Quora and online guitar forums are full of questions like this. How long does it take to learn the guitar? Can you learn it in 24 hours or one week? Or does it take years of dedicated practice?
As usual with everything, you have to know your outcome. What do you mean by being able to play the guitar? Does it mean that you can play a few songs comfortably, or do you mean that you want to play a touching guitar solo and work as a professional musician? Once you know your outcome, it will be much easier to measure if you reached your goal.
If your goal is to play a few simple songs, you can achieve this in a relatively short amount of time. You can learn the song Zombie by The Cranberries in around 30 minutes as a complete beginner guitarist. It is easy, fun and will give you the instant feeling of being able to play the guitar. You can learn this song HERE.
For the majority of songs, however, you will have to develop a good knowledge of open chords and strumming patterns and it may take you a few months of daily practice for 10 – 15 minutes. The transitions between the chords cause a lot of troubles, so you have to be patient and consistent. I urge you not to give up simply because something seems to be a little difficult. Remember that all guitarists, even the best guitarist’s in the world were in exactly the same place where you are right now, struggling with the same things you are struggling with.
Most probably, it will take you around 6 months to start feeling a little bit more comfortable with strumming and chord changes. I have noticed that it can take even more than one year to get quite good with them though.
During that time you can start working on some advanced chords, arpeggios and simple guitar scales. Any time you add some advanced stuff to your practice routine it is going to make material that you have learnt in the past feel a little bit easier. The key thing to remember is that you should all always be learning new stuff and use the older material to monitor your progress.
It could be a good idea to start learning barre chords after 3 -4 months of playing the guitar. These shapes are quite difficult to master so again, you have to be patient. Mastering the barre chords could take 1 to 2 years, but during this time you will probably elevate your guitar skills to an early intermediate level.
To reach a solid intermediate level, you will have to play the guitar regularly for around 2 – 3 years. At this level, you will need to be practicing for at least 1 hour per day. During this time you will learn a lot of different songs and you will probably develop a sense of style. You will start doing things in your own way. You will also notice that your musical preferences may get more specific. You may prefer to play more pop or blues songs, or you will simply start to specialise in a certain style and technique.
I would expect that an intermediate guitarist would be able to comfortably improvise using simple guitar solo pentatonic scales and being able to arrange songs in a few different ways. You should also be able to jam with other musicians comfortably. It might also be a good idea to join a band at this stage as it will really speed up your learning process and you’ll be able to test your ideas with real people. There are plenty of bands looking for guitarists of all levels, from beginner to advanced, so I am sure you will find something suitable.
Around the 5 year mark, you will start noticing that you are getting really good at playing the guitar and you will probably move into a late intermediate level player. By then, you should be able to play a lot of different songs, use comfortable barre chords, power chords and so on. You should be able to play more complex guitar scales (for instance 3 note per string scales) and have a good sense of rhythm. Keeping good timing is essential for being a good musician but you can develop your rhythm by practising to backing tracks and jamming with other musicians. You should also be building your own practice routines that will give you strong, consistent results.
To become an advanced level guitarist, it may take around 10 years or more (sometimes less – I know plenty of guitarists who get there in 6 – 7 years) but again it all depends on your goals and practising habits. By this stage you should be practicing for 2 – 3 hours per day (some spend as much as 5 hours or more!) to keep developing your guitar skills.
If your aim is to become a well-rounded musician, I would expect a good knowledge of music theory and harmony, good compositional skills and flexibility in using guitar techniques. You should be able to transpose music to different keys, feel comfortable improvising using complex scales and arpeggios and be able to deliver a quality performance in a band or playing with others.
So to answer the question how long does it take to learn the guitar – you can learn a simple song in 30 minutes, but it will take you 2 -3 years to get to a decent intermediate level. 5 years to get really good with what you have learned and 10 years to jump to a more pro level.
I am learning and practising every day and I am enjoying every second of it. I think keeping your expectations realistic whilst practicing regularly, will give you awesome results.