How hard is it for an adult to learn how to play guitar?
February 8, 2016 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Said adult is in early thirties and has very minor musical experience
posted by watrlily to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
not hard at all, get to it. Start with basic chords to songs you know already. play with a metronome.

does said adult know how to read music? that'll help a lot.
posted by sweetkid at 5:49 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how you want us to answer this question. It varies like crazy from person to person! How easily do you pick up musical concepts? Someone like me, who has been musically trained since I was a kid, I picked up guitar pretty quick once I started trying to learn - was able to play some simple songs within a week or two, and I'm still learning. Someone who knows nothing about music, has to learn musical notation, has to learn what the strings do, what a chord is, how to hold the guitar, etc. etc.... it can be harder.

With that said, I don't think guitar is a particularly hard instrument in general. Not like say, learning violin.

Pick up a beginners book and go from there. Maybe get a private tutor.
posted by FireFountain at 5:51 PM on February 8, 2016
posted by humboldt32 at 5:58 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Adding to previous answers, it also depends on what you want to play. For classical guitar, you'll need to be able to read music, and it's going to be a steeper learning curve. If you want to strum chords and sing along, there's no need to read music and the difficulty really depends on how "musical" you already are (ability to hold a tune, keep a rhythm etc). Finally, if you want to learn more fancy rock guitar (like soloing etc) there's still no need to learn to read music as most guitar music uses tablature, but you'd want to pick up some music theory (keys, scales, chords) and train your ear.

But the short answer is: not very. Guitar is one of the easier instruments to make nice sounds with right from the start, and you can certainly be strumming simple songs in a few weeks.
posted by nomis at 5:59 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Learning basic strumming/picking, a dozen or so chords, transitions between them, and how to read chord charts and/tab is probably within the realm of any adult who is literate, doesn't have any particular neuromuscular issues, and is willing to put in the time.

For me in my mid 20s, the progression went something like this:

* 1st year: I wasn't very good at all, but learned a few songs and was enjoying the process. I could not sing and play at the same time well.
* 2nd year: I was getting better/broader at chords, developing strumming and picking patterns, but still was sometimes kindof halting and afflicted by rhythm problems, especially when trying to sing and play at the same time.
* 3rd year: I started to feel like a competent average performer.

This was with no particular practice regimen, except the guitar was my default "time waster." Think of how you probably use your phone and the internet now, replace an hour or two of that per day with an instrument.

I did have the advantage of significant previous musical knowledge/experience, but I also probably had below average motor skills and discipline. Some people who have more innate talent, do more focused practice, or have better instruction might find it goes faster. Some might find it more difficult.

And of course, there's quite a bit more to the guitar than this (and like most musical instruments, a decade or two might not be enough for mastery and there will always be more at the end of the rainbow) but I suspect this is what most people want to start with.
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:59 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you like to listen to music? If so, you're an excellent candidate to learn guitar. You can play passable versions of millions of songs knowing just 3 chords, the I, IV, and V. You can play in different keys just by using a capo and using the same 3 chords. You have to stick with it a few weeks to start building callouses in you fingertips, they'll hurt at first but it's important to build them up. It will help you make cleaner notes and it's easier to handle hot plates if you're a waiter. :) If you want to learn a particular song, search google for "Song I Want to Play chords" or "How to play Big Hit Song". There are hundreds of thousands of youtube instructional videos. Have fun!
posted by Grumpy old geek at 6:06 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

We need more details... Do you plan to take lessons? How much are you willing to practice per day? (Not an average, but literally every day.) Do you have any particular goal you're working toward, like playing with other people or being able to play certain songs?
posted by John Cohen at 6:43 PM on February 8, 2016

Not that hard. You can literally be able to play hundreds of songs (not very well, but you'll be able to play them) once you learn the basic chords in your first few weeks. Your first couple weeks or so (depending how much you practice) will be spent memorizing basic chords, getting faster at switching between them and building callouses on your fretting hand fingertips so it doesn't hurt. If you have poor rhythm, strumming might be harder, but it getting a basic pattern down should come naturally. But once you do that, you can just build off it. I'd say learning how to play guitar is fairly easy because it doesn't actually require that much work or practice, but getting very good at guitar is much harder. I never practiced and I never learned songs, choosing instead to write my own, but within my first few weeks I was able to do that. Not sure how good they were, but I was having fun.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:56 PM on February 8, 2016

I disagree with all of this. It is very hard to make the music you want to make with a guitar from nothing, when compared to other instruments. Pianos (especially a nice expensive synth). Drums (especially something like bongos or other hand drums), autoharps, harmonicas, bass guitars, and xylophones are all easier to pick up the basics on.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:13 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

As someone who plays both guitar and uke, I'd recommend the ukulele, to start. Four strings are far easier for beginners to deal with than six. Try a baritone uke. Its four strings are exactly the same as a guitar's four higher-pitched strings, and the chords you learn on a baritone uke can then easily be transferred to the guitar when you're ready. Lots and lots of free online instruction, too.

Another benefit of the baritone (and other) ukes is that they have nylon (or a couple of wound) strings, like classical guitars, which means they are easier on tender fingers. You have to develop calluses to play a typical steel-string acoustic or electric guitar for any length of time.

Here's some inspiration:

Justin, of the great site, is also doing some ukulele lessons lately.

If you want to stick with guitar, I agree with the others, go for chords first. Fingerpicking is fun, but takes time to master. You will, as another poster said, be able to play hundreds of songs with three chords.

