How Long Does It Take To Learn The Guitar? (the 7 variables)

You would be disappointed if I told you that there is no correct answer to the question “How long does it take to learn the guitar?” and then left you hanging.

Instead, in this lesson, I’ll go over the main factors that influence how long it takes you to learn to play the guitar.

The good news is that, with the exception of the last one, you have complete control over all of these variables.

As a result, while this lesson will not give you a specific guitar progress timeline for when you should expect to reach your desired level of playing, it will show you what factors you can change to speed up the process.

If you make even a minor improvement in each of these factors (except the one you can’t control), you’ll be able to reach any goal in your guitar playing much sooner.

1. Your sources of information

Though I always recommend learning the guitar with a good teacher rather than being self-taught, whether it’s formal guitar lessons or not, you’re getting your information on how to play the guitar from somewhere.

The quality of that information/the teacher, is a major determining factor in how fast your progress is on the guitar.

I’ve learned this the hard way. My first two guitar teachers literally didn’t know what they’re doing.

They could play, but they had no clue how to teach.

This resulted in my first 3 years of learning the guitar going around in circles without achieving any of my goals.

Fortunately, I learned the right lesson from this, and instead of quitting, I went on to find amazing guitar teachers who have literally changed my life.

2. Practice time quantity

Some guitar students believe that the amount of time spent practicing the guitar is the only variable that determines how quickly they achieve their musical goals.

It is not, as you will see in this lesson, and some of the other variables have an even greater impact on your guitar learning progress.

That being said, it should go without saying that the more you practice, the faster you’ll become proficient on the instrument.

3. Practice time quality

10 minutes of focused guitar practice aimed at achieving a specific goal, will give you more results than an hour noodling aimlessly on the instrument.

You can become a good guitar player even if you have little time to practice.

Whenever you pick up the guitar, no matter how little practice time you have, set a specific goal you want to achieve and focus all your attention on achieving that small goal.

Quality guitar practice can compensate for lack of time. 

Quality practicing and a lot of time, for a long period of time, can lead to levels of guitar playing that at this point you may think are impossible for you to ever reach.

4. Your expectations

Once I got a call from a new student who described himself as a beginner.

He came for his first lesson and started improvising using the minor pentatonic scale.

His knowledge of scales and arpeggios was limited, the string bends were not perfect, and there were phrasing issues to be dealt with.

However, being able to improvise music on the spot is definitely not beginner stuff.

By most people’s standards the guy could play, but by his own standards, he was just starting out.

At what level you can actually play means different things for different people.

Make sure you set specific long, mid and short term goals so that you can measure your improvement according to your own expectations.

It’s also good to be flexible in your expectations.

You can’t present a fully accurate timeline for your progress since you don’t even know what there is to know yet.

Some things may take longer to reach than you would have originally planned. 

Or else, you can make a breakthrough in your guitar playing and discover that things you used to think were too hard, or even impossible, are actually within your reach.

5. Your favorite genres

If your favorite guitar player is Steve Vai, it’s going to take you more to reach your goals than if your favorite player was Kurt Cobain.

There’s nothing wrong with the latter – I personally connect more with Cobain’s music than Vai’s  – but it’s a fact that if you want to play like Steve Vai, it’s going to take you much longer.

What I suggest here is that you should learn songs from different guitar styles, not just your favorite one/s.

This will add a lot to your wealth of musical knowledge and if your genre is too hard to play with your present level of skills, you can still reach milestones in other genres.

Some genres, like Punk and Heavy Metal are related to each other, but vary in the general level of difficulty. (Punk guitar is usually easier to play than Heavy Metal).

6. Your mindset

Do you consider your guitar practice time to be work or play?

Do you realize that the numerous mistakes you make while practicing are the seeds of your musical growth?

Do you get frustrated when you can’t get something right, or do you get excited because you’ll be a better guitarist once you do?

The answers to these questions will indicate whether your guitar practicing mindset is correct.

If you think it is not, implementing the instructions from the “5 steps to an ideal guitar practice” book will help you get your mindset in the right place, improve faster on the guitar and enjoy the process.

7. Your genes

The last variable that determines how long it will take you to learn the guitar is the least important since it’s beyond your control.

Some people speak of “natural talent” as if it’s the main component that determines how fast you will learn an instrument (or if you ever will).

This is entirely wrong.

“Natural talent” simply means that some people have an ability to learn faster than others, either in all areas of life, or in specific area (such as music).

Child prodigies probably do have such natural talents. 

It explains why they’re able to learn so much, in such a little time, without any skills in life us adults have acquired.

However, the majority of adult professional guitarists and musicians did not become so through natural talent.

Whether you have natural talent or not, the six other variables will determine when you will learn to play the guitar at the level you desire.

Conclusion: A long term game with short term benefits

By now you should have a clear idea as to why no one on the Internet can give you a correct answer as to how long it’s going to take you to learn the guitar.

What you should also realize is how faster you can learn the guitar if you incrementally improve on each of the first six variables.

Learning the guitar is a long term game but one that keeps giving you regular benefits during the process.

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