This is one of those questions that pops up from time to time, folks wanting to know when it is that they can say they play the guitar, that they’re a guitarist, that they’re a musician or some other variant thereof.
I think there’s a bit more of an interesting discussion around the questions however.
From my point of view, I don’t think their can ever really be a single, definable point in time or point in a learning trajectory that you can say “I am a guitarist” or “I play the guitar”. I think the answer to the question “when can I say I play the guitar?” also depends a lot on your approach to learning and development in general.
I can’t really recall a point where I went from saying “I’m learning the guitar” to “I play the guitar”, although I think it would have happened relatively soon after starting lessons and getting a few little tunes under the fingers. For me, thinking about it, it was probably a point where I realised that I could play a handful of tunes reasonably well and that it was definitely something I wanted to continue persuing.
And that’s not to say that the two statements (“I’m learning the guitar” and “I play guitar”) are exclusive of one another – far from it! There is always more to learn, there are always things to improve on, there are always ways to develop, change and explore and always people you can learn from. To this day, although I probably wouldn’t actively say “I’m learning the guitar” if somebody asked me if I play an instrument, I most definitely hold the the attitude and approach of continual learning and development.
I’ve often said to students and peers that if you’re following the rewarding path of really studying classical guitar, striving towards mastery, the learning doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the pieces get do more challenging! It’s almost like you’re in a permanent state of learning (including not just a little brain strain at time!) and growth. A funny thing really because in spite of feeling this way (and I can vouch I did when I stated learning La Maja de Goya a few weeks back!), if you flick back to something you were playing say a year or so ago you may surprise yourself. If you’ve been playing for a few years and flick back to something you were playing say three, four, five years ago you may really surprise yourself – something you found a real challenge back then will probably be a walk in the park these days. So whilst you may feel like you’re permanently in a state of learning (which is a good thing in my opinion), your mastery is slowly creeping up on you……
So don’t forget to just stop and take stock from time to time and realise how far up the mountain you really have climbed. That may help you answer the question of “when can I say I play guitar?” for yourself.