And oddly enough, electric guitars can be easier to play than acoustics, for some, because the neck is generally thinner and you don't have to reach as far. Takes a while to develop your reach. I have small hands and prefer smaller guitars, myself. But with an electric, you also will need an amp.
posted by merrill at 8:09 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Segovia: “The guitar is the easiest instrument to play, and the hardest to play well”.
posted by falsedmitri at 8:30 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Get Rocksmith for the Xbox. It comes with a cable that lets you plug an electric guitar into your Xbox and then teaches you how to play starting from the very basics of how to hold and tune your guitar etc. so you can literally know nothing about playing guitar when you start. Then it tracks your progress and customizes the lessons to your individual needs and goals.

Even if you have to buy an Xbox just for this, it's still a better value than conventional lessons in terms of potential learning per dollar.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:06 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I love playing the guitar and agree with everyone above that it is an instrument that is not all that hard to play, though of course one can spend a lifetime learning to play it well. For most people, playing the guitar well enough to make oneself feel good is a very achievable goal.

That said, I have a friend that wanted to learn guitar, at least initially. But he has big hands and the guitar he chose had a narrow fretboard and a short scale (meaning, among other things, the frets were physically closer to each other), and he became very frustrated as he could never play notes cleanly. He's also the sort who gets easily discouraged, so he gave up rather than press on. So, while guitar is not a particularly hard instrument per se, it can be very frustrating if dexterity and practicing are obstacles one is not willing to confront and surmount.
posted by mosk at 10:55 PM on February 8, 2016

Go for it - my tips:

1. Get a teacher. Nothing works for memory and discipline like facing an actual human being once a week.

2. Get the very best instrument you can afford up to around £1000 (where it all becomes more subjective and generally crazy). If possible get an American big brand name like Fender or Gibson which can very easily be sold on eBay if it all goes wrong and/or you need the cash again.

3. Use a plectrum and concentrate on your strumming hand as much as the fretting hand (strumming hand is the right for most people). Everyone focuses more on the fretting hand, but the biggest single thing that makes players sound amateurish, and unable to get a vibe going with their playing, is sloppy, weak, uncertain strumming. If you only know three chords but your strumming is bang-on, then you will rock.
posted by colie at 12:49 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone here. Since just shortly after Xmas, I've been helping a friend who is approaching 50 with the rudiments of playing. A lot has to do with how much perseverance one has in getting through the very early tedium of mastering the very basics. My buddy and I meet once a week and he's come quite far for such a short period. We started with the idea that if he could get through the first couple of months, then I'd help him find a real teacher because a good teacher will help a player maximize their potential with a minimum amount of confusion/frustration, etc...

Our meeting last night was quite fun. He has a good feel for some basic chords, switches between them okay, so his left hand is coming along well. His right hand needs work and as suggested above, that's where the "music" comes from. He's a big Eagles fan, so to show him how important the right hand is, I played "Take It Easy" to demonstrate why proper strumming is essential. The intro to the tune is is both simple and elegant--and it shows just how much one can do with some attention to the strumming hand and in developing an ability to count out a rhythm. He was really pumped to hear it and I imagine that within a month or two he'll be able to play a passable campfire version.

tl,dr: Get through the first couple of months of the very basics and then it's gonna be fun, fun, fun--till they take the guitar away...
posted by CincyBlues at 4:50 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't be concerned if you cannot read sheet music. This will not be much of a problem unless you want to learn classical guitar.
posted by thelonius at 6:25 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I asked the same question 12 years ago when I was 37. I've plateaued at the happily-strumming-along-to-the-Eagles phase, but it's pretty great--I've had 12 years of playing around campfires, singing Christmas carols with my family, and noodling around on the couch when I'm bored.

Get started now--you'll be happy you did! There are plenty of youtube videos and Netflix lessons and Chordie and easy lesson books. Hell, I'll give you my old starter guitar if you're anywhere near DC.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:39 AM on February 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another quick tip: buy a clip-on tuner and put it on the headstock. Beginners used to waste plenty of time getting the thing in tune, but that's all easy now.
posted by colie at 7:13 AM on February 9, 2016

If you happen to live in the Twin Cities area, I have a fantastic guitar teacher to recommend.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 8:42 AM on February 9, 2016

Give Yousician software a whirl for about $10/mo. Paced lessons for both solo and rhythm guitar styles. Interactive "game" interface "listens" as you play and rates you on timing. Not the most impressive selection of tunes but I've been playing 15 minutes a day for the past year and am regularly surprised at my progress. Practice as little or as much as you want.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 8:45 AM on February 9, 2016

I agree completely with the sentiment that guitar is a breeze to pick up, but really difficult to play well. I started playing 8 years ago, learning basic chord structures from the internet and could play fairly well along with almost any song that I could find the chords for. I started playing a little bit with a local band, learned a few more guitar tricks, started songwriting, and played well enough to fake my way through some weddings and events that I played for. But I kept having this nagging feeling that I hit this glass ceiling - I didn't really understand the fretboard or why different fingerings made the same chord sound completely different. So I started taking guitar lessons this year and have kind of been struggling; playing well and playing a more "learned" guitar style takes consistent practice and hard work, especially if you want to really understand how the instrument works, rather than just the chords to your favorite songs. If all you want is the latter, you can learn basic chords really easily on If you want to truly know your instrument, find a good instructor and carve out space in your life to regular practice.
posted by orangesky4 at 9:36 AM on February 9, 2016

Thanks everyone for the feedback!... I feel encouraged (and a little tempered by the few cautionary comments)
posted by watrlily at 5:24 PM on February 9, 2016

« Older Websites that have a background video of a...   |   Tax withholding mystery Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.