Some of us learn quickly, others rather slowly. The varying speeds at which people learn and process new material are almost as numerous as the population of guitar players. In other words, we all learn at different paces. That said, regardless of where you fall in your pace of learning the guitar, the common denominator between slow learners and fast learners is dedicated practice. And while everyone learns at different paces, there are generally only a few classes of different students when it comes to dedication and practicing.
1) The Ideal-The ones who are naturally and incredibly gifted, with equal dedication and drive. They’re few and very far between.
2) The Virtuoso- The very talented ones, who lack motivation and discipline but excel at playing at the level without necessarily working to refine it.
3) The Talented- An average to considerable measure of natural talent, but ability compounds only by regular, dedicated practice and committed effort.
4) The Committed- Players who may lack considerable natural talent, but have incredible drive and love for music that could eventually escalate them to great ability.
Most of us fall within the 3rd and 4th category. This shouldn’t necessarily be a point of discouragement, though.
Major musical contributions, at least in this day and age, are being made without getting signed onto a label, winning awards, and being aired on the radio. In fact, many musicians (if that’s indeed the goal) are finding that the freedom from those avenues is more gratifying than the temporary fame that may have otherwise been achieved.
Saying all that to say, regardless of where you fall in any of these categories, practice is unquestionably the most reliable means of improving your playing. Period. Again-regardless of your natural talent, practice is the best thing you can do to improve your playing. It’s such a common sense point, it’s almost embarrassing to repeat, but it’s worth repeating.
One of the more common questions is “how long does it take to play the guitar?”. This is a nebulous question, because as soon as you strum the guitar, you’re playing it! But assuming that means “how long until I play the guitar reasonably well?” or “how long does it take to play well enough to play in a performance setting?”, these are questions that have potential for more solid answers.
A simple, generalized timeline may look something like this, assuming that you’re (you guessed it!) practicing!
1-3 Months: Very young students can expect to be plucking out simple melodies and can expect to learn a few simple chords to strum along to. Adults and young adults can expect to be taught enough simple chord shapes to be strumming along to music they’re familiar with.
3-6 Months: Kids should definitely be introduced to chords by this stage, and should be learning a few simple and common strum patterns, as well as learning the principles of rhythm in conjunction. Older students should be learning these same principles as well, and can expect to graduate to more technical strumming patterns within a short time. Some instructors may even begin discussing scales and the principles tied to them as well as barre chords and their role in music.
6 Months-1 Year: There’s absolutely no reason that even an absolute beginner should not be graduated to at least a lower intermediate degree with 12 months of playing. It’s at this point that many students can (and in my opinion, depending on the student, should) consider working toward playing out in a public setting, if only for the experience.
This timeline is by no means absolute, and is only based on my conversations with other musicians/teachers, and is in no way scientific. But that said, as I have met only a small, tiny handful of musical geniuses in my lifetime, it’s safe to bet that most of these students also fall in the 3rd and 4th categories mentioned.