we are currently on the path.
Brass Tacks: How Long Does it Take to Learn Classical Guitar?
Okay, so what sort of time frames are we talking about here?
Learning to play guitar, we do begin with a couple of notable phases. These happen as we ingrain movements and begin to master some basic areas of guitar.
The 20-hour mark
Most players begin to feel more comfortable on the guitar after ~20 hours of practice.
While not an exact number, this offers a general idea of how long it will take to feel “normal” playing guitar.
How we use these hours affects how much we learn in the time. We improve faster with intentional practice, following a plan.
But even with distracted, sloppy practice sessions, we’ll feel more competent after 20 hours or so.
We may still struggle and make mistakes. But we will have developed some familiarity with the guitar and strings.
At and after this point, we no longer feel like the guitar is foreign and cumbersome. We may have developed callouses on our left-hand fingertips. And we likely have a better idea of what guitar practice is, and what to do every day.
To estimate 20 hours, divide this number by the length of a daily practice session.
For example, say we spend 20 minutes in each practice. At this rate, we will reach 20 hours after 60 practices. If practicing guitar 5 days a week, this will take 12 weeks.
The 100-hour mark
After 100 hours of practice, we meet another developmental transition. At this point, some skills will likely feel completely automatic and ingrained.
Which skills feel most competent depends on how we spend our practice time. The areas we regularly spend time will have noticeable improvement.
For example, say chords are a regular part of practice sessions. Switching between chords will now be smooth, fast, and take little thought. Where we used to stumble and hesitate, we will now move with fluid confidence. We’ll learn new chords more quickly. And the idea of chords will be non-threatening.
Ongoing Learning: Plateaus and Breakthroughs
Beyond 100-hours, we may experience practice as a series of plateaus and breakthroughs. This is common.
A plateau in guitar practice is a period of time where we discern no or little improvement. We practice, but we don’t appear to improve. Then, assuming we don’t quit or make a drastic change of course, we have a breakthrough. This is where we seem to improve a lot in a very short time. These are times to rejoice. Very gratifying.
But in truth, we are improving the whole time. If we continue to work well and put in the time, we do get better. However we may not notice it from one day to the next.
Plateaus and breakthroughs are normal cycles in development. Breakthroughs feel great, but we must practice through the plateaus to reach them.
Through these peaks and troughs, it’s important to avoid excess frustration or malaise. Guitar practice is best enjoyed for it’s own sake, as a way to focus and do good work.
With this attitude, the breakthroughs become like bonuses. They are welcome and wonderful, but not the point of the game.
And as we progress, we can define ongoing points of success and arrival. These shorter-term goals are like sprints within the larger marathon of daily practice.
How Much Should You Practice Each Day?
There are no minimum requirements for daily practice sessions. Whatever we can reasonably do is fine.
For most people, a great goal is to practice for 30–60 minutes, 5 days a week. This is a solid practice.
But less than this will also show results. Even a few minutes each day can help us progress. If we practice strategically, with focus and awareness, good things happen.
There is also an upper limit to the amount of time we can practice well. If we lose focus and begin to play guitar sloppily or distractedly, it may be best to stop for the day. Quality counts.
Frequency Is More Important than Duration
It’s more effective to practice on a regular basis. It’s best to practice at least some on most days, rather than play guitar for several hours one day each week.
Smaller practice sessions can fit into a busy schedule. And it may be that these are even more productive than longer practice sessions.
For many people, it’s more convenient to practice two or more times in a day. These practices are usually shorter, and fit between other scheduled tasks or meetings.
When we split our practices, we can focus on fewer items per practice.
For example, in a morning practice, we may work only on technique. We only do right and left hand exercises and practice movements. We focus on building physical skills.
Then, in a afternoon or evening practice session, we may work on pieces of music.
Splitting practices in this way can allow us to fully commit to just one or two practice areas. This intensified focus can speed our learning and propel us forward.
Success Criteria when Learning to Play Classical Guitar
We practice best when our practices are tied one to the next by larger goals or projects. When we have structure in our practice sessions, we do more and see more improvement.
So how do we create cohesion and unity between practices and over time? We can define successful outcomes. We can plan our projects. We can set the standard. We can work toward known ends.
Many players begin to learn guitar with certain pieces in mind. These may appear as the pinnacle of guitar mastery. Asturias, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, and the Bach Cello Prelude are all pieces to which many people aspire.
And indeed, these are great masterworks. They each take a certain level of skill.
So when we learn one of these pieces, and can play it well, we can celebrate reaching this level. This can be motivating and rewarding in a deeply personal way.
Of course, less-advanced pieces also serve the same function. And at any level, the pieces we play are natural goals. They define the time we spend. They allow us a sense of completion and arrival.
NOTE: The pieces we play are only as good as our technique and musical understanding. So while pieces are useful landmarks, there are other skills equally as important.
Like landmark pieces, we can also have periodic performances. These can give us a time-bound container in which to practice guitar.
Student recitals are a part of many schools and teaching studios. The recitals help us focus and stay on track. They offer the chance to “stress-test” our learning. And they give us the opportunity to share our music.
But a performance need not be so formal. We can benefit just as much by setting a goal to, say, play a piece for the family over the holidays.
And performances can also be for video. We can video ourselves playing and share it with our community.
When we set performance goals that are personally meaningful, they define our time. As we take a look back, we often remember seasons or years divided by pieces or performances. On the timeline of our lives, these act to highlight our progress.
We can track numbers by writing down metronome markings. We can see them rise as time goes by.
To this end, it can be helpful to keep a practice journal. Looking back on our entries, we can witness our advancement and keep motivated.
The “big goals” of landmark pieces and performances offer a sense of forward momentum. When we reach such a victory, we have proof we’re moving ahead.
But we can also set the criteria for successful daily practice. Indeed, the quality of our daily practice will determine the quality of those larger wins.
In each practice session, we can come to know how to gauge quality. We can discover our best focus. We can learn to direct our attention in a single direction.
We can structure our time and use it to best effect. We can master practice skills and methods, so that we get more done in less time.
For these, it’s best to set success as something within our power to achieve. There should be specific actions we can take to ensure it.
Good practice is not something that “happens.” It’s something we do, through the quality of our engagement and choices.
This way, a successful practice session is always in our complete control. We remain empowered to affect our daily outcomes.
Performances and achieving landmark goals are rewarding. But the large majority of our guitar time is spent in daily practice sessions. So getting this part right is important.
Like Any Long-Term Relationship…
There will be ups and downs. There will be waxing and waning enthusiasm. From one day to the next, we will likely find varying levels of excitement. This is normal.
It’s up to each of us to direct our attention and engage with the practice at hand. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And nowhere is this more true than in our practice time.
At any level, from beginning to advanced, we can choose to give full attention to work in front of us. We can tackle specific challenges that are hard (but not too hard). We can enter “the zone” and let other thoughts fade away.
And each new day begins again. A great practice yesterday does not ensure a good one today. We start over in every practice. We can form habits and routines to help us practice well. But quality practice is still a set of actions we take.
This means that if we ever take a break, we can start again. If we ever become frustrated or disillusioned, we can recalibrate.
We are the active participants in the story. We put each foot in front of the next. We set the course and hold direction.
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.
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