How long does it take to learn guitar?
It depends on your intensity and amount of practice. For someone who practices around 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, with medium intensity, it’ll take roughly 1-2 months to play beginner guitar songs, and approximately 3-6 months to confidently play intermediate and slightly more advanced songs with technical elements.
Medium practice intensity is the assumption we’ll be making from this point forward in our time estimates.
Here’s an overview of how long it takes to learn guitar (on average)
1-2 Months (Beginner Level): You’ll pick up some basic chords that are used in most songs, and start to get a feel for simple strum patterns. If you’re feeling up for it, you can begin experimenting with some simple plucking. You'll start playing some easy guitar songs.
3-6 Months (Intermediate Level): You’ll start diving more and more into technique and some beginning music theory. You might learn some more advanced strum patterns, hammer-ons, and more difficult plucking. This is also a good time to begin reading tablature (guitar tabs) and getting a feel for reading music.
12 - 18 Months (Intermediate-Advanced Level): By this point you’ll know your basic chords like the back of your hand; it’s time to graduate to advanced chords (i.e. more difficult barre chords), and moving back and forth quickly between advanced fingering combos.
You’ll be comfortable with some beginner-intermediate technique and start learning more advanced techniques. This is that point in time where you’ll be able to play almost every beginner to intermediate-advanced song out there.
18 - 36 Months (Advanced Level): You have your music & guitar theory down, your technique is mostly on point, and you can play pretty much any song your heart desires with little struggle (if any!) You’ll quickly be able to pick up songs and improvise whenever you’d like.
And that’s typically how your learning curve is going to look if you put in a “medium” amount of practice and intensity.
The Case for Lifetime Learning: It Doesn’t Ever Stop
I’m big on being a lifetime learner, and acknowledging the fact that learning never stops. So even though you can get to the 18 - 36 month mark and be a very capable advanced guitarist, this doesn’t mean you’re anywhere close to mastery.
Malcolm Gladwell coined the “10,000” hours rule in his book Outliers, where he said that any expert in their field put in at least 10,000 hours of time into honing, perfecting, and mastering their craft to get to where they’re at.
That’s a very long time!
I did some calculations -- here’s how many hours you’d put in if you practiced for 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week, for 36 months:
Phew… you’re only 9,688 hours away from hitting 10k and achieving true mastery!
In reality, we’re not all trying to be world-class guitarists. To hit 10,000 hours you’d have to practice 1.5 hours a day, every single day, for 20 years!
That’s real dedication -- and the price of world-class mastery.
But for most of you reading this, I’ll guess you want to get to a spot where you’re really good at guitar, the point where you’re just good enough to play anything you want and still have the opportunity to dive into some expert technique & difficult music if you wanted to.
That’s a great goal to have, and one where the numbers we mentioned above (up to 36 months to get to the advanced guitarist level) fall under.
Ultimately, it depends on you, and how much work you’re willing to put into this.
Work at it every day, and you’ll get there before you know it!
Is it possible to learn much quicker? How long does it take to learn a song on guitar?
Of course it’s possible. Somebody who practices with extreme focus and intensity is going to be able to learn much quicker than someone who doesn’t.
Think about it. If you sit down and have one goal: learn to play the verse and chorus of this one song by the end of today. Oh, and by the way, this is an intermediate level song with some more advanced chords and technique.
How would you do it?
Well, first off it depends on your skill level. But let’s say you’re a relative beginner. You’ve only been playing for around a month and are still picking up chords and learning music theory as you go along.
Is this goal even realistic? Learning an entire intermediate-level song in one day?
Well.. with intense focus and disciplined practice throughout the day, it sure is! At this beginner skill level, you’ll have to dedicate at least 4+ hours in that day towards practicing that song until you get it (remember, we’re trying to learn it in a single day -- this is an all out sprint!)
You have to be present and engaged to make this happen!
If you’re only going to be “half there”, watching TV out of the corner of your eye, or taking a break every half hour throughout the day… it’s just not gonna happen.
However: If you sat down and focused on playing that single song, chord by chord, line by line, and repeating sections over and over… it’s definitely possible.
This next section talks about the best way to learn a song quick.
How to Quickly Learn a Song on Guitar
Did my last example seem crazy? Practicing for an entire day to learn a fairly difficult song to a comfortable, playable level?
People do it all the time. All it takes is really wanting it. You have to have a strong desire to push through the tough parts.
