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The typical musician stereotype is that they have to start when they’re in kindergarten and have to practice for 2 hours a day their whole lives to be really good. What about the rest of us who don’t want to dedicate our whole lives to an instrument before sounding any good? Can you get anywhere with the guitar in just 6 months?
After 6 months of practice on the guitar you can learn how to accompany songs with chords and sound decent. To master the guitar and be able to perform advanced playing such as soloing and improvisation takes potentially years of practice.
So, it ultimately depends on your goals--but what’s the difference between playing chords and playing solos? Let’s dive in so you can get an idea of how much you can improve in a short period of time.
What Can You Learn In 6 Months?
The guitar is one of the most successful instruments of our era, and it’s for good reason! It’s not so difficult that it takes eons to produce something worth listening to (I’m thinking of you violin ?).
After 3 Months Of Practicing Guitar
I’ll share what you can learn in 3 months, first:
- Basics of guitar posture
- Basic finger picking technique
- How to use a pick (also called a plectrum)
- Fundamental strumming patterns
- All of the main open chords
- How to read and play songs with open chord positions
- Standard Pentatonic scales
- How to play 20 to 30 real songs
- Travis picking pattern
- Bar chords for the first few frets
- How to tune your guitar normally and with harmonics
After 3 months time of dedicated practice, you will be able to learn some of the fundamentals of the guitar. I got into more detail of where you will be in 3 months time in my post here.
What happens after 6 months though?
After 6 Months Of Practicing Guitar
After 6 months, depending on whether you focus on learning to play songs with chords or learning scales, you can have different results.
If You Focus On Playing Songs With Chords
A foundation of solid rhythm understanding (you can play in time to a metronome or drums for a song)
Your rhythm at this point is finally getting to the stage where you are beginning to feel the beat. This only comes if you practice consistently to a metronome or are playing along with other music.
Basic barre chords
Now that your hand grip is finally getting used to mashing your fingers on the guitar strings, you are finally getting some of those long coveted barre chords. You are now able to play the basic barre shapes such as the E shape and the A shape. Some of the barre chords that require more stretching of the hands are still out of reach for you… some pun intended.
Sight-reading guitar chord tabs
If you’ve really been practicing diligently for 6 months with an emphasis on playing songs with guitar chords, you have a strong chance of being able to sight read guitar chord tabs.
This is really when things are fun. If you’re sitting in a group of people who want to sing or just jam--you can pull up a guitar chord tab and be able to just play the chords and nail the transitions.
You’re still going to stumble on some of the more obscure chords and the occasional sus4 or add9 chords (many players cheat and just play the root chord).
If You Focus On Playing Scales Or Sheet Music
Classical guitarists will often learn from tabs or from sheet music. If you focus on learning tabs and on your scales you are developing a different skillset. These are some of the skills you’ll accomplish down this road after 6 months:
Knowing the fretboard means knowing where all the notes are on the guitar. For example, you’ll know that the 3rd fret on the 6th string is G. If you practice the fretboard and your scales diligently you’ll be able to figure out the patterns of the fretboard within 6 months of practice. Knowing the fretboard is critical for playing sheet music and to a lesser extent tabs.
It’s inevitable! If you practice scales you’ll meander off sometimes and start creating your own melodies and riffs. Pentatonic scales are a great start that can launch you into making music.
The CAGED system is something that helps you learn the patterns of the guitar and helps you learn to move up and down the neck of the guitar and know which notes to play. You can definitely play the guitar for years without ever learning about the CAGED system at all--but it’s definitely something you can grasp within the first 6 months of playing the guitar if you focus on scales and learning some of the theory of the guitar.
Chords or Scales
Your experience of what you can learn and how many songs you can play really depends if you focus on learning chords or scales.
If you focus on learning scales and learning to read music with the guitar, than you are setting yourself up for classical guitar style or jazz or blues guitar. Knowing your scales really well gives you the dexterity to play complicated music, and to solo.
Knowing your chords encourages you to learn how to play songs and you will be able to play full songs much faster if you focus on this method.
Picking what to focus on when you start learning the guitar is a big decision. It impacts what your experience is like. If you want to be able to jam out with your friends or sing along and play songs, then chords are a great starting point.
It’s important to choose wisely. I go over your potential future if you choose chords or scales in my blog post here.
What You Won’t Have in 6 Months of Playing Guitar
It’s important to have the right expectations when you are picking up an instrument--it’s easy to get frustrated with ourselves for not progressing fast “enough”. That’s true for adult learners and for kids.
In 6 months of diligently practicing the guitar, you are not likely to have the following skills:
Playing in the pocket
I mentioned earlier that you’ll have a much better sense of rhythm in 6 months. You won’t however have the skill to be locked into the beat until you practice a lot longer. This locking into the rhythm is called playing in the pocket. It can take years for some guitarists to get this level of proficiency.
Sight reading complicated guitar music
If you choose to focus on the chord playing route, you will be able to sight read and play chord charts for a song but if you choose the scale or sheet music route, even in 6 months you will not be able to sight read complicated songs. You will be able to sight read simple songs but not complicated songs.
Shredding is a term used for guitar soloists that play super fast on an electric guitar and it’s almost synonymous with the rock genre. Shredding is kind of the first go-to for some aspiring guitarists as the must-have skill. While you can definitely learn to play a pentatonic scale quickly, it takes more time to learn this skill proficiently.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?
The guitar is an amazing instrument that is one of the most versatile in the world. No wonder it’s one of the most common instruments you hear.
We talked a little bit about how much you can learn in 3 months and a lot more about what you can learn in 6 months and some of what you won’t have in 6 months.
In 6 months--to summarize, you will be able to play dozens of songs that you enjoy and be to the point where practicing the guitar is really fun. But what about what’s next?
You can learn the guitar well enough to play in a band within a few years of practice.
It also depends on what type of practicing you are doing. If you are just practicing on autopilot and playing the same songs over and over again, 4 years of practice is going to bring you to not far from where you started.
I talk about how much you should practice and where it will take you in this post here.
Is Guitar An Easy Instrument To Learn?
You’ll hear varying opinions about this your whole life. I asked a huge group of guitarists this question and as you might expect, some said the guitar is an easier instrument to learn than others while other said it was the hardest instrument to learn.
In my opinion, guitar is really hard. There are some aspects that are easier than other instruments--for example wind instruments require some incredible breath support and embouchure coordination.
There’s a lot more to it, though. The note layout, the finger strength, and many other things contribute to a challenging (and incredibly rewarding) instrument. I explain what makes the guitar a difficult instrument to learn in my post here on the subject.
How Good Can You Get At Guitar In A Month?
I think this is such a great question… your time is limited! Is it worth spending the time if a month gets you nowhere?
Well, I know for a fact a month can get you somewhere. I had been “playing” the guitar for years--and by that I mean just occasionally picking up the guitar now and again. As you can imagine, I really didn’t progress that much.
I tried to focus on the guitar for an hour a day for just a month to see what progress I could make.
I learned from that month that you can improve much more at the guitar than you think in just a short period of focused practice.