When I first started playing guitar at age 12, I wondered how easy guitar was to learn.
After decades of playing instruments, I have a better idea of measuring how easy or difficult it will be for you to learn the guitar, no matter your background.
In fact, I’ve boiled it down to a simple formula you can use to generate a score for yourself: from 0 to 100.
A very low score indicates you will probably have a hard time learning guitar, and a score of 100 indicates you will likely have an easy time learning guitar.
The formula is:
(Natural Aptitude + Musical Background) X Grit
So is guitar easy to learn?
It depends on your natural aptitude, musical background, and grit.
I’ll address each in turn.
Natural Aptitude: Score From One to Five
The natural aptitude part of the equation is just like it sounds.
If you have significant natural aptitude when it comes to music, it will be easier for you to learn the guitar.
This is obvious.
What isn’t always obvious is how to discover if you have natural musical aptitude.
Apart from picking up a guitar and seeing how naturally it comes to you, I’ve witnessed a couple indicators that are often present in those with natural musical aptitude.
You’re NOT tone deaf.
If you can accurately perceive and produce differences in pitch, you’re probably not tone deaf.
In other words, you aren’t tone deaf if you can sing or hum a tune properly, and you notice when others cannot.
However, tone deafness seems to operate on a spectrum where you can be more or less tone deaf.
For instance, some people seem to be mildly tone deaf where they can generally sing the right notes but struggle with complex songs.
You may notice other’s tone deafness at birthday parties or any time non-professional singers get together to sing a song.
There’s often at least one person that just isn’t singing the correct notes (even though they think they are).
However, just because you aren’t tone deaf doesn’t mean you have perfect pitch.
For those who don’t know, perfect pitch is the ability to identify and reproduce any given note.
So if someone told you to sing a C note, and you could sing that exact note, you have that rare gift of perfect pitch.
Someone who isn’t tone deaf but doesn’t have perfect pitch (the majority of singers) may not be able to start a tune at exactly the right note, but they will be able to sing the right notes in relation to each other.
A lack of tone deafness also doesn’t necessarily mean you have a beautiful voice.
There are plenty of functional singers that can sing the right notes, but their voices aren’t beautiful.
In my opinion, a lack of tone deafness is the most reliable indicator of someone’s natural musical aptitude.
You love listening to music and/or are fascinated by music and musicians.
A love of music often indicates natural musical aptitude.
If you’re someone who’s always listening to music, going to live shows, and in touch with the latest music trends and albums, you may have natural musical aptitude.
However, this is a less reliable indicator of musical aptitude than a lack of tone deafness, providing both false positives and negatives.
For instance, I know quite a few people who absolutely love music but who have average or below average musical aptitude.
On the other hand, I also know people with only a passing interest in music but with more natural musical aptitude than some who absolutely love music.
Use this indicator in conjunction with a lack of tone deafness to estimate your natural musical aptitude.
If you’re tone deaf and only marginally interested in music, give yourself a natural aptitude score of one.
If you’re not tone deaf and you absolutely love music, give yourself a score closer to five.
Musical Background: Score from One to Five
Musical background can certainly help you when learning the guitar, especially when you first start learning.
However, not all musical background will help you equally with the guitar.
For instance, if you’ve played the trumpet for years and you’d like to start learning the guitar, your trumpet training will be of some help.
But if you’ve played the banjo for years and you want to start learning guitar, experience with the banjo will be more helpful than experience with the trumpet.
Banjos and guitars are more closely related instruments than the trumpet and guitar which means the skill sets required to play these instruments will have more crossover.
For example, banjo and guitar both require building hand strength and endurance as well as callouses on the fingers to play them effectively.
If you have a musical background in banjo or have acquired these skills playing any stringed fretted instrument, you will have a leg up on someone without musical background or someone who has experience with a more distantly related instrument.
For the musical background part of the equation, give yourself a score of one or two if you have little to no musical background.
If you have experience with a stringed fretted instrument, give yourself a score closer to five.
