How hard is it to learn guitar? How long does it take? Where do you start? Will you ever be any good? Here’s EVERYTHING you need to know about starting out…
The guitar players you know and love have been playing for decades, in most cases. They honed their skills and craft over thousands of hours.
Even the greats like Dimebag and Matt Pike and Jimmy Page were once mere mortals like you, looking at a guitar and wondering how it all works.
This post is designed to give you a complete overview of what to expect when you first start learning guitar. It will show you the ups and downs and what you can expect on your journey.
As is the case with any form of art, things take time. How much time depends on you. But if you want to be one of the greats, it will take many thousands of hours of practice.
This is where the 10000-hour rule comes from.
What is the 10000-hour rule? It basically means you have to practice something for a minimum of 10,000 hours before you become totally proficient at it.
And with guitar, you’re never finished. And, please, for the love of riffs, do not be that guy that buys all the best gear and the most expensive guitars, only to quit 12 months later.
If you’re brand new, start simple and get into the habit of daily practice. If you can do that for 12 months, then feel free to treat yourself to an expensive guitar.
Even the greats still practice daily. They drill the core stuff and work on things that they need to improve on, always in a constant state of evolution.
Should I Learn The Guitar?
If you’re reading this, then, yes, you should 100% learn to play the guitar. It is one of the best things you will ever do. Nothing else compares.
If you’re interested in playing in a band, writing your own songs, or just playing covers, good guitarists are ALWAYS in demand.
And if you’re brand new to the guitar, my advice would be to start with lessons or, if you’d prefer to learn online and at your own pace, we recommend guitar veteran Nick Minnion – his course is freakin’ amazing.
The instructor, Nick Minnion, has over forty years of playing and teaching experience. The course itself is cheaper than lessons, has everything a beginner needs to know, and you can even get a free trial to see if it works for you – you can get the free trial here.
When I started playing guitar, the internet didn’t exist and neither did YouTube. I had to learn from books and through expensive lessons.
It was painful and I gave up many times. I WISH I had access to courses like this when I started. In fact, if I had, I’d probably by three times the player I am now.
I honestly cannot recommend this brilliant guitar course enough; Nick is a great dude and the platform itself is so polished and easy to use, giving you access to everything you need on your computer or phone.
I’ve subsequently gone through Nick Minnion’s guitar program to brush up on aspects of my playing; things like finger-picking and jazz playing. And I learned a lot in the process. It was totally worth $12 a month!
How Hard Is It To Learn The Guitar?
How hard is it to learn guitar? It’s a simple question, right? It seems like it but as you’ll find out below, the answer is pretty nuanced and it largely depends on you, your goals, and your practice routine…
Learning to play the guitar is one of the best things you can do. You can make music, create sounds and tones, use it to meditate, forget about your day and/or problems. Or you can just write dope riffs to impress your friends.
You can learn songs, experiment with tunings and effects, or just strum away on an acoustic. Most people start out by learning a few simple songs, Smoke on The Water, for instance. Or Hotel California by The Eagles.
You might learn some scales, the minor pentatonic, for instance, or commit to learning all the notes on one string. Either way, these are all relatively easy things to do – even for a beginner. But actually getting “good” on the guitar, in most cases, takes a long time.
How Long Does It Take To Learn The Guitar?
How long? I’d say at least 12 months of regular playing. After 12 months, you’ll be able to play a bunch of songs, you will know the basic scales, and your dexterity will have improved to the point where switching between notes and chords is no longer a chore.
Will you be “good” on guitar after 12 months? No, not compared to a professional player or someone that has played for five years. But you’ll be on your way. And that’s the point.
Guitar is all technique. It sounds obvious, I know. But this is sometimes lost on new players. The guitar icons you know and love have been playing for decades; this gives them a massive head start on you.
But it should not be something that discourages you either. Even when Matt Pike, our lord and savior, was starting out, he had his idols, he had people and players he looked up to, and they were all better than him.
They all had massive head starts on him. And this goes the same for any player from Dime Bag Darrell to Steve Vai – they all started where you are right now.
Is Learning To Play The Guitar Hard?
Learning to play the guitar is not hard, but it does require quite a time commitment. On top of that, you’ll need good instruction too – either from a teacher in person or via an online instructor.
If you’re on a budget, Nick Minnion’s course offers a free trial – and it is brilliant – and if you stay the course it only costs $12 a month.
