Today we're going to look at how long it takes to learn guitar.
People are generally pressed for time.
They have friends, family, significant others, jobs and businesses, communities, churches and social get-togethers.
Plus, every single week, they are bombarded with notifications of events happening in their locality.
If you’re looking to take something on, such as learning an instrument, I would argue that prioritization is essential. You must make time for what matters to you.
With that in mind, aspiring musicians are still curious how long it might take them to learn their chosen instrument.
So, let’s look at how long it takes to learn acoustic, electric and bass guitar.
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Aren’t Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars All Different?
At the outset, I’d like to say that I don’t think it does us any harm to group these instruments together.
Sure, there are some differences, but when it comes to mastery, they all require about the same amount of time and dedication.
Early on, learning to play acoustic, electric and bass guitar is remarkably similar. Where it begins to split off in a significant way is at the intermediate to advanced levels.
I’ve added a bit of commentary on each instrument throughout, and that should prove helpful too.
Level 0 – Getting Started
At this stage, you have little to no musical experience. You may have messed around on an instrument or two, or maybe you’ve had a couple of piano lessons.
But the guitar is new to you. Maybe you’ve seen people play it in music videos or at live events and thought it might be cool to pick up.
The most important thing at this stage is to get a decent beginner instrument that’s easy to play and to find an experienced teacher that can help you develop your skills.
It takes no time whatsoever to reach this level.
Level 1 – Getting Comfortable On Your Instrument (Beginner)
At this level, as an acoustic or electric guitarist, you’ll probably learn how to play single notes, finger exercises, scales, double stops, triads, power chords and open chords, or some combination thereof.
You should have developed your picking skills too.
This doesn’t mean you can do any of these things well. You haven’t gone deep in any one area yet. You’re just gathering the tools needed to play the instrument at the level you desire.
As a bassist, you should have learned how to pick and hold a beat, play single notes, finger exercises, scales and probably a few simple riffs and songs.
Honestly, you could have learned a lot of songs on the bass already.
Odds are you haven’t had to play any challenging rhythmic patterns yet, but you can learn a lot in the time it takes to reach this level because, in most songs, the bassist typically has it easy.
It will likely take six months to a year to reach this level. Unfortunately, some students never take it any further. After all, it takes discipline and perseverance to learn an instrument.
Level 2 – Developing Your Skills (Intermediate)
It’s kind of funny to say, but the dividing line between a beginner and intermediate guitarist is generally their ability to play barre chords.
If you can play barre chords well, you’ve reached a new level as a guitarist, and it means you can pick up a whole new world of songs like “Kryptonite”, “Banana Pancakes”, “Creep” and plenty of others.
But let me level with you – even though becoming an intermediate player shouldn’t take forever, especially if you’re committed to regular practice, you’ll likely stay an intermediate player for a long time to come.
It takes something to become an advanced player and it doesn’t come without a price.
Just to give you an example, someone who can play the commonly played Led Zeppelin solo to Stairway to Heaven would probably still be considered an intermediate player.
On acoustic guitar, an equivalent might be Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive”.
The same goes for bass guitar. You will spend plenty of time as an intermediate player before you move onto more advanced levels.
As a bassist, the interesting part is you can still become a pro just by being a good intermediate player.
At this level, you’ll be learning plenty of songs with different rhythmic patterns and varying levels of complexity, from “Give It Away” and “Billie Jean” to “Money” and “Born to Run”.
It’s possible to reach this level in one to three years of playing but that doesn’t mean you will. Some players get here in five to eight years.
It all depends on your work ethic as well as your natural talent.
Level 3 – Putting In Your 10,000 Hours (Advanced)
In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell talked about the idea that you reach a level of mastery in your profession after you’ve put in your 10,000 hours.
In general, I agree. But today, the guitar wars rage on, and putting in your 10,000 hours only entitles you to becoming an advanced guitarist, not a master.
Personally, I reached this point after about 10 years of playing. I started wowing myself on the guitar because I was playing riffs and licks, I never thought I’d be able to.
But that only served to highlight the gap between me and someone like Guthrie Govan, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Herman Li, Allan Holdsworth, Joe Pass and others like them.
Now for the good news.
If you started your guitar journey idolizing players like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi, Kirk Hammett, Brian May and Yngwie Malmsteen, you can probably imitate them quite well if not play their songs note for note.
And, as an advanced player, you could easily become a pro. You’d just need to find the right opportunity.
As a bass player, you should be reaching a level where you can learn Jamiroquai, Rush, Primus, more challenging Red Hot Chili Peppers and maybe even Dream Theatre.
You can probably slap and pop your bass like a beast too.
Being an advanced player is a lot of fun because you realize you can learn just about anything. But you should expect it to take at least 10 years unless you’re aggressive with your practice schedule.
Some people take a lot longer, whether it’s 20, 30 years or more.
Level 4 – Playing Anything You Want (Mastery)
There is a level that exists beyond advanced and I've already hinted at it. That’s the level of mastery.
As an advanced player, you can pick up just about anything given enough time. You’ll learn songs at an unprecedented pace.
As a master, you’ll be able to play just about anything almost instantly.
You’ll have likely developed a signature sound, playing style and will have gone “an inch wide and a mile deep” in your genre.
Even if you’re not a jazz player, you’d probably be able to pick up and play all those nasty jazz chords without too much trouble, and even if you’re not a metal player, you could probably wrap your head around progressive metal.
What you can play will still depend on what you studied, of course. Listing off specific players or songs at this point is mostly meaningless because of this fact. Every master is unique.
How long it takes to get to this level is anybody’s guess.
But if you have a strong practice ethic and structure your life to handle several hours of practice per day (i.e. six to 14 hours), you can potentially reach this level in 10 years or less.
More likely, it will take at least 15 years to become a master, and probably more like 20 to 40 years if you want to have a life. You will never become a master if you take your practice at a relaxed pace.
How To 80/20 The Learning Process
The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts.
In learning to play an instrument, this means sticking to the essential skills and not bothering with obscure techniques.
Personally, I like studying widely and learning a variety of techniques and styles. This makes me a versatile player, but in some ways, I’ve taken the “long way around”.
The shortcut to becoming great at something is focus.
So, for example, if you just focused on rhythm or lead, just focused on a specific genre, or just worked on sweep picking and nothing else, you could become quite good at one aspect of playing in a short amount of time.
That’s the only way to 80/20 the learning process as a guitarist, and aside from that, hard work is the solitary path to advancement.
How Long It Takes To Learn Guitar Conclusion
So that's how long it takes to learn guitar.
If you give it a try, let us know how long it takes you and we'll see what everyone else is experiencing.