But once you’ve got that fire for learning burning deep down, here’s what you have to do next:
Start by practicing for accuracy -- going slow until you can get each chord without making any mistakes. This part is critical, since it “creates” your form for each chord and develops the muscle memory you’ll need going forward.
Nothing’s worse than learning something with bad form or incorrect technique, since you’ll have to unlearn it and relearn it again in the future.
And if you keep going with bad technique?
Well, at first it might seem like it’s “okay” and nothing bad will come of it, but as you start getting more advanced, you’ll find yourself hitting some walls and unable to do things that players with good technique can. In five short words: go slow, develop good technique!
Then move on to rhythm and playing the song like it's supposed to be played, still going relatively slow.
This is where you make sure your strum patterns are on point and your rhythm is accurate. If there are any pick-up notes or difficult chord changes, you’ll practice those until they seem like second nature.
This is the part of the process where the song starts to come together and you finally feel like you’re making progress.
A metronome (device that helps you stay on rhythm by “clicking” to the beat) could be helpful here to make sure your rhythm doesn’t trail off.
And only after you’ve mastered those two levels, start aiming for speed. You’d practice a section over and over, slowly speeding up until you can play it at full speed.
And that’s it -- that’s how it can be done!
Make no mistake… this takes some serious focus and intensity.
But if you’re determined enough, the sky’s the limit (... and maybe your fingers if you haven’t developed calluses yet; those can get painful and limit your play time in the beginning!)
What about learning by yourself? Learning Online?
I want to make a distinction: when people say they “learned guitar by themselves”, I take this to mean they didn’t have an instructor they went to in person.
Every single person who’s learned guitar on their own didn’t “magically come up with techniques and lessons on their own”... far from it.
Everyone had a mentor: whether that was a book, a course, an online lesson, or a YouTube video.
You have to have a mentor. You have to learn from someone more experienced than you so that they can point you in the right direction.
That’s the best way to get started with self-learning. Pick up a good book, or a great online lesson program, and follow through with it every day.
Watch random guitar videos on YouTube without any goal or direction
Try to learn everything at once
Start with super advanced material before building the foundation required to advance further
If you do the things above… you’re going to have a rough ride.
The best way to start is by having a clear, structured path laid out for you by a mentor -- one that’s proven to work.
Once you have that set up and ready to go, all you have to do is put in the work every single day; you’ll be playing guitar before you know it!
Frequently Asked Questions
How many hours should you spend practicing every day?
If you’re in the “guitar honeymoon” stage and you just got your shiny guitar unboxed, I wouldn’t be surprised if you spend an hour or two admiring your brand new instrument and trying to pick up some chords! It’s an awesome feeling!
But if you’re past that initial excitement and want to get into a routine where you practice each and every day (or at least around 3 times a week), I’d recommend shooting for 30 minutes to an hour as a beginner. Don’t forget to take breaks for your fingers!
When you’re first starting out, there’s still a lot for you to learn -- a lot for you to master.
If you spend anywhere from half an hour to an hour going over chords, looking at some technique, and playing your favorite song or two, you’ll be on your way.
Of course, this assumes you’ve got good instruction! Even if you’re learning by yourself, you have to make sure you’re following a program with specific goals. You can’t be wildly “flailing” around, not knowing what you’re going to do next.
You need some structure so that what you learn can build up on itself and help you progress further and further.
P.S. If you’re really dedicated, you can go for 2+ hours. Just remember to let your fingers take a break and don’t over-exert yourself.
Is electric guitar or acoustic guitar easier to learn? Is there any difference?
Great question! Honestly, there’s not much difference between the two. You should be able to learn either the electric or acoustic guitar and the exact same amount of time.
Why, you might ask?
Well, first off, it’s because the chords are pretty much the same. The only tiny adjustment you’d make is for neck size or the physical differences between an acoustic / electric. But in reality, this is an almost negligible difference.
Focus on learning your technique, strum patterns, and chords, and you’ll be able to transition between electric and acoustic without any difficulty.
Choose the guitar you enjoy most and stick with it!
Wrapping It Up
Now the ball is in your court -- get out there and practice, practice, practice!
I want to leave you with a quick note: the statement that many people say, “Practice makes perfect”, is actually false.
“Perfect practice makes perfect”, is the correct way to go about it.
Practice with accuracy, with intent. Don’t just take it halfway and quit.
Make sure you put your all into each practice session, and you’ll be reaching heights you’ve never dreamed of.
Wish you all the best in your guitar learning journey, good luck!