Grit: Score From One to 10
In the equation, you’ll notice grit has a multiplicative effect on your score:
(Natural Aptitude + Musical Background) X Grit
In other words, grit is the most important part of the equation for determining how easy it will be for you to learn guitar.
Regardless of how high you score in the areas of natural aptitude and musical background, if you lack grit you will have a harder time learning the guitar.
On the other hand, even if you lack natural aptitude and musical background, a high grit score means you will likely have an easier time learning the guitar.
So what is grit anyway and what does it have to do with learning the guitar?
Grit is passion and perservance for long-term goals according to author Angela Duckworth.
If you are passionate about learning guitar and are willing to perservere through the inevitable learning hurdles over the long-term, you will succeed in learning guitar.
So how do you know how much grit you have?
The New York Times made a very simple grit quiz you can take here.
If you score well on that quiz and/or you have a history of long-term commitment and dedication to your goals, give yourself a score closer to 10.
On the other hand, if:
- new ideas and projects distract you from previous ones,
- you are easily discouraged by setbacks and give up easily,
- and/or you often abandon goals for new ones, give yourself a lower grit score.
Now that we’ve discussed each component of the formula, let’s discuss how to use and understand this formula.
How to Think about the Fomula: (Natural Aptitude + Musical Background) X Grit
Before proceeding, I want to clarify a few aspects of this formula.
First, I’ve put numbers to this formula only to help you quantify how easily you will learn the guitar.
Of course, this isn’t an exact science and it certainly isn’t an opportunity to obsess over points in either direction.
Rather, it’s meant to be a directionally accurate tool to help you determine how easily and quickly you will take to the guitar.
Also, don’t think of this score like some think of grades in school where anything below a 60 or 70 is failing.
Instead, consider any score above 50 an indication that you may have an easier than average time learning the guitar.
Lastly, remember that learning guitar is a lifelong pursuit.
So this equation isn’t only relevant at the start of your journey.
It should be relevant and worth considering at every learning hurdle for the duration of your learning pursuit.
Given these points, let’s discuss how I would score myself using this equation.
(Natural Aptitude + Musical Background) X Grit: An Example Score
I have greater than average natural aptitude when it comes to the guitar.
I’ve played with quite a few guitarists who have marveled at how quickly I can learn licks.
That said, I’ve also played with some truly amazing guitarists who pick up skills, licks, and more, more quickly than I do.
So I would give myself a four in the category of natural aptitude.
I also played violin for three years leading up to my foray into guitar.
The violin gave me much of the hand strength and musical background necessary to help me progress more quickly with the guitar.
However, if I had played a more closely related instrument to the guitar like a banjo or mandolin, I may have been better equipped to learn guitar.
That said, I would give myself a score of four for the musical background portion of the equation.
Finally, I would give myself a score of seven for grit.
Grit is something I’m working on, but I definitely have some growing to do in that area.
All in all my equation looks like this:
(4 for Natural Aptitude + 4 for Musical Background) X 7 for Grit = (4 + 4) * 7 = 56.
In other words, I’m slightly more equipped than average to learn guitar.
I agree with this result and think this score is in line with a hobby guitarist like myself.
Scoring significantly higher would likely indicate a career musician or an extremely committed hobbyist.
I hope this formula helps you figure out how easy it will be for you to learn guitar.
Can I teach myself guitar? Yes you absolutely can teach yourself guitar. In fact, I’ve written a comprehensive post explaining exactly how to teach yourself guitar! The cliff notes of that post are: 1. Make sure you get the right instrument and have it set up properly 2. Learn the eight basic chords that will enable you to play countless songs. 3. Become “performance-ready” with at least five to 10 songs. 4. Continue learning songs or start learning music theory to push past plateaus. Again, check out my post about this process to learn more. Also, even if you are set on teaching yourself guitar, you may want to at least glance through my post about whether guitar lessons are worth it. Guitar lessons have seriously helped me at certain times in my guitar learning journey.