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How long can you not play guitar before you forget how to play?

Fender Japan TL69 PRD Telecaster JAPANESE Paisley Electric Guitar (Japan Import)

There are times when you have to put down the guitar to do other things, because life happens. How long would it take before you totally forget how to play? Let's find out.

Everyone's brain works differently, so these figures aren't exact. But generally speaking, what's listed below will be true for most guitar players regardless of how long you've been playing.

If you go without playing...

...for 1 week

After a week of not playing, you will be able to pick up the guitar again and play normally, but your fingers will feel "stiff" until you play for at least a good 15 minutes first.

...for 1 month

You'll probably have a lot of stiffness in the fingers and maybe forget a few chords, but they'll come back to you fairly quick and you'll be playing normally in about an hour.

...for 3 months

At this point both your fret hand and even your picking hand will be stiff to the point where strumming will feel weird. You'll still remember basic chords, but for solos and things of that kind, that will take a little while before you can do that again. You'll need to play for at least an hour a day for a few days before you start to feel truly comfortable with the instrument again.

...for 6 months

This is the point where you actually start forgetting how to play the guitar. It doesn't matter what your age is, because whether you're 15 or 55, anything you stop doing for 6 months will be largely forgotten when you go back to it later.

...for 1 year or more

If you haven't played so much as one note on a guitar for a year, you will more or less have to relearn the entire instrument again after putting the guitar down for this amount of time. A lot of what you learned will be forgotten and it will take at least a good solid week of play even to get basic strumming relearned again.

Is learning the guitar like "riding a bicycle?"

There's an old saying that learning to ride a bicycle is something you never forget once you learn it.

That's not true for guitar playing.

If you put down the guitar for an extended period of time, such as 1 year or more, then pick it up again, you will have forgotten pretty much everything about how to play it. In fact, the only thing you probably will remember is how to tune it, maybe a few chords and where notes are, but not much else.

Why does a guitar player forget so much after putting down a guitar for a while? Because there's a lot to remember. Many notes, many chords, many playing styles that require practice to keep the fingers nimble and the memory sharp.

However, one can always relearn the guitar. If you've not played in a while, yes your fingers will be very stiff and yes you will have forgotten much, but you can learn again. Once you start relearning, memories will trigger and things will come back to you.

But bear in mind that guitar playing is not like riding a bike. It will take time to get the fingers working like they should on the instrument. And again, this will happen regardless of age whether young, old or anywhere in between.

In other words, if you're playing now and like the guitar, keep playing. 🙂

Published 2015 Feb 23

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