Rapid Guitar Learning: How Spencer Gottlieb Went from Total Beginner to Playing and Singing a Song in 10 Weeks
“Hey, I am thinking about starting to learn how to play the guitar. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I write the lyrics and melodies to country songs (my favorite genre) but I obviously can’t write the music to accompany it. I just want to be able to play the country music that I love listening to. I’m 22 and have never played before so you’d literally be starting from scratch. I wanted to see what I should expect — how much it costs, what I would need to buy, how much progress is typical, how much I would need to practice, etc. Thanks!”
I received his email and smiled–his questions covered all the bases that new guitar students almost always ask.
- How much does it cost to take lessons?
- What do I need to buy to play guitar?
- How much progress will I make?
- How much do I need to practice?
I get these questions all the time from prospective students. Here are my answers, which I emailed in response to the message I received from Spencer:
I hope you go for it with learning to play the guitar–it is such an amazing (and fun!) thing to be able to do.
So, quick answers to your questions:
- How much it costs–I have more details on my site here, but the basic answer is I charge $60 for hour-long lessons, or you can buy lessons in packs of 4 and the price goes down to $50 per lesson. You can also do half-hour lessons for $30, though I recommend full-hour lessons for new adult students. Price is always one of the first questions people ask, but I do want to say–cheaper lessons with a teacher you don’t vibe with or who doesn’t understand how to help students learn might cost you more in the long run both in terms of wasted money and the frustration of having to undo bad habits. Just something to keep in mind as you look around for the right teacher for you.
- What you’d need to buy–well, you’ll need a guitar for sure. Sounds like you’ll want an acoustic steel string guitar to be able to play country music that you love. You’ll also want a guitar tuner of some kind. And if you end up studying with me, then I always encourage my students to get a metronome to help them really develop solid rhythm. Other than that, the most you’ll absolutely need to buy would be a new set of strings every now and then.
- How much progress is typical? Hmm…very tough to say, as it depends completely on how hard and how much you’re practicing. But I will say that in about three months, I regularly see my complete beginner students able to switch chords and strum through relatively simple (but still nice-sounding) songs. If you practice super hard, that timeframe could shrink. And if you’re really casual, it might take a little bit longer. But three months to get to where you’re comfortable switching chords and strumming through the changes is pretty typical.
- How much you’d need to practice…another tough question, as it totally depends. But 30 minutes a day is a good target. If you could do 30 minutes a day 5 or 6 days a week, you’ll be able to move out of total beginnerdom and into a pretty solid playing level in that three-month period I just mentioned.
- Proper Finger Technique for the Fretting Hand
- Forming and Changing Chords
- Find a Great Guitar Teacher
- Take One Lesson a Week
- Practice 30 Minutes a Day
- Use a Metronome Religiously
- Keep Detailed Notes of Practice Sessions
- First off, you will always know exactly what you need to work on in any given practice session. You’ll save time by knowing what to do, and you’ll get to spend more time getting better on the guitar as a result of just a little note-taking.
- Second, you will be able to see your progress definitively, clearly. So much of learning to play the guitar comes down to psychology. Many would-be guitarists sabotage their progress by denying it. If you’re taking notes, you can’t possibly deny how you’ve learned new things and increased your speed, smoothness and capabilities. The combination of a great practice method, working with a metronome, having a great teacher who helps you know exactly what to work on plus taking notes of your practice sessions guarantees that you will progress. And that progress will be well documented.
I hope those answers help you out. Just let me know if I can answer any other questions for you–I’m here to help.”
The Three Fundamental Areas of Beginning Guitar Playing
So that was our introduction. Spencer was a total beginner with zero guitar experience. He didn’t even own a guitar when he contacted me.
After I shot him back my response, he went out and picked up a great beginning guitar as well as a metronome. We scheduled our first lesson and away we went.
When you’re beginning on the guitar, there are three specific areas you need to focus on in order to be able to strum and play songs:
When Spencer walked in my door, I began teaching him the fundamentals starting with #1: Finger Technique. In order to help him develop the best possible finger technique, I showed him the chromatic scale exercise and taught him how to use a metronome to guide his practice. I use many of the ideas and approaches taught in the fantastic Principles for Correct Practice for the Guitar. You should definitely get the Principles book and read it backwards and forwards if you’re serious about playing guitar well.
In that same lesson, we also started working on some of the best beginning guitar chords. I taught Spencer E major, A minor and a modified F major chord where you simply slide E major up one fret for each finger.
From there, I showed him the most introductory perspective on guitar strumming.
These three areas comprise the fundamentals of beginning guitar. If you know how to move your fingers on the guitar, how to make basic chords and (most importantly) change between them and how to strum, then you’ll be able to play simple songs in no time.
But how long does it actually take to learn to play guitar in the real world?
10 Weeks to Singing and Playing Songs on the Guitar
In Spencer’s case: 10 weeks.
He went from total beginner to strumming, playing and singing along with his playing in 10 short weeks.
Now, I want to emphasize something here: 10 weeks is pretty unusual. That’s why I’m writing about this here. I have students who take 20 weeks to be able to play through simple chord changes, and I’ve had students take many months before they could really sing along with themselves as they play.
So 10 weeks is pretty incredible.
How did Spencer get from being a total beginner to being able to play and sing a song (Troubadour by George Strait if you’re following along at home) in 10 weeks?
