Learning to play the electric guitar is an exciting journey. Still, it can also be frustrating, with many ups and downs.
It doesn’t help that most guitar players give up playing within a year, so most will only make it to the levels of playing that help unlock your creativity and help you fall in love with the learning process.
But with that said, how long does it take to master this instrument? The answer varies depending on your dedication, practice habits, age, and individual learning pace.
As a beginner, you can expect to spend around 2 to 6 months, or 100 to 500 practice hours, to grasp the fundamentals and play basic notes, chords, and songs on the guitar. With consistent practice, you may advance to the intermediate level after 12 to 18 months, where you’ll be able to play a variety of chord patterns and most guitar songs.
It can take an average of 2-3 years to achieve the expert level to develop excellent technique, music reading abilities, and a great rhythmic sense for advanced pop or rock styles.
Remember, your progress will largely depend on your practice quality and commitment. So, keep practicing and enjoy the process!
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Factors Influencing Learning Time
Everyone has unique learning abilities and natural talents. You may progress at a different pace from others. Age, prior musical experience, and natural talent affect how quickly you can learn electric guitar.
Practice Frequency and Duration
Practice is crucial for mastering any skill, including learning electric guitar. On average, reaching a beginner level, at around 20 hours of practice a week, can take 2 to 6 months (100 to 500 practice hours).
The more you practice, the faster you can progress through intermediate, advanced, and expert levels.
- Beginner: 2-6 months/100-500 practice hours/20 hours a week
- Intermediate: 18-36 months
- Advanced: 4+ years
My favorite thing to tell people new at playing guitar is to practice 30 minutes daily. When applied consistently, this goal is feasible and will help you progress and weather the peaks, valleys, and plateaus you go through to learn guitar.
I’ve found in my journey that learning my favorite rock songs kept me motivated to continue practicing beyond 30 minutes a day and to push through the pain period of being terrible.
Quality of Instruction
Having a qualified instructor who understands your learning style can significantly impact your progress. Learning through online tutorials or local guitar teachers can also affect how fast you learn electric guitar.
There are excellent resources online, and if you want to go this route, I’d recommend choosing a dedicated learning path and not piecemeal together random YouTube videos. If you can find a guitar teacher who will do 1+1 with you, that will be your best path forward toward learning to play guitar quickly.
Some great online courses to check out are:
- Fender Play
- Guitar Tricks
Ultimately, learning electric guitar depends on personal dedication, the time invested in practice, your natural talent, and the quality of instruction you receive.
Beginner Level Timeline
As a beginner, learning guitar starts with mastering basic notes, chords, and simple songs. At this point, I’d recommend not learning much music theory or jumping into sheet music.
In the beginning, the goal for your guitar playing is to get quick wins and feel a sense of progression fast.
During these practice sessions, focus on building your finger strength, developing your sense of rhythm, and becoming familiar with various strumming patterns by learning some easy guitar-based songs.
Here are the milestones you can expect to achieve within the beginner-level timeline:
- 1-2 months: Comfortably playing basic chords and transitioning between them
- 3-4 months: Playing simple songs and beginner-level riffs
- 5-6 months: Begin developing a better understanding of guitar techniques and music theory
Remember, the time it takes to reach each milestone may vary depending on natural ability, commitment, and the learning resources you use.
Intermediate Level Timeline
At the intermediate level, your guitar skills start showing significant improvement. According to GUITARHABITS, mastering new chords, memorizing chord progressions, and smooth transitions are crucial at this stage.
Typically, getting to an intermediate learning timeline ranges from 6 to 18 months. During this time, you will develop better finger strength, increase your speed and accuracy, and begin to tackle more complex techniques like barre chords, fingerpicking, and playing scales.
Here are 10 things to practice at the intermediate guitar playing level:
- Finger exercises: Guitarists can practice finger exercises to increase finger strength, such as chromatic scales, finger twisters, and finger independence exercises.
- Metronome practice: Using a metronome, guitarists can practice playing at a consistent tempo, which can help improve speed, accuracy, and rhythm
- Scale practice: Learning and practicing scales can help improve finger agility and speed, as well as improve knowledge of the fretboard
- Barre chord practice: Barre chords require significant finger strength, so practicing them can help increase finger strength and accuracy
- Fingerpicking practice: Fingerpicking involves using different fingers to strum different strings, which can help improve finger independence, dexterity, and accuracy
- Repetition: Repeating the same technique or exercise can help improve muscle memory
- Stretching exercises: Guitarists can perform stretching exercises to help increase finger flexibility and prevent injuries and fatigue
- Hand and wrist exercises: Exercises focusing on the hands and wrists, such as grip strengthening exercises and wrist curls, can also help improve finger strength and speed
- Playing along with recordings: Playing along with recordings can help improve timing and accuracy and inspire new techniques and ideas
- Taking breaks: Taking regular breaks during practice can help prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of injury
To maximize your practice sessions at the intermediate level, create a structured practice routine with exercises to improve chord knowledge, finger dexterity, and rhythm. Remember, dedication and consistency help shorten the learning curve, so allocate time daily for focused practice.
