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.

Instead of thinking “how good will I be in one more year?” try thinking “how much better will I be after 1000 more hours of practice?” 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 a totally arbitrary, and entirely debatable number.
  2. It’s very useful to use in your planning.

The “10,000 hour” idea was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. The take-away is that top performers in any field have typically invested 10,000 hours or more of practice into their skill, and typically in a deliberate and structured way that achieves results.

Of course there’s no rule that says we graduate to mastery after accumulating this many hours. But guidelines are helpful. A motorist who never stops for red lights is fairly likely to get into a wreck, eventually. 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

Although no chart of practice hours can ever describe your own learning process, let’s try to use some numbers to visualize your future outcomes.

LevelHours NeededDaily Practice InvestmentSummary
Introductory156.2510 months156 days78 days39 daysCan play simple musical parts, songs and accompaniments, and at least one real piece of music, although likely with a somewhat irregular rhythm and flawed technique.
Basic312.51.8 years10 months156 days78 daysAn expanded grasp of fundamentals, and can play several pieces, albeit imperfectly.
Beginning6253.5 years1.8 years10 months156 daysBasic competence as a rhythm guitar player, and can continue learning and growing independently.
Intermediate12506.9 years3.5 years1.8 years10 monthsSkill suitable for more advanced pursuits such as improvisation, home recording, writing music, and beginning to tackle advanced repertoire and technique.
Advanced250013.9 years6.9 years3.5 years1.8 yearsStarts to take command of the musical performance, beyond merely playing right notes and right rhythms, and into deeper awareness of feel, tone, and dynamics. Most never reach this point.
Expert500027.8 years13.9 years6.9 years3.5 yearsCan start to teach others; guitar skills are quite serviceable.
Professional1000055.6 years27.8 years13.9 years6.9 yearsCan teach almost any player, and can perform comfortably in at least one style. Most would describe this as mastery.
Master20000111.1 years55.6 years27.8 years13.9 yearsWorld-class musician, guitar deity, or frightening demon.

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: Tending Crops vs. Planting Seeds

If your goal is to expand your garden, the more crops you plant, the more crops you need to tend each day. In the beginning you are free to use all of your time planting new crops, but eventually the crops you have planted will require all of your attention. In your guitar practice, this occurs when your daily practice time is enough to maintain your established skills but not enough to push towards new ones. When you reach this plateau, the only way forward is increasing your daily practice time.

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 balance, limiting further 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. And 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 month can get your skills in “top shape”, and may even help you reach a new level. But soon after you cut back down on practice time, you’ll start to notice your fingers aren’t quite as limber.

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. And reaching the intermediate level practically guarantees a lifetime of enjoyment, and almost anybody can do 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. If changes to your life affect your practice time, revise your goal. But never give up.

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.

More Reading on Musical Practice & Mastery

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

©2018 Hub Guitar. All rights reserved.