This is a common question among beginning players or people that are just considering to pick up the guitar. The thing with this question, however, is that “good” varies a lot depending on the level of technique you’re trying to reach, the styles you want to play, and, ultimately, what you want to do with the guitar.
If all you want to do is be able to play some White Stripes tunes with your buddies, or be ‘that guy’ that plays ‘Wonderwall’ around a campfire, those ideas of “good” are going to look a lot different than if you want to reach, say, Jimmy Page proficiency and shred away.
So in order to answer, let’s look at some of the things you have to do to be able to play the guitar, the amount of practice time with your guitar headphones that are considered ‘enough’, and finally, some examples of professional players and their particular musical journeys.
No matter what style of music you want to play, you will have to learn the basic technique of holding and getting decent sound out of a guitar with your guitar picks. This includes strumming, learning and playing chords, being able to switch between them, learning some scales, and getting down some basic rhythm to be able to play along.
Even the most inexperienced players are able to reach this basic level of proficiency by simply getting 20-30 minutes of focused practicing each day. Some people manage even with only a few daily minutes. The big difference, of course, is that the person that practices more would get there faster, say in like 6 months, while the other one would take maybe twice as much.
What’s Focused Practice?
So what on earth does this mean? It means making the most out of the precious moments you actually get to play your guitar. If all you do is fool around or try and get it tuned, and then spend almost no time learning new things, it’s going to take you longer to get “good”.
The best advice here is to start off with lessons, even if they’re just a few. Having someone who’s already gone through that steep beginner’s learning curve will aid tremendously. This can be finding a teacher who you can meet face to face with, or finding someone online. Both can help with getting some sort of practice routine and getting periodical feedback on how well you’re progressing.
Having A Good Guitar
Tied to this spirit of efficient practice, is having a decent instrument to play on. If your guitar is in good shape, sounds nice, is comfortable to play, and you manage to keep it tuned and clean, you’re going to feel much more incentivized to keep playing. As a natural consequence, you’ll get better faster.
The same thing could be said about your practice space. Keeping your guitar locked away in a case in the attic is a sure-fire way of making sure that every time you get the itch to practice, it’s going to be easier to say “I think I’ll do it later” since it’s such a nuisance to actually sit down and do it.
Choosing A Proper Time And Place
The same goes for common distractions such as your cellphone, little kids around, a nagging spouse, or that time of the day when the dog decides to bark for an hour straight. If you manage to find a nice and quiet place where your guitar can sit safely, tuned, right next to the seat you take to practice, then you’re more likely to make a habit out of it.
Long story short, creating the habit of playing guitar, practicing focused, and learning new stuff everyday is how you get ‘good’. To answer the question that led us here, we would have to try and find the right combination of all these factors to fit the life of each person.
That’s why it’s so hard to come up with a straight answer for this. Instead, let’s look at the stories of some notable guitarists to see how much they varied. In order to keep it simple, varied, and caterable to most musical tastes, we’ll stick to the three guitarists featured in the guitar documentary ‘It Might Get Loud’.
The mighty James Patrick Page was only 8 years old when he first came across his first guitar. Somebody had left it behind in a house little Jimmy and his family moved into in 1952. He says he didn’t really start playing until the age of 12, taking a few lessons, but mainly playing by himself.
In his own words:
“When I grew up there weren’t many other guitarists … There was one other guitarist in my school who actually showed me the first chords that I learned and I went on from there. I was bored so I taught myself the guitar from listening to records. So obviously it was a very personal thing.” Source.
It’s hard to say how much time Jimmy devoted to the guitar. He’s rumored to have taken the guitar to school every day, even though it was frequently confiscated.
By the age of 13, only one year since he had started, he appeared on a BBC1 program playing cover songs with a little group he had formed. Given the opportunity, one could say he had become fairly “good” after only a year.
Now, that may be ‘strum a few chords and sing’ good, but to reach the proficiency you can hear on Led Zeppelin’s debut album (1968)… well, by then Jimmy had been playing guitar non-stop for 12 years.
David Howell Evans had been playing guitar and piano lessons since he was a child. That certainly helps. He also had a little brother to practice with. Things would become more intense for him until 1976, aged 17 then when he would join a few schoolmates to form a band called U2. One could say that by the time The Edge recorded U2’s most sophisticated work, he had been playing for pretty much all his life.
John Anthony White’s story, on the other hand, is a bit different. The minimalist style of his first records should attest to that. Jack grew up playing the instruments his older brothers abandoned. His first obsession were the drums, which he picked up in first grade.
Years later, aged fifteen, Jack would go on to work as an upholstery apprentice under Brian Muldoon, a family friend. The two had the idea of forming a band to have something to do during downtime at the upholstery shop. Since Muldoon played drums, Jack switched to guitar then and there. You’d think he wasn’t that good at that point, but he certainly thought he was ‘good’ enough to record his first album as one-half of The Upholsterers.
Hope you enjoyed this article – and while in the mood – please also check our other pieces in our learning series about how to make a diy pedal board, alvarez guitars, and electric guitar strings.