It also destroys most other “online” courses too; it has better videos, better instructions, is easier to follow, and, best of all, it is cheaper.
This kind of focussed approach, using an actual program, makes learning the guitar a lot easier. You still have to dedicate time to it, and the more time you give it, the faster you will see results.
But the road to becoming a good player is painful, I’m not gonna lie.
Advanced techniques and even basic strumming patterns and scales, for the absolute beginner, will seem hard. But after a few months of diligent work and practice, they’ll get easier.
Learning to play the guitar is a lot like learning to talk. When a baby first starts learning to talk, its vocabulary is limited, its pronunciation is often incorrect and garbled just like your playing when you first start.
A toddler does not know about context, tense, complex phrases, just as you do not know about advanced scales, the location of notes on the fretboard, or how chord progressions work.
The toddler (and you, in this bizarre analogy) starts with the absolute basic building blocks of language and through practice and trial and error, it eventually learns how to speak properly.
And some babies go on to become presidents and quantum physicists. But they all started out in the same place, talking nonsense with zero understanding of language.
If you’ve just picked up a guitar, that’s where you are now – you’re a baby, learning the basic foundations. And just like a baby, providing your focussed on progressing, you will get better very quickly.
You just have to put in the time and follow a strict practice routine. Do this and you’ll be in an amazing place in a few short years.
The key thing, however, is structure.
This is why I recommend you sign-up to Nick Minnion’s course; it will take you through the absolute basics right up to more advanced stuff.
Do the course, follow the lessons, listen to what Nick says, and do what he tells you, and you’ll be playing stuff that currently seems impossible inside four to five months.
How Long Before I’m Good on The Guitar?
To succeed and get better on the guitar, you need structure. If you lift weights, you don’t just start with the heaviest weight possible.
You first learn the correct form for moving the weight. You learn about your body’s range of motion. You learn correct technique. Add in things like solid nutrition, focus, and persistence and you’ll soon be lifting heavier and heavier.
It is much the same with guitar: you have to focus on correct technique, things like strumming, holding the pick correctly, and knowing the fretboard. You have to work on your hand synchronization. You have to work on your dexterity. And you have to understand rhythm.
You also have to have goals.
What do you want to do on the guitar? Do you want to learn a few tunes, so you can just play along with them? Do you want to write your own songs? Do you want to play lead or rhythm?
Having goals gives you direction, things to work towards. If your goal is to play like James Hetfield, you’ll need to focus on your rhythm, improving your speed, and mastering things like the minor pentatonic scale.
Conversely, if you want to learn finger-picking techniques, that’s a whole other kettle of fish – and it is much, much harder.
But for every style of guitar playing there is, there is a simple and effective plan to follow.
Think about it like education: you go to school, you start off with the basics, then, as you progress through the grades, things get more advanced.
This is how it works with guitar. A new player starts out with the absolute basics, you work on these, practice and practice, and then, once you have those down, you move onto the next thing.
And you do this for years and years and years. Over time, providing you don’t quit because you’re not ripping through riffs like Brent Hinds inside of six months, you will slowly and steadily improve.
You’ll get faster, the fret board will start to feel more welcoming, you’ll learn where notes are, and you’ll feel more comfortable putting together your own riffs and compositions.
Benefits of Learning The Guitar
As we get older, our brains get used less. The average 36 year old does not learn anywhere near as many new skills as a 12 year old.
To keep your mind active and engaged, you have to push it, force it to make new connections. Learning guitar is great for this, and a bunch of other things, as you’ll see below:
- Great For Coordination – You will suck horribly at the guitar for the first few months. It will be horrible and you’ll hate every moment of it. But during this period, you are evolving. Your mind is developing algorithms and creating new connections. After some time, you’ll get better and this is because you’ve developed new mind-muscle connections.
- Meditative – There is a little thing called the flow state; it is basically when you’re doing something you love and you get lost in it, time kind of goes away. After a year or so of playing, the guitar can become a meditation tool, a thing you use to relax, problem solve, or just switch off. This is one of my favorite things about playing guitar.
- Improves Creativity – Learning to play the guitar will challenge you to think creatively; it will force your mind to think outside its comfort zone. You will find and create things that seem to come from nowhere. Do this often enough and you become a songwriter. And it all just happens too, you don’t need to force it, just let the creative process do its thing.
