How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar? | Hub Guitar

How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?

Dmitry Kaminsky/

“How long will this take?”

Everybody who picks up the guitar wants to know. What can be accomplished in a month? In a year? The answers vary. But there’s one factor you can count on to measure your progress: total lifetime hours spent practicing.

Hours Accumulated: The Only Meaningful Measurement

Never, ever, ever attempt to quantify your total guitar progress in any other way than the total number of hours invested in your lifetime.

Do not think things like, “they’ve been playing for 10 years” or “how good will I be in one year?” Some learners can put in more time in 6 months than other students manage to invest in 4 years. Always think in terms of total hours invested. 4 hours per day for 6 months is almost 720 hours. Surely enough for most learners to make shocking progress. At 30 minutes per day, it would take four years to see those results.

The Infamous “10,000” Hour Rule

Here is what you need to know about the 10,000 hour rule:

  1. It’s totally arbitrary, and has little basis.
  2. It’s very useful to use in your planning.

In case you haven’t heard, according to a body of research that has emerged from studying human achievement, 10,000 hours is a useful yard stick in predicting the point at which someone will have achieved exceptional skill. Of course there’s no rule that says we graduate to mastery after accumulating this many hours. But guidelines are helpful. Someone who plays Russian Roulette 2 or more times a week is fairly likely to meet his maker this way. Someone who spends 55 hours per week in the office is somewhat more likely to get a promotion than someone who’s late every day. We accept these probabilities. Let’s also accept the notion that someone who has invested 10,000 hours in practicing their instrument is fairly likely to achieve a very high level of proficiency.

Successful guitar learners know that any target is better than none. That’s because people without targets never hit anything.

More Arbitrary Ratings of Proficiency

Here is another made-up set of guidelines. After all, you may not choose “mastery” as your goal. And that’s perfectly alright. You only need the level of proficiency necessary to realize your personal goal.

LevelHours NeededDaily Practice InvestmentSummary
Introductory156.2510 months156 days78 days39 daysCan play simple musical parts, songs and accompaniments.
Basic312.51.8 years10 months156 days78 daysHas basic grasp and can perform complete songs.
Beginning6253.5 years1.8 years10 months156 daysCan play some solo repertoire.
Intermediate12506.9 years3.5 years1.8 years10 monthsCan improvise some or play in a band. Can play several pieces of repertoire.
Advanced250013.9 years6.9 years3.5 years1.8 yearsCan play more repertoire and shows musical awareness. Most never reach this point.
Expert500027.8 years13.9 years6.9 years3.5 yearsCan start to teach others; guitar skills are quite serviceable for writing music or performing.
Professional1000055.6 years27.8 years13.9 years6.9 yearsCan teach or perform comfortably in many situations. Quick thinking with broad repertoire.
Master20000111.1 years55.6 years27.8 years13.9 yearsWorld-class musician

Using the chart above as a guide, we can estimate that achieving an introductory level of guitar proficiency (to perform simple parts and songs) requires a little more than 150 hours of practice. A devoted college student can achieve this much practice over the course of the summer break. But a busy professional who practices only 30m per day will need 10 months to reach the same goal.

One Caveat

There is a limit to how much a slow and steady tortoise can achieve. Although it would appear that an average person can become a professional-level musician by simply investing 30 minutes per day for 55 years, it is more likely that such a person would eventually reach a point of stagnant growth. That’s because much of this small investment will be wasted reviewing fundamentals and the amount of time available to push the boundaries is limited. Every practice session has at least several minutes of “cold” time.

In addition, on the other end of the spectrum, practicing a great deal every day for a week can get your skills in “top shape”, but it’s possible that not all of your progress will be permanent.

In case it wasn’t already clear, this model is merely a guide for thinking and planning. There are limits to how accurately any model can describe your reality.

The Takeaway

Everybody can learn to play—eventually

Even if your daily practice commitment of 20 minutes doesn’t put you anywhere near the path to being a world master, why should it? Be realistic in your expectations. The flip side is that you can be good at guitar someday. It takes years, but that’s what makes it so worth it.

Grit matters most

If this model has any predictive power, then you can see that if you ever want to reach the higher levels of guitar playing in your life, it will have to be a consistent effort that takes place over the course of many years. That means that, come what may with work, school, or family, your commitment to practice daily or almost daily must endure. Decide how much time you can invest each day for your life, not just for this period in it.

Even at the fastest pace, the highest levels take awhile to reach

If you want to do this, you’re in it for the long run. It’s great to try to kick ass in the short term, but there are many reasons why you may not be able to sustain a four-hour-per-day practice routine for 5-10 years. If you can, good for you!

And even practicing 8 hours per day (which some people believe is not possible to sustain in the long term, and is not productive even in the short term), one cannot achieve the highest level defined here in less than 13.5 years. So remember that no matter what, learning guitar takes awhile.

Talent really is overrated

When you look at it from the perspective of the massive amount of time that good musicians have invested in themselves, it can make you feel that spending too much time worried about “talent” is a bit shallow, unimaginitive, lazy. Let’s talk talent after you’ve put in the 10,000 hours.

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