Hello everyone, my name is Ludvic R. and I am a professional guitarist as well as a private guitar tutor in Paris.
Anyone can learn to play the guitar, children and adults alike. I have been a professional guitar teacher for 8 years now.
I am, therefore, very accustomed to having the same phone conversation with future customers when we plan guitar lessons. As I mainly teach beginners, I very often find myself answering the same questions:
- How long will it take for me to learn the guitar?
- How long until I can play this song?
- How long until I get good at it?
- How long until I master this technique?
- And, especially, “When should I play the guitar?”
How many hours of guitar lessons does one need?
Believe it or not, I usually really struggle to answer these questions even though I understand them perfectly.
In and of itself, the immediate answer is quite simple: there is no answer.
It is completely impossible to answer these questions in any concrete manner, simply because these things vary on a case-by-case basis. Any professional musician will tell you that no matter how good you are with any musical instrument, you can always get better.
This even more true when factoring in the wide variety of musical styles—and that is precisely what makes music a long-term passion.
In the meantime, remember to take a moment every now and then to look to back to where you started.
You will be happier and become a better player by realizing the progress you’ve made since you got started, rather than being constantly frustrated because you are struggling to play something at a given moment.
Play slowly, but steadily. And go easy on your fingers!
It’s Not How Long It Takes; It’s How Much Time You Spend Playing the Guitar.
How long does it take to learn the guitar? The answer varies from person to person and it is therefore difficult to give a general answer. But I understand perfectly where the question is coming from. I will therefore share my experience and what I’ve witnessed with my students to give you a somewhat general answer.
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Start by assuming that it is not a question of how long it takes, but how much it takes.
We are all different. There is no universal rule. But my answer to the question “How long does it take to learn the guitar?” often starts with a simple method that, if applied correctly, will quickly let you see some results.
To quickly learn how to play the guitar, use the OPIM method:
O is for the objective you’ve set yourself, PI is the Personal Investment, M is the motivation.
That is essentially why I say these things vary on a case-by-case basis.
My Tips for Learning the Guitar Faster
1 – OBJECTIVES of Learning the Guitar
Learning to Start Strumming Your Instrument
Some of you will start out with the objective of learning the fundamentals, and basic open chords, so you can play the simple chord sequences and/or rhythmic patterns to easy folk or rock/pop tunes. The usual suspects include Bob Marley's "No woman No cry", "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes, Bob Dylan's "Knockin’ on Heaven's Door", Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, etc.
Music bands didn’t learn the guitar overnight.
I could add other examples - there are plenty - but the list would be endless. These songs, however, are not necessarily easy to play all the way through and in a structured way.
As for me, I ended up putting together 12-course sequence, or 12 1-hour sessions aiming to give my students all the tools and habits they’ll need to reach that point.
Be advised that you won’t reach your goal just by showing up to guitar lessons: you need to stay highly motivated and practice as regularly as possible.
As a teacher, my role is to help you along your learning process.
At risk of repeating myself, these things too evolve on a case by case basis. Some students have more free time or more aptitude than others. It also depends on the age of the guitarist—but no, it is absolutely never too late to learn the guitar!
For those who are highly invested and highly motivated, three months is quite sufficient to start “jamming”.
Getting to Playing Guitar Solos
Some people’s objectives go further and they want to play complex guitar pieces, featuring more or less elaborate arpeggios, bar chords, complicated rhythm patterns, or even solos!
For that, I recommend at least three sequences of 12 guitar lessons each, or the equivalent of a full year to really start mastering this kind of technique.
Once again, this advice is only valid if you are capable of investing the greatest amount of time in your practice and your motivation is flawless.
"Case-by-case" remains the most important phrase. Pierre can take a month, Paul, a year, and Jacques several decades to reach the same point. This can also vary depending on one’s choice for a first guitar.
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2 - Personal Investment: Abiding by the Objectives you’ve Set for Yourself
Let it be said that we all have different lives and schedules.
Generally speaking, we all have commitments to our relationship, our family, our friends, work, hobbies, obligations, a community, etc.
No two people can invest the same amount of time in any given activity. I often hear students start their lesson with me by saying “I'm sorry, I hardly had time to touch my guitar!”
Which I have no issue with, because I understand perfectly. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.
However, understand that in the long run, the time you invest in your playing is more important than the work you do with the tutor by a factor of two to three - at least.
Therefore, your focus should be training at home. Plan ahead and make time to isolate yourself and work on your guitar skills.
