RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
When you’re first starting to learn how to play guitar, you can sometimes feel like you’ll never get any better, especially when trying new techniques, like fingerstyle guitar.
If you’re new to the instrument, you might be curious: How long does it take to learn fingerstyle guitar?
Those already comfortable forming chords and switching between them should be able to pick up the basics of fingerstyle guitar playing in six months of dedicated practice, while absolute beginners might need a year or more of self-directed practice to be confident. Taking lessons will make the learning process quicker.
Let’s look at what goes into learning fingerstyle guitar as well as look at how different learning paths will take different lengths of time.
Is Fingerstyle Guitar Hard To Learn?
Like so much when it comes to guitar playing, there isn’t a single answer when it comes to how hard fingerstyle guitar is to learn.
There are a few reasons for that.
First, players start to learn how to play fingerstyle at different levels of experience. That doesn’t necessarily have to be experience with a guitar, either.
Someone who’s already comfortable playing another stringed instrument, like a violin, will likely be able to pick up many guitar techniques quickly, even if they don’t have any experience playing guitar.
That’s because they’ll be familiar with learning new techniques and have some of the most basic aspects of playing form down from the beginning.
As an aside, parents should know that early exposure to music education doesn’t just help with learning other instruments, there are studies that show it helps young, developing brains more widely.
Second, while you can generalize that fingerstyle guitar playing gives a warm, beautiful acoustic sound, there is a wide range of difficulty and complexity when it comes to fingerstyle guitar. Some songs have very basic patterns while others are much more intricate.
This video shows a simple fingerpicking pattern and how it can be used over chord progressions.
This video, by contrast, shows a more advanced fingerstyle pattern, called clawhammer, as well as variations of that pattern.
And those, of course, are just two examples. There is a whole range of difficulty in between them.
You can even find different fingerstyle arrangements of songs designed to be more or less difficult to master. In general, the less difficult versions will sound less like the original song, with the more difficult versions sounding closer to to original.
How Do You Learn Fingerstyle Guitar?
Today there are two main ways to learn fingerstyle guitar: watching video lessons online, and taking lessons with a professional player. Those aren’t the only methods — you can also buy instruction books, and plenty of people can learn how to play songs by listening over and over — but they are by far the most common.
We’ll look more at in-person lessons as opposed to watching videos in a bit. First, let’s look at what else you need to do to learn fingerstyle guitar.
That’s because while there is going to always be a healthy debate between players who think lessons are important and those who are proudly self-taught, one thing those players all have in common in that they spent time practicing the techniques they learned until they mastered them.
Much of the very basics of learning to play guitar is building muscle memory. You learn how to make chord shapes and how to transition quickly and smoothly from one to another, and, in the case of fingerstyle guitar playing, you also learn patterns to alternate the fingers of your playing hand.
The only way you can build that muscle memory is by repeating the motions over and over until they become nearly unconscious actions. Think, for example, of how you don’t need to think of where your fingers are moving when you type, as long as you start out from the correct position in the first place.
As you spend time playing guitar and making the same basic movements over and over again until they become second nature, you slowly start to pick up fluidity and speed.
A 2007 article from Harvard Business Review about a scientific study of experts concluded that what really separated the elite in any area or discipline from others was that the most highly skilled spent time in deliberate practice. That means time spent practicing things that they were not comfortable with and also continually expanding what you learn as you master skills.
That is different from just playing the guitar. While you’ll definitely improve at the songs you play when you play them over and over, that doesn’t necessarily translate to becoming a better guitar player.
You definitely will get better in general when you first start, but without deliberate practice, you’re likely to hit a plateau. That’s especially true when learning complicated skills like fingerstyle guitar playing.
And while using tablature to learn fingerstyle guitar songs is one option, it falls short of dedicated practice. That’s because dedicated practice focuses on skills and techniques, rather than songs, meaning you can more easily transfer the skills from song to song.
The author of that article is also the psychologist whose research supports the idea that it takes at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a master of a skill. That is about three hours of deliberate practice every day for 10 years.
That becomes more daunting when you consider that deliberate practice also requires you to measure your progress and listen critically to recordings of yourself — and the time that takes is not part of the practice time.
Will Lessons Help You Play Fingerstyle Guitar More Quickly?
One way to improve your skills relatively quickly is to take personalized guitar lessons. That’s because a teacher can create a plan that gets you the skills you want starting from your current level.
The experience a teacher has is important in that case, because they’re better able to assess your skills than you’re likely to be. They can then design lessons that will challenge you without frustrating you, an important balance to keep in mind.
After all, too little challenge will bore you and then you won’t progress, but too much frustration means you won’t get things right in practice, and then, again, you won’t progress.
The initial assessment is only part of the benefit, though. After all, maybe you’re quite good at assessing your own skill level and could set a course for yourself.
The way a teacher truly helps you learn fingerstyle guitar more quickly is by giving you immediate feedback about mistakes you’re making. A teacher can stop you in the middle of an exercise to correct your form, your fingering, or your playing hand position, allowing you to learn the correct technique from the beginning.
Not only is that good to play the right notes, but it can also prevent pain caused by poor form.
There is also a psychological benefit to lessons, at least for some people. In that case, the fact they have a lesson to attend will keep them practicing, because they want to do well during the lesson.
That motivation helps keep players focused on at least some dedicated practice each day, which, in turn, helps them learn techniques more quickly than they would on their own.
It also speaks to another major benefit of lessons. When you come back week after week, you’ll be getting feedback not only on your technique but also how you’re practicing.
That, in turn, lets you continually improve and gives you context so you can get better at assessing your own progress.
The length of time it will take to learn fingerstyle guitar depends on your experience, how you choose to learn, and how much dedicated practice you put in.
One thing is very important: You have to keep your expectations reasonable. Many, many people would love to play fingerstyle guitar like virtuoso Leo Kottke, for example, but that would take decades of single-minded dedication to the craft.
If you can give that kind of commitment for that length of time, then it’s a realistic ambition, but relatively few people can do so.
For most players, 30 minutes to an hour of dedicated practice daily is a good starting place, including at least five to 10 minutes of warm up at the beginning. While the idea of three hours of dedicated practice might sound appealing, at least at first, not many people have the energy or the attention span to keep that up for a long time — which is perhaps one of the reasons there are relatively few experts in any field.
If you’re just starting out playing guitar, don’t worry so much about how long it’s taking to learn a particular skill or technique. Instead, spend your time on deliberate practice and you’ll start to see big improvements coming quickly.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.