How fast can I learn fingerstyle?

This is the question, so many students asked me in one way or the other. Usually it comes disguised as “How long would I have to learn to be able to play (like) this?”after I play some showstopper like Classical Gas for them.

The answer depends on so many factors (beginning with: are you going to play 0,5 hour or 5 hours a day?) that it’s literally impossible to cover half of it in one post. So leaving those factors for some other post, let’s concentrate on how the learning process looks like from my 10+ years experience perspective.


Birth pains

The road to fingerstyle mastery is long and winding. We start with clumsily plucking strings and grabbing easiest chords with force that squeezes life out of our guitar neck. This stage, depending on your hand size, your coordination, your muscle tonicity and finally your dedication can take anything from a month to a year or two. Especially young students need more time before left hand sort of springs to life and starts working decently. And you still have your right hand to work on. Nevertheless, in first year of playing you should be able to play some of the easiest fingerstyle compositions.


Careless childhood

Once you overcome initial difficulties you start to gain momentum. Each new song is like a piece of jigsaw in what you aim to be. For me, years 2 to 5 of playing were years of rapid repertoire growth. They where also years of really struggling with tension in my hands. My tone was very bad back then.


Adolescence

After couple of years you wake up with considerable amount of songs and with a lot of new found doubt about your skill. This doubt is caused by your growing musical conciousness. You simply notice more and more of your flaws. I guess that many aspiring guitarists stopped at this level as it can be devastating at times (the “I’ll never be able to play like this” mentality).


Growing up

If you overcome this bump you enter the period of polishing your skill. Your repertoire isn’t growing so fast anymore, but, what’s most important, your tone and time keep getting better and better. You simply can’t stand sounding bad anymore. That’s why you might slow down with new songs to work on what you’ve already learned.


Never grow up!

So after few more years you find yourself with nice set of songs and rather good sound. You add more and more really difficult songs (quality over quantity!) which are most rewarding. Maybe you also expand your spectrum of techniques (I started to play with plectrum at that time – so called hybrid picking). For me this stage came after about six years of some serious practice.

This stage is when you sort of regain your confidence. I could already enter a stage and give an hour long concert. I also had a nice feeling that sooner or later I would be able to play anything I wanted. But was it over? Far from it. For every thing you learn or master at this stage there are two new things looming on the horizon. There is so much work ahead of you (me).

So which of those stages is “I can play fingerstyle” moment for you? For me there is no such moment. There is just a continuum of growth which could be ended only by death or hands amputation ;). Please share your thoughts on the topic. How do you see your guitar road?

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