How much you do this gets you halfway to answering the "How long will it take me to learn the guitar?” question. The more time you invest in learning the guitar, the faster you will get there!
As a general rule, I recommend at least half an hour of daily guitar practice.
If your schedule makes it difficult to go to a guitar teacher's home, you could also consider online guitar lessons.
3 – Motivation to Learn to Play the Guitar Quickly
This third point makes you realize very quickly that everything is connected: your objective relates to the time you put into it, which itself is related to your motivation.
On this subject, the answer is quite simple—and the same as for anything else: the more motivated you are, the better.
Never give up if it gets difficult!
You shouldn’t give up learning the guitar as soon as you encounter some difficulty.
The Fundamentals of Learning the Guitar
Reading Tablatures (tabs)
A guitar tablature—or “tab” for short—looks a lot like the stave on traditional sheet music, but features 6 lines instead.
When you learn to play the guitar, you will discover that each of the lines of the tablature corresponds to one of the six guitar strings.
On these lines, you will read or write the numbers indicating where you will need to press on the guitar neck (which is divided by frets into twenty squares) while plucking guitar string(s) to make a note.
The tablature is a universal notation system that makes it easy to transcribe chords but also riffs and arpeggios. Note that you will never use the space between the lines.
The two images below illustrate how the tablature corresponds to the guitar’s neck and strings.
The six strings on the guitar neck and their corresponding music notes.
The low E string (the largest string, located at the top of the neck) is represented by the color red. It is usually represented at the bottom of the tablature.
The high E string (the thinnest, at the bottom of the neck) is represented by the color orange, and usually features at the top of the tablature.
You will find below the correspondence between tablature lines and their corresponding notes, going from the bottom to the top:
- String 1 (bottom): low E string (E)
- String 2: A string
- String 3: D string
- String 4: G string
- String 5: B string
- String 6 (top): high E string (e)
On a tablature, the lines are therefore in inverted order compared to the strings on the guitar neck.
This may seem a bit disconcerting when you start learning to play the guitar, but rest assured, you will quickly get used to it!
The website Guitarezero suggests this trick to help make it less confusing at first:
"To remedy this problem, a simple solution is to tilt the neck towards you so that the low E string (E) appears facing you in the same position as on the tablature. Obviously, you should only position the guitar for as long as it takes you to become comfortable reading tablatures.”
The tablature is a guitarist’s sheet music. Each line represents a guitar string.
To understand how to read tab, start with learning that "0" means you must play an “open” string, i.e. play the string without pressing on a fret. The "1" then corresponds to the first fret, which is directly after the nut at the top of the neck. The following numbers, of course, correspond to the following frets down the neck.
A tablature can often be complemented by a music stave in the key of G, to add musical notation (whole, half and quarter notes, etc.)
Finally, a guitar tablature is read linearly, from left to right. Often, you will see several numbers aligned vertically.
This means you must play two notes or more notes at the same time, and therefore press on several guitar strings simultaneously.
Playing Guitar: How to Read Chord Charts
Let’s now take a look at a different chart: the chord chart, which represents guitar strings as they appear when holding the guitar vertically, with the neck facing you.
The chord chart is organized as follows:
- The cells of the guitar neck are represented horizontally
- The strings are represented vertically, going left to right from low E to high E (e)
- The thick horizontal line above the chart’s topmost cell is called the nut, and represents the “0” (or the note achieved by playing an open string, remember?)
According to this notation system, the dots mimic finger placement on the guitar neck to indicate where you need to press down on the strings.
The dots indicate finger placement according to the following numbering system:
- T: thumb
- 1: index
- 2: middle finger
- 3: ring finger
- 4: little finger
To sum up, let’s check whether you understand this system with the E minor (Em) chord, one of the most widely used chords when learning to play the guitar. Let’s decode the chart:
E-minor, a beginner’s classic!
- First dot (A2): you must play the A string (A) while pressing your middle finger (2) inside cell number 2 (the second cell, starting down from the top).
- Second dot (D2): You must play the D string (D) with your ring finger (3) pressing down inside cell number 2 as well.
- All other strings must be played in open string.
Join beginner guitarists who discover their love of playing late in life!
The Different Types of Guitars
Here is some generic information about guitars that you will find useful before you learn to play this instrument.
Guitars generally have 6 strings. When installed, they produce “open” notes that are E A D G B E, from lowest pitch to highest. You raise the pitch of a string by pinching it on one of the squares along the guitar neck.
The website Global Guitar Network gives you a good rundown of the various kinds of guitars available in the market.
