How long does it take to play the guitar if you are aspiring to be the next great guitar legend? Whether you teach yourself or are getting lessons, every person has to start with the basics.
It takes a lot longer to play the guitar if you don’t practice. Learn as much as you can about your guitar and music theory, teach yourself if you have to. Implement your knowledge with regular practice and set yourself goals.
You can learn something meaningful on the guitar within 5 minutes, you just need a plan to help you get off and strumming. What every guitarist has to remember, is that even the absolutes masters of their craft had to start somewhere. The key to improving quickly is to set very simple, very achievable and very realistic goals.
How to play the guitar
- Learn the strings
- Learn about your guitar
- Tune-up correctly
- Change your strings
- Learn TAB
- Learn music theory
- Play chords
- Work out your favourite song
- Set daily and weekly goals
- Get comfortable with your guitar
- Watch loads of videos & get loads of apps
- Learn scales
- Use dynamics
- Don’t give up
#1 Learn the strings
One the first and most important lessons is actually one of the easiest. It does, however, provide the bedrock for every single piece of music you will play and every chord up and down the fretboard.
This simple lesson merely consists of learning the string names. Starting from the thickest string, moving down…
Learning these strings is your first task as a guitar player. Each and every task on the guitar can be broken down into equally simple and memorable parts, so you can easily learn something new every day and practice it until you become proficient.
#2 Learn about your guitar
Whether you are playing a pristine Les Paul Gibson, or a battered old acoustic from a charity shop, they all have features in common. They all have a neck, with frets on it (the vertical lines on the neck as you look down when you are playing). Guitars either have soundhole (acoustic) or pickups (electric) to create sound. They all have tuning pegs and are made with a specific material (in almost every case its a type of wood).
Getting to know your guitar will add to the interest and enthusiasm you have for playing it. As you get better, you can get an even better guitar to add to your collection. Or you could get a completely different guitar so that you can perform different styles.
#3 Tune-up correctly
Keeping your guitar in tune will make learning far, far easier. A perfectly tuned guitar means that every time you try to play along with a YouTube video or music track, you can hear whether or not you are playing right.
Invest in a decent tuner. Learn how to use it properly. There are all kinds available. Some of them can be clipped onto the headstock of the guitar, others require you to plug in your lead. Getting into the habit of tuning your guitar means that over time you will instinctively know when your guitar drifts out of tune. It is essential for when you eventually play live.
#4 Learn to change your strings
Knowing how to change the strings on your guitar is another practical essential for any guitar player. Different types of guitars have different systems, some will use a bridge, some strings will go through the whole body, some will have tuning locks or a tremolo bar.
Get into the habit of changing strings regularly and your guitar will be much nicer to play, will stay in tune more consistently and will sound its best at all times.
If you have absolutely no idea how to do this you can use YouTube videos. Or better yet, get to know the people at your local music store. They will help you get to know your guitar and show you the right way to change your strings.
#5 Learn TAB
TAB is a guitar-specific notation system that uses horizontal lines to represent each string and then a number placed on each of those, to signify the fret that you play. It’s a lot simpler than learning how to read standard music because you don’t need to figure out where on the fretboard you should be playing – it’s done for you.
You can find TAB notation for pretty much every famous song online. There are communities of musicians who figure out new songs that come out. The great thing about TAB is that it opens up almost every song to budding new guitar players who want to study a genre they really love.
#6 Learn music theory
While you don’t necessarily need to be able to read music to play the guitar, it’s still really helpful to know the basics of music theory. And don’t worry, it’s not all bookish learning. Getting to grips with musical keys, time signatures, tempos, crotchets and rests (as well as plenty of others) are all essentials for understanding when to play and in what manner you are required to play.
If you have serious aspirations about being a guitar player, any musical theory you pick up along the way will be hugely useful. Start learning bite-sized pieces now. As you progress, things will start to dovetail nicely and you will understand much more at an advanced level.
#7 Play chords
Chords are groups of notes played or ‘strummed’ together to create a harmony which resonates as a specific note. Each note has a corresponding chord which can be played in multiple places on the fretboard.
There are open chords, which are played with a combination of notes and open strings on and around the first fret. There are also bar chords, where your first finger creates a bar and mimics a fret. The rest of your fingers then create the shape of the chord. These can be moved up and down the fretboard.
Knowing your chord names, positions and the alternatives can breathe new life into old songs and add a touch of flair to your initial basic ideas. Remember that even the most complex songs are built from very simple chords. They are the foundation of songwriting.
#8 Work out your favourite song
Becoming proficient is a case of repetition and perseverance. In order to keep yourself interested, you should try and play some of your favourite songs.
Even the most difficult, technical songs on the planet can be stripped back to very humble beginnings of just a few notes or simple chords. Learn these and you can play along, in a simple fashion.
If you aren’t quick enough yet to make all the chord changes, just play the first chord of each bar, then add in new ones as you learn the transitions.
Each and every time you play along is adding to your muscle memory. Your brain is logging that progress, enabling you to play more and more autonomously. Keep it up and you will be shredding in no time.
#9 Set daily and weekly goals
It sounds obvious and it sounds easy, but setting goals and accomplishing them creates a really satisfying positive feedback loop. This cements your progress and makes you more likely to go on and achieve your bigger goals. It doesn’t just apply to guitar playing, either.
Make your goals clear, write them down and then set about ticking them off. They can be as simple as memorising the shape of an E chord. Or learning to move from an A chord to an E chord. Get a few of these lined up for the week and then tick them off as you do them.
In just a few short weeks you can go from absolutely no knowledge of playing basic songs and even writing your first guitar parts.
