by Scott Zimmerman

The guitar is one of those instruments that is really easy to pick up and start making music. It is probably the main reason why it has always been such a popular instrument for the masses. Of course, mastering the guitar can be a lifelong endeavor, but anyone in a relatively short time can enjoy making music on the guitar.

With some basic knowledge and perseverance, you can learn to play a song or melody on the guitar in twenty minutes and perfect it in a couple of days.

Let’s take a look at five examples of Tow Long It takes to learn guitar.

Example 1: Ways To Learn The Guitar

There are a couple ways that you can learn guitar: 1) teach yourself,  2) learn from someone who knows how to play, or 3) a combination of both. Many guitarists are self taught which means they did not take lessons from what we would think of as a traditional teacher. But, that does not mean they did not learn from another source. It used to be that a friend or relative would show a couple chords to a new player, in an informal way, and that would get things going.

Today, with all of the online sources available, that uncle or friend is available all the time. Online sources come in two varieties: free and paid. There are tons of free online lessons and you can easily teach yourself a song in an hour or less. If you are looking for something more structured you can purchase either a course or a monthly membership to a guitar site that will help you navigate through the beginning stages of playing. Another option is to work one on one with a private teacher either online or in person. This will be more expensive, but it may be worth the extra cost to have a personal guide.

Example 2: How To Learn

There are two basic approaches to learning the guitar: 1) song approach and 2) method approach. The song approach is probably the most popular and for good reason, the end goal of playing a song or riff is easy to see. Also, it is highly motivating to play a song you know. This is a great way to start. You can play an easy song right away. Just make sure you don’t pick a song that is too hard at first, or you may become frustrated. The other approach is the method approach.

This is where you build up from one skill to another, e.g. learn string one, then learn string two, etc. For most people, this approach will not be motivating enough to sustain an interest in the guitar for very long. However, later on this type of approach is the way to really refine your skills and will help you create a bridge from your current skills to the next level. So, keep that in mind for later. Also, you can do both. You can continue to learn songs and spend part of your playing time working methodically. 

Example 3: Two Fundamental Skills

If you were to break down guitar playing into two fundamental skills, they would be chord playing and single string playing or playing “riffs”. It is important to understand how these two skills are used when playing the guitar, so that, based on your interest, you can decide where to start. To keep it simple answer this question: “Do you like to sing?”. If the answer is yes, I would recommend that you start with chords because you will immediately be able to sing and accompany yourself on the guitar in about an hour.

Many songs only use three chords and there are a lot that only use two. So, you learn two or three chords and right out of the gate you’re playing the guitar. If you are not much into singing, start with the single note approach or what are called “riffs”. Riffs are the cool guitar parts of songs, e.g. Smoke On The Water, Seven Nation Army, etc. In a sense, you are singing through your guitar when you play riffs. You can learn the riff to Smoke On The Water in ten minutes and then play it all day!

Example 4: Make a plan by focusing on one thing at a time for five days

Whether you are playing a chord song or riff song, stay with it for five days. Yes, you will be able to learn it, initially, in a short time, but to actually get good at it, you will need to practice it daily for a set amount of time, e.g. fifteen minutes a day for five days. Keep track of your songs and when learning a new song be sure to warm up with the songs you have already learned, so that you don’t forget them.

In this way, “learning the guitar”, becomes a series of small segments that you accumulate overtime. A word of caution, if you are teaching yourself and you can’t learn the song or riff, in part or whole, in fifteen to twenty minutes, you are in over your head and in danger of becoming frustrated. Two options: work on a smaller section of the song or choose an easier song for the time being. 

Example 5: Real World Examples

Some background: For most of my teaching career, starting in 1995, I have been teaching private guitar lessons in a studio. Typically, the lessons are half an hour and ninety-nine percent of my students are absolute beginners- never touched a guitar.

The goal for the first lesson is always to have the students leaving with something to play on the guitar right away. This goal is always accomplished. Why? Not so much because of my teaching, but because of how accessible the guitar is for new students. (By the way, it works for any age, I teach students in elementary school to adult ages.) Here’s how a typical first lesson goes.

Let’s say the student likes to sing, we learn three basic chords and put them together with a song, and in twenty minutes they are playing the guitar to a song they have heard before. On the other hand, if a student is not interested in singing, we learn Smoke On The Water, or some other easy riff based song in fifteen minutes and “boom” they are hooked. As they say, your results may vary, but I want you to know that it is possible to learn to play the guitar quickly. Then, if you truly have an interest in the instrument, you will continue to learn and develop your playing. But, it is that easy to start!

Final Thoughts

You can most definitely learn to play the guitar in a short amount of time. How much time? Well, as we said above, one song or riff can take as little as fifteen minutes. Of course, to refine it and play it well will take consistent practice, but that can be as simple as fifteen to thirty minutes a day. Because it is easy to produce a pleasing sound on the guitar, relative to other instruments, learning to play a song or riff happens quickly. So, go for it, and you won’t regret it!

About the author 

Scott Zimmerman

Scott Zimmerman is a professional music instructor with over twenty years of guitar performance and teaching experience. Scott holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory.

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