Over the last 20 years of teaching guitar, I’ve been asked this question exactly 1.6 billion (give or take a billion) times. “How long will it take me to get good at guitar?” And my answer is the same every time. “No good teacher will give you an answer to that question.”
There are a few reasons for this…
1. How good a player you become, and how fast you reach your goals, greatly depends on how much time you put into practicing. You can have the best teachers in the world, but if you don’t get your fingers on the strings on a regular basis, you won’t advance very quickly.
I have students that put a ton of time into playing and make significant jumps in skill very quickly. And I have other students that don’t have as much time to put in and take much longer to make strides. Sure, natural ability can be a part of it. But that put the work in will reap the rewards faster.
By the way, age has nothing to do with this. You’re never too old to start. Despite all the kiddie “head start” programs and such, adult do have some advantages over kids when it comes to learning music. Primarily better dexterity and a better developed sense of logic.
Tip: Want to learn more in less time? Consistency is the key. You’re way better off playing guitar for 15 minutes a day, 7 days a week than playing for 2 hours one day a week. The process or learning anything is all about making new synaptic connections in your brain. Those connections are strengthened through regular repetition more than anything else. Time off in between causes those connections to loosen and break.
2. What’s your idea of good? Is it being able to strum a folk song around campfire? Jam a 12-bar blues with friends? Be able to faithfully reproduce “Bad Horsie” by Steve Vai? Everyone has a different idea of what “good” is. And here’s the catch 22… As you improve, YOUR idea of what “good” is will evolve. Maybe when you can bang out that 12-bar blues, you’ll get bored with it and want a new challenge.
I’ve been playing guitar for 24 years and every night after my shows people tell me I’m a great guitarist. But in my head I’m thinking, “Good for tonight. But not good enough for me.” Which leads me to my next point.
Tip: When you first get into learning guitar, having some concrete goals is great. Pick out a few songs you want to learn eventually. Even if they’re out of your range now. That will give you something specific to work towards and help your teacher take you in the right directions. And when you reach those goals, create new ones.
3. There’s no such thing as “done” in music. Or anything else for that matter. Painters, actors, comedians, plumbers, construction guys, software coders… Nobody learns everything about their craft. There is always another angle, another idea, another new technology that changes the landscape. Guitar, like any other skill, is a lifetime pursuit.
You may not want to pursue it for a lifetime. Maybe you’ll get to a certain point and be perfectly happy with your skill level. That’s totally ok too. The goal is to have fun and enjoy yourself, wherever you are in the process.
Malcolm Gladwell explained that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. The good part is, you don’t need to become a master. You just need to have fun and keep it interesting for you.
And if you’ll excuse me for a little armchair psycho-analysis…. 🙂 I’ve read in psychology and learning theory books that asking questions like this before starting the learning process kind of means you’re looking for an answer you don’t like. Why? So you don’t “make a mistake”. So you don’t “fail”. So you can actually avoid the thing you’re looking to do.
Don’t worry, I do this stuff too. 🙂 Remember, there is absolutely no down side to learning music. Whether or not you become the next great guitar god or spend years banging away on simple folk songs, the only thing that matters is your level of enjoyment. So just jump in. Mistakes and failure just mean that success if around the corner.
Is there a magic bullet? Well, as we’ve seen, you are the biggest component of your success. BUT… there is one thing that can make learning guitar much much easier and faster. Click here to to see what it is.
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