Advanced Level Timeline
At an advanced level, you’ve likely invested years and countless practice hours on your electric guitar journey. Although timelines may vary, most guitarists are typically comfortable with advanced techniques after 2 to 3 years of consistent practice.
At this stage, you should be proficient in general theory and advanced techniques like tapping, sweep picking, and compound chords, to name a few. Your skill set will also include improvisation and efficient use of scales during soloing.
Moreover, an advanced guitarist can smoothly transition between complex pieces and varying music genres and feel confident writing original music on your guitar, performing, and recording.
At the advanced level, you’ll also develop your own taste and playing style that will help differentiate you as a creative musician.
This is a challenging level, but it’s a fun level where things will feel easier. Keep pushing yourself and challenging your abilities to reach new heights in your electric guitar mastery.
Expert/Professional Level Timeline
Reaching the expert level of electric guitar requires many hours of practice and an unwavering commitment to further developing your skills.
For most players, this journey may take 5 to 10 years, depending on the individual’s dedication and natural ability.
As an expert player, you should now focus on developing your own playing style. At this point, you may spend more time writing your own music and narrowing your focus to certain playing styles and genres.
It’s important to note that being at the level of “professional guitarists” doesn’t mean you stop learning. The process of getting better and improving never stops. However, at this level, progress may feel more plateaued than at other levels of learning.
Music Theory vs. Tablature
When learning electric guitar, there are two main methods for understanding how to play songs: music theory and tablature.
Music theory studies how music works, including scales, chords, and harmony.
On the other hand, guitar tablature is a form of notation that shows which frets and strings to play on the guitar using numbers instead of musical notes.
While both methods are important for guitar players, they have different purposes, advantages, and disadvantages, especially at the beginning of your guitar learning journey.
Pros & Cons of Music Theory First for Beginner & Intermediate Players
- Provides a deeper understanding of how music works
- Helps with composing and improvising music
- Improves sight-reading skills
- Helps with learning new songs more quickly
- Provides a common language for communicating with other musicians
- It can be complex and time-consuming to learn
- It can be overwhelming for some beginners
- May take time away from practicing the instrument itself
- It can be challenging to apply practically without guidance from a teacher or mentor
Pros & Cons of Guitar Tabs First for Beginner & Intermediate Players
- Quick and easy way to learn new songs
- Shows exactly where to place fingers on the fretboard
- Widely available online
- No need to read traditional sheet music
- It can help improve finger dexterity and technique
- Does not provide a deeper understanding of how music works
- It may not be accurate or complete for all songs
- It can be difficult to know how to play a song correctly without hearing it first
- It can become a crutch and hinder the development of other skills
Learning on Electric Guitars vs. Acoustic Guitars
When you first jump into the world of guitars, you may be confused about what type of guitar you should purchase. While there is no right or wrong answer to whether you should start on an acoustic guitar vs. an electric guitar, both have advantages and disadvantages.
Electric guitars are generally easier to learn because it takes less effort to push down strings, the necks are smaller, cheaper electrics tend to sound better than cheap acoustic guitars, and there’s more versatility in the sounds they can produce.
However, electric guitars require more gear, such as amps and cables. Also, because of the amplification, they will be louder in general. Thankfully, many of the best electric guitar starter kits come with amps with a headphone output for silent practice.
Acoustic guitars can be made with nylon or steel strings. A steel-stringed acoustic guitar is the sound you’re used to if you listen to modern pop and rock music. Steel strings are brighter and project more than a nylon string guitar.
However, a nylon string (which is often used for beginners learning classical music) is the easiest to fret compared to a steel-string acoustic and electric guitar. However, some players may find the sound too one-dimensional compared to the other options.
Acoustic guitars are lovely options for singer-songwriters and players learning rhythm in music.
Additional Tips for Progress
Setting Realistic Goals
It’s important to set achievable goals based on your current skill level. Beginners should start with simple chords and strumming patterns, while intermediate players can focus on more complex techniques and songs.
Remember that progress may be slower for advanced and expert players as they work to perfect their skills and achieve greater mastery.
Tracking Your Progress
Monitoring your improvement can keep you motivated and focused. Use a practice journal or a digital tracking tool to record your practice sessions and accomplishments. This will make it easier to see your growth and identify areas needing additional practice.
There’s something about hearing back from your playing that highlights areas for improvement.
Remember that learning electric guitar is a long-term commitment, and your progress will depend on the quality and consistency of your practice.
Reaching an expert level takes years of dedication, practice, and patience.
Your journey as an electric guitarist will be unique. Still, with perseverance and a commitment to learning, you’ll find yourself making substantial progress. Stay focused, practice regularly, and most importantly, enjoy your time on the instrument.