HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A GOOD GUITAR PLAYER?
As a guitar teacher one of the most frequent questions I get asked by people who have recently started playing is ‘how long will it take me to get good at guitar?’
When I was a guitar student myself I was very interested in knowing the answer to this question too, and I remember feeling very frustrated by non-answers like ‘how long is a piece of string?’ In this article I want to put across what I believe to be the true answer to this question, and one that will actually help you plan ahead and move forward with your guitar playing in a positive way.
Let me start this article by making the most important point that you need to understand:
NO ONE CAN TELL YOU HOW LONG SOMETHING WILL TAKE UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO ACHIEVE
For example, one student’s idea of being a ‘good guitarist’ might be being the kind of player who could confidently accompany people singing songs at a party. To another student, being good might mean being able to improvise rock solos on the spot. Or it might be being able to write their songs and/or perform them in a band setting. To someone else, a ‘good’ player is someone who can play a large variety of styles competently. To someone else it could be the exact opposite of that – becoming brilliant at one genre or style of music. I could give another half page of examples, but you get the point: every guitar player has different tastes and interests, and completely different ideas about what makes ‘good’ playing.
What matters is not that we all agree on what is good playing, but that YOU yourself understand what it is that matters to you. When we get down to it, the things that matter to you, the things you’d like to be able to do on guitar but can’t yet, are your goals.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING DEFINED GOALS
An awful lot of beginners and hobby guitarists make the mistake of believing that ‘goals’ are something that doesn’t apply to them. They assume that ‘goals’ are only something for players with audacious plans to become the next guitar hero in a platinum selling rock band! In reality, having a goal simply means having a clear picture of what you want to achieve. Every single person who has ever picked up a guitar has goals of some kind, whether they’re aware of it or not.
If you don’t have goals in mind for your playing you’re basically wandering around in the dark. After all, how can you ever achieve something when you don’t even know what your target is? How can your practice time be effective when you don’t even know what you’re hoping to ultimately get by doing it?
The reason that having clear goals is so important to how long it will take you to get good at guitar is this:
DIFFERENT GOALS TAKE DIFFERENT LENGTHS OF TIME TO ACHIEVE
Let that statement sink in, because it has serious implications for your journey as a guitar player. When you think about it, it’s actually very obvious. Of course it takes a completely different length of time to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix than it does to learn to strum along to Oasis tunes. It makes sense that it’s going to take a completely different length of time to learn chord fingerpicking than it will to be able to play blazing metal solos all over the guitar neck.
Have you thought in detail about exactly the kind of playing you actually want to be able to do? Do you have multiple specific examples of players and songs you really admire and would like to replicate? Do you know precisely what results you want to see from taking guitar lessons (or at least from the time you spend practicing, if you don’t have a teacher)?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions yet, don’t worry – most guitar students are in the same boat. In fact, the vast majority of guitar students do not spend any time really thinking about their goals before taking lessons.
To demonstrate this, I want to show you an example of a very typical thing that guitar students will say when I ask them about their goals. In saying this, the students often think they have stated a goal but they actually haven’t. These players, especially beginners, and especially older students, will say something like:
"I don't have goals. I just want to play for my own enjoyment."
Well that’s great, but guess what? It doesn’t mean anything. Why not? Every guitar player in the history of the world plays on some level for their own enjoyment. Your real goal is whatever you want to achieve that will MAKE guitar playing enjoyable for you.
If playing for others at social events would be a pleasure for you, then acquiring the skills to be able to do this is your real goal. If you would really enjoy being able to play blues solos at jam nights, then that is your true goal. The fact of ‘enjoying’ your guitar playing will be a direct result of whether you’re making progress towards your true goals. You need to get under the surface and work out what you ultimately want to get from playing the guitar; working towards THIS is what will give you the pleasure and enjoyment you seek. Your goals can and will change as your playing develops, and that’s perfectly fine. As a beginner you might feel that your goals are very modest, but don’t worry; they’re completely valid, and can be updated as time goes on. But at any one time, you must know what you’re working towards.
Once you can articulate what you want to get out of playing guitar, a highly experienced guitar teacher who is extremely knowledgeable in the styles you want to play will be able to produce a map to get you to that point in the shortest possible time. Your practice time can also be targeted specifically at improving only those skills you actually need, and stop wasting time practising things that aren’t relevant to what you want to be able to do. You would be very surprised how fast guitar players can become really good when the ideal conditions for their specific goals are met.
Even if you don’t have a teacher, but you really know what your goals are, you will be a lot better able to seek out relevant content and to organise your practice time effectively than most guitar students. The clearer you become on what you want to get out of guitar, where you want to improve, and what you need to work on to bring about that improvement, the sooner you can stop spinning your wheels and start making great leaps in progress!