- You Can Create Art – Thanks to phones and computers, it has never been easier to create music. You can create studio-grade music for next to nothing these days. And that means, once you’ve got your skills locked down, you can start making your own music.
- You Can Make Money With It – Once you’re an accomplished player, you can start making your own music and selling it. You can write tunes and publish them, or you could join a band. If you’re very good, you could become a session musician (this is how Jimmy Page made a living before Zeppelin).
Is Learning Guitar Good For Your Brain?
Regardless of your age, learning the guitar is one of the best things you can do for your brain, according to science. You will learn a new skill, you will create new synapses, you will improve your hand-eye coordination, and you will become more creative.
With children, this effect is even more pronounced. Kids that learn music from a young age have been shown to be smarter in general, more creative, and tend to do better in school.
Why? Because they’re developing their brains faster. Learning a new skill, any skill, requires the recruitment of new synapses in the brain. The more skills you learn, the more connections your brain has to make. And more synapses (connections) means more brain power.
If you have a small child, and you want them to do the absolute best they can in school (and also be a total badass when they’re in their 20s), get them started with guitar. If they’re 10 years old, they’ll have the potential to be playing at a professional-level by the time they’re 20.
What about if you’re older? Even if you’re 40 years old, learning to play the guitar comes with myriad benefits. Again, you’re testing and forcing your brain to adapt and evolve – this is good, you want to be doing this.
It will keep your mind active, help you create new synapses and connections, and it will improve both your mood (creating and learning have been shown to help with depression) and your dexterity.
You can start learning guitar at any age, there is no limit. If you want to create music, and you want to play guitar, just forget what you’ve been told about “starting early” and get on it!
In 12 months time, you’ll be on your way to becoming a half-decent player. Give it another few years and you’ll be verging on actually becoming good.
What About Musical Talent?
Is musical talent inherited? Do certain people have a natural predisposition towards music? In some ways, yes; but this is the same with anything – some people just have natural talents.
However, it is extremely rare. Even players like Jimmy Page, Hendrix, and Steve Vai, while all having masses of organic talent, still had to put the hours in day in day out; in this respect, there is no way around it.
You can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not prepared to work at your craft, you’ll never be any good. Hard way is the backbone of any good player’s skill set – not luck or god given talents.
Luck and innate talent help, sure, but relying on this solely is not the way to do anything. If you’re just starting out, mentally prepare yourself for a marathon, no, screw that, an ultra-marathon, because that’s what guitar playing is – you endure, you work at it, and you push through.
And if it gets hard, you don’t give up. You stick with it, you push your boundaries, and you do it daily, religiously. If you can do all that there is nothing from stopping you from becoming a phenomenal guitarist.
Famous Guitarist Quotes About Practicing
Need some more inspiration for sticking to your practice routine? Here’s a bunch of quotes from some of the best guitarists to ever walk the earth on how and why they practice – and why it is so important.
Finding ways to use the same guitar people have been using for 50 years to make sounds that no one has heard before is truly what gets me offJeff Beck
Notes and chords have become my second language and, more often than not, that vocabulary expresses what I feel when language fails meSlash
If you want to be a rock star or just be famous, then run down the street naked, you’ll make the news or something. But if you want music to be your livelihood, then play, play, play and play! And eventually, you’ll get to where you want to beEddie Van Halen
Success is falling nine times and getting up ten timesJon Bon Jovi
I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop itJimmy Page
Whenever I get down on my playing, I just bend a note, shake it and listen. What I hear sound so great it makes me realize that even a rut doesn’t suck Dimebag Darrell
If you really love guitar, you’re going to spend every waking hour stroking the thingFrank Zappa
I came from the last couple of years in a generation where we didn’t have a computer around so we didn’t waste as much time on the internet as we do now so I had large chunks of time which to devote to doing somethingJohn Mayer
Where To Next?
As noted earlier, if you’re committed to taking on the study of the guitar, of getting good, of understanding the basics, and progressing on a month-by-month basis, you should 100% check out Nick Minnion’s incredible online guitar school.
As an absolute beginner, it is a gold mine. Nick is a great dude, has a wealth of experience (more than 40 years of playing and teaching), and the course material is easy to follow and consume at your own pace.
Nick will also be happy to speak with your via email and video calls too. And if none of that was enough to tempt you, you can even get a free trial of the course to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Me? I’m a huge fan of Nick’s work and his platform. For me, it is the best place for ALL new beginner players to start their journey.