Spencer Gottlieb’s Strategy for Crazy-Fast Guitar Progress
After talking with Spencer a bit and teasing out the strategy he followed these past 10 weeks, here is what he did in a nutshell:
Let’s look at each of these steps in a little detail:
Find a Great Guitar Teacher
Now, I’m humble and don’t generally toot my own horn. However, I am extremely committed to the art and science of playing and teaching the guitar. And when someone comes to me to learn how to play guitar, I am committed to helping them achieve their guitar playing dreams.
Spencer hunted around the web a bit before locating String Love Guitar. When he found me, he read the information on my site, wrote in with good questions and listened to my answers. He then made his decision: he committed to learning to play the guitar by buying a guitar and signing up for a package of lessons right out of the gate.
A great teacher can make a huge difference in your dreams of playing the guitar. At the very least, a great teacher will cut the time it takes for you to learn to make music on the guitar. In the process, a great guitar teacher will ensure that you develop excellent playing habits so you don’t have to go through periods of intense frustration undoing accumulated ineffective habits.
You may not need a teacher to learn to play the guitar, but if you’re truly serious about making rapid progress, a teacher is invaluable.
Take One Lesson a Week
Here’s another key component of Spencer’s strategy for rapid guitar progress: he started off by taking a regular weekly lesson. We met Monday afternoons, and every Monday without fail he walked in my door and was ready for more to work on. Spencer is a fantastic student–he wants to learn, he applies everything I show him and he always comes in the following week with plenty of questions and lots of progress to show for his efforts.
I have noticed this time and again with the students I teach: the bi-weekly or less frequent students simply don’t progress as fast. If you want to get better in a hurry, then the positive pressure of your weekly lesson will keep you focused and clear about what you need to do to move forward.
Consistency is key.
Practice 30 Minutes a Day
Speaking of consistency, nothing matters more than daily practice if you want to get better on the guitar.
In Spencer’s case, he adopted a simple but powerful practice strategy: 30 minutes a day, every day.
30 minutes isn’t much. But it adds up.
Do you have 30 minutes in your day that you could devote to learning to play the guitar? I bet you do. And if you’re motivated, you can make it happen.
Here’s the thing, though: Spencer kept at it. He practiced day in, day out for 10 weeks. Those daily 30-minute chunks added up. After 10 weeks, all that practicing amounted to over 30 hours of time spent learning to play the guitar.
It’s far better to practice 30 minutes a day every day than to practice two hours a day a couple times a week.
Especially at the beginning, consistency is key. Get your fingers on the guitar every day, and move them in the right way so that you develop good finger habits, relaxed hands and incredibly powerful guitar technique.
Use a Metronome Religiously
This one is huge. And it’s another major thing that stands out to me between the students who make rapid progress and those who drift and end up taking much longer to reach their guitar goals.
A metronome is your biggest ally in learning to play the guitar well. By practicing with a metronome, you will develop incredibly solid rhythm. You will be able to see your progress extremely clearly. And you will have a very clear structure within which to move forward on the guitar. Most importantly, you will be forced to focus more intensely on everything you’re doing within your practicing.
The Principles of Correct Practice for the Guitar contains a powerful approach to using a metronome to chart and push guitar progress forward called the Basic Practice Approach.
I adapt the BPA to all of my students, and the combination of personal attention and this powerful practice framework *always* creates results. IF, that is, the student actually uses the metronome in their practice.
In Spencer’s case, he fully embraced the metronome even though it’s easier not to turn the clicking monster on.
When a student walks in for their lesson, I can virtually always tell within minutes whether they actually used the metronome in their practice since our last lesson.
The students who use the metronome regularly make vastly more progress in shorter amounts of time than the students who don’t use the metronome.
Keep Detailed Notes of Practice Sessions
Spencer is currently a teacher. He has to keep track of his students, and his hands-on educational experience as a teacher has helped him develop extremely good habits when it comes to learning.
More than any student I’ve ever worked with, Spencer has kept meticulous practice notes. Every week when he comes in, he has his daily practice charted with what he did, the metronome speeds he worked at and any additional things he wants to keep track of.
When I asked him how he managed to make so much progress so quickly, taking great practice notes definitely stood out to him as one of the most important things he did.
I’ve learned the hard way that most students aren’t interested in taking the time to write down what they did and how fast they did it at the end of their practice sessions. Even though I know that this is one of the most important things any guitarist can do to make major progress in a hurry, it’s very hard to get people to actually keep track of what they’re doing.
If you take good notes and keep track of your progress, you’re going to receive several major benefits:
What Kind of Student Do You Want to Be?
So that’s how Spencer Gottlieb went from total beginner to being able to play and sing one of his favorite country songs in 10 weeks. He’s the best kind of guitar student that a guitar teacher could ever hope for. He’s a super nice guy, conscientious, dedicated to the guitar and extremely funny. When I heard him play Troubadour this past Monday, I was genuinely blown away. If he keeps doing what he’s been doing, he’s going to go far in his guitar playing for sure.
If you want to play the guitar, and if you’re ready to follow the simple roadmap Spencer followed, then you can absolutely be playing fantastically fun music just 10 weeks from today.
If you don’t actually put in the right effort and follow the roadmap exactly, though, it’s possible that you’ll either take longer to get to where you want to be on the guitar or you might just quit in frustration altogether.
I hope you can see that this stuff is simple. It’s easy. It’s totally doable. And most importantly, you can do this. You can learn to play the guitar in no time at all. Like Jim Rohn used to say when asked why people don’t follow through on the simple process of learning, growing and expanding: These things are easy to do, but they’re also easy not to do.
If you’re ready to become a guitar player and want to get there in 10 weeks, then let’s work together. I teach Skype guitar lessons via webcam, and I also teach in-person guitar lessons in Nashville, Tennessee.