The Acoustic or Classical guitar
It has 6 strings. The 3 higher-pitched strings are typically made of nylon, while the 3 lower strings are wrapped in metal wire to weigh them down and decrease their vibration frequency.
The Flamenco Guitar
The strings of this guitar are identical to those of the classical guitar. It also features, on the guitar body, scratch plates made of plastic that the guitarist can strike in sync with the music.
The Steel String (or “folk”, or “jazz”) Guitar
Its neck is narrower than that of the classical and flamenco guitar, and all its strings are made of metal. A jazz guitarist will typically play the strings with a guitar pick, and often performs standing up.
The Electric Guitar
The emblem of rock music everywhere. An electronic system detects string vibrations and transmits them to an amplifier. These models are equipped with buttons and dials for volume and tone control, and/or sound modification.
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Learning to Play Guitar Riffs
Once you master basic chords, you can raise the level of difficulty by learning to play guitar riffs, which are short musical patterns—i.e. a combination of notes and/or chords.
You will, at this occasion, discover the guitar pick—which, as its name indicates, enables you to “pick” the strings rather than “pluck” them with your fingers or strum with your nails and/or fingertips.
You will find lots of advice on how to best hold your guitar pick, but at least make sure to only hold it between your thumb and index finger.
You will also find many websites teaching you how to play guitar riffs, but for best results I recommend one-on-one tuition. You will get started a lot faster with guitar lessons than through self-teaching.
Hand Placement when Learning to Play the Guitar
We could devote an entire chapter to how to position your hands and fingers properly on the guitar to achieve beautifully sounding chords. Rather than go into every detail that you would learn in a guitar lesson, remember the following:
- Making a truly clear sound requires pushing down on the strings with significant pressure—don’t worry if it’s harder than expected at first! You will soon get used to it.
- Always press the string close to the next fret down the guitar neck to prevent it from emitting unpleasant vibrations.
- You can strum guitar chords with a pick, your nails or your fingertips. The position of your hand will be very different in each case.
All of these points can be discussed in-depth during a guitar lesson with a qualified teacher.
Learning to Play the Guitar with an App: Fact or Fiction?
You can bet that the apps market hasn’t overlooked learning to play an instrument! Nowadays, you can download all kinds of apps and software that will help you learn the guitar to your smartphone.
Coach Guitar, available on the App Store, is a visual teaching method to help you learn how to play famous tracks on acoustic and/or electric guitar. The main draw of this app is that it is free, making it easy to use in addition to lessons with a guitar teacher. Nothing to lose, everything to gain!
For Android users, Ultimate Guitar Tabs & Chords offers a huge catalog of guitar chords, tablatures and lyrics from around the world. You can learn more than 1,000,000 chords, and it comes with free daily updates. It also promises to help you learn how to play even if you are a complete beginner.
Reasonably priced at 2.50 € in Europe and [insert US Play Store price]in the USA, it has been downloaded by more than 150,000 people and enjoy a 4+ stars out of 5 user rating.
Pick up on these pointers for playing the guitar!
You Will Need at least Three Months to Learn to Play the Guitar
As you no doubt understand by now, the question isn’t so much how long it takes to learn to play the guitar, but rather how to optimize the way you learn to reduce this time and get to enjoy yourself as quickly as possible.
I insist on the fact that I only speak for myself as far as these recommendations and opinions are concerned. They do not necessarily reflect the experience of any other teacher, who may have different opinions or feelings from mine.
Furthermore, even if you understand the importance of the OPIM method (Objectives, Personal Investment, Motivation), we all have different constraints on our ability to apply it in practice.
It is therefore entirely possible, granted sufficient personal investment and motivation, to be able to play simple chord sequences and rhythms (even accompanied by singing) within 3 months of starting.
A year is a good amount of time to start playing more complex, structured pieces, featuring elaborate arpeggios and simple solos, corresponding to roughly 40 hours of guitar lessons.
Join in on the conversation: is there a "right" age for learning how to play the guitar?
Practice Often before You Start Playing Guitar Solos!
And to be able to play whatever you want?
Well, the magical thing about music is that it involves lifelong learning. This makes it even more exciting!
In the meantime, don’t forget to look back to where you started every now and then.
This will also help you to determine the best time to practice.
It is better to look back and see how much progress you’ve made—and continue to make—than to be constantly frustrated by what you’re struggling with in the moment.
Now discover how you can learn the guitar at any age...
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Play slowly but steadily, and don’t be too hard on your fingers!