How Long Does It Take To Learn Music?

Sep 20, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors answers musicians' question,

Of all the questions I’ve been asked from people wanting to start playing an instrument, the one I’ve heard the most is "How long does it take to learn music?”. I also hear “How long will I need to ‘get good’?” and “How long until I’m able to play a song?”

My answer to anything like this is always simple and dead pan: “How much time ya got?”

In other words, it’s a silly question!!

Okay, I’m just being goofy now.  Of course the question isn’t silly, but it’s an impossible one to answer.  It’s impossible because learning music takes into account so many factors. 

I may argue that they don’t actually want to know how long it’ll take to learn music, but simply when are they going to see tangible results! That’s what they really want to know!

So here’s a better question; one that I hope people will adopt and use whenever they want to gauge whether or not something is worth putting the time into learning:

“What does it take to learn music?”

 Yeah…NOW we’re talking!

 So instead of thinking of learning music in terms of time, let’s talk about it in terms of effort.  What does it take to learn music?

  1. Guided Instruction: In other words, you need a private instructor!  Yes, it costs money, but so does time.  Time costs a lot of money.  When you waste your time, you are also wasting your money.  A good private instructor could save you YEARS of struggle and frustration by teaching you how to play correctly. So, take as many lessons as you can afford.  Invest in yourself.  What’s the point of spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on an instrument if you don’t spend an equal amount in learning how to play the damn thing? Our Practice Warriors Masterclass even has an entire unit dedicated to finding the right private teacher for you.  That’s how important it is. 
  2. A Proper Practicing Strategy: This is a tough one, because many private instructors haven’t put in the time or research to know how to plot out a specific practicing strategy for their students.  However, it  is up to you to ask your teacher “How do I practice? When should I practice? How long should I practice? What exact, specific things do I practice? How will I chart my progress? Where in my house should I practice? What should be in my practice space?" Although the instructor may not have thought out these questions or spend decades researching them, they’ll at least be able to count on their own experiences and successes and give you some guidance in HOW to practice.  Look, 99% of your progress will be when you are NOT in your private lesson; it’ll be when you’re practicing.  If you don’t know how to practice, you will most likely quit before you make any significant progress.

Not to be self-serving or self-promoting (but I’m going to be anyway), that’s why our Practice Warriors website has been so successful: because most people who are learning music or improving their musical skills have never been taught the most important thing about practicing…HOW TO PRACTICE.  (Okay, shameless plug is over!).

  1. Consistent, Daily Practicing:  In other words once you know HOW to practice, you actually have to sit your butt down and DO IT!  You have to practice every single day.  I’ll say that again…you have to practice Every. Single. Day!  Certainly, you’ll need to practice every day for the first 30 days to establish a fully-ingrained “Practice Ritual”. Remember, when you learn how to play an instrument, you are learning a physical skill.  Physical skills need one thing for improvement: REPETITION! It’s the daily, repetitive actions that help you build the muscle memory needed for long-lasting musical improvement. Have you ever tried to practice every day, but failed? Isn’t this the toughest part of learning a musical instrument…sticking with practicing?  If you’ve had trouble with this in the past, join the club! This is why you also need to…
  2. Understand WHY You Want To Learn Music: Understanding your motivations for why you want to play music in the first place and why learning music is important is crucial for your success as a musician.  This is because you absolutely, positively, without a doubt will face major challenges and hurdles on your road to musical mastery.  In fact, the savvy Practice Warrior knows to actually welcome challenges in their practicing. When those inevitable challenges come up, you want to think back on your motivations and inspirations for learning music. Those thoughts and reasons will give you the DRIVE you need to keep working on your craft when other people give up.  When people ask me how I’ve gotten the musical skills to be able to play with the top musicians on earth, I give them a simple, but very true answer: 

“Easy” I say.  “I was just too stupid to quit!!”  

So, let’s go back to our new and improved question.  Instead of asking “How long does it take to learn music?”, you want to ask “What does it take to learn music?” The answer to THAT question is 1) guided instruction, 2) a proper practicing strategy, 3) consistent, daily practice and 4) truly understanding (and remembering) why you are doing all this in the first place.  

THAT’S what it takes to learn music. 

As for the nagging thought of “how long”, I go back to my somewhat glib answer: “How long ya got?”. You see, learning music is a journey, not a destination.  As soon as you think you’re good at something, you start to see the next mountain to climb in front of you.  As Wayne Dyer would say, you get in a state of “striving but never arriving”. That’s okay, though.  This is the way and life of a true musician; a true Practice Warrior.  We take it all as it comes.  We celebrate ANY new achievement and get excited about ANY new challenges.  We aren’t concerned with time, because we are enjoying the process.  As long as you have implemented the aforementioned four things into your learning process, progress is certain to come, and you will have many early victories and achievements to build upon.  

In other words, you’ll be too busy getting better to worry about time!

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