#10 Get comfortable with your guitar
This yet another simple tip that sounds obvious and yet is very often overlooked. Getting comfortable with your guitar means that you should have it on your lap as often as possible. Have it there when you watch TV or when you are chatting with your pals.
Make it a part of your life and you will find practising also becomes part of your life. You don’t need to be militantly structured. Your hour a day of practice can comprise of 15 minutes before work, 20 minutes before your tea, another 15 at the dining room table and then 10 minutes before bed.
Before you know it, you will begin to get lost in the guitar and that’s when the magic happens. Things begin to click and your fingers don’t hurt any more. You will see the logic behind your favourite licks and you begin to work things out for yourself.
#11 Watch loads of videos and get loads of apps
There has never been a better time to learn the guitar. Free resources are everywhere. There are thousands of YouTube videos and apps that can help you learn to play the guitar.
From chord libraries to tuners, to mini recording studios. There is an absolute abundance. Having new apps, videos and websites to explore will only deepen your commitment to learning and give you an extremely valuable bank of resources to use.
#12 Learn scales
Learning scales, like every other guitar-related learning curve, can be easily broken down into manageable chunks. The important thing to remember is that scales are absolutely essential to advanced guitar work.
The sooner you start learning them, the more sense they will make. Again, there are countless apps and websites that can help you. Make learning a scale one of your goals and add them to your daily practice routine.
A good way to learn scales is to work out the scales of your favourite songs. This should become easier once you learn different scales. You can then improvise and jam along with the music and eventually with other musicians.
#13 Use dynamics
Knowing how to play the guitar effectively and use dynamics is essential to becoming a performer. Dynamics are the difference between the loud and quiet parts of a song. They are important because, without this range, your guitar playing will sound one dimensional.
Dynamics help to spice up your playing, and also your songwriting. Using dynamics when playing the guitar can help you to make your performance stand out from the crowd. Dynamics are also a simple way to add emotion expression to a song.
#14 Change tempos
The tempo of the song is the speed at which the underlying beat goes. Starting slow and gradually increasing is a great way to learn a difficult song.
Changing up the tempo while performing can help to bring more of an effect to parts of the song. A slower tempo will help give a mellow feel to the song, whereas a faster one gives an upbeat impression to the song. This helps the guitar player to emphasise certain sections of a song accordingly.
#15 Don’t give up
Learning to play the guitar is not easy and there will be times when it becomes frustrating. When that happens, return to something fun. Go back a step if you need to and reconnect with the guitar. Listen to your favourite tune again and get re-inspired. But keep picking that guitar up. Keep trying. Great things will happen.
How long does it take to learn a song on guitar?
For beginners, learning a whole song can take a while. You have to master each chord and then the transitions between those chords. You then have to remember to play them in the right order. But don’t let any of that get in the way of trying.
Being able to play along with a song from start to finish is a magical milestone for every new guitar player. With determination and focus, you can have whole track licked in a couple of hours.
Even if you are just strumming the simplest pattern but you get all the chords and changes right, it proves you are well on the way to becoming a proper guitar player. Not only that, but you’ll feel like a rock god when you’ve done it for the first time. It’s a great feeling.
Once you’ve completed the song in its simplest form, you can begin to add in the detail. Once you’ve mastered that, you can begin to improvise your own part.
How long to learn guitar from scratch?
If you want to get to a really decent level of proficiency and you are dedicated enough you can be well on your way within 3 months. To become a masterful guitar player will take you quite a bit longer.
How many hours a day should you practice?
Ideally, you should be practising for around an hour a day. You should divide your time up into some different areas and try to learn something new and more difficult each day.
In the beginning, you should concentrate on the basics and make sure that you are learning good habits. Then over time expand your repertoire and skill set. You will find that it becomes easier and easier to spend more time on the guitar. Those hours will naturally multiply and you won’t even think about it.
How long does it take to learn fingerstyle guitar?
Like any other musical discipline, fingerstyle guitar takes effort and dedication. If you are a total beginner then starting with the guitar basics is essential before you get into a particular style. If you have been practising a while and know your chords and couple of scales then moving into fingerstyle will be tricky but worthwhile and within a few months, you can be pretty decent.
Can you teach yourself guitar?
Absolutely, there’s never been a better time. However, if you are completely new to music and new to the guitar, it’s worth looking into 1 on 1 tuition. Not only does this give you the opportunity to field all your questions to a professional rather than the internet – it means you can get some vital feedback on your own technique.
At the very beginning, this could be the difference between a life long love affair with the guitar or a dust-covered instrument sat unused in the corner.
Is it too late to learn the guitar?
Absolutely not. At any age, learning a musical instrument is a valuable and enjoyable undertaking. All of the same rules apply no matter how old you are. Practice and perseverance are the absolute bedrock and any latent musical talents you have will come bursting to the fore.
Can anyone learn to play the guitar?
Of course, anyone can play the guitar. You do need some basic rhythmic skills to play on time. However, if you are worried about this then all you need do is learn to clap in time to your favourite tune. If you can do that, you can play the guitar.
Is guitar easy to learn?
It completely depends on your natural musical ability and commitment. Learning another instrument first, such as bass guitar or the piano can make it easier.
Overall, learning to play the guitar takes effort and dedication. In the time it will feel easy but you have to overcome some milestones first.
Which is the best guitar for beginners?
Beginners worry about what type of guitar they have way too much. A simple entry-level guitar that allows you to get the basics down is your best option. If you want a great guitar, save up for it and get it as a gift to yourself for playing for a whole year.
If you are heading out to buy your very first guitar then cheap is absolutely fine. Some entry guitars come in packs with an amplifier, which could be good to start with. Just try to find one with a good reputation for learners, that will stay in tune and is easy to play.
Share your favourites tips for learning how to play guitar in the comments below.