Today’s question is, “how long does it really take to learn piano?” In the 10 or so years I’ve been teaching, this topic is one of the most misunderstood, especially by adult students. The short answer is: A long damn time. Longer than you think. Many assume you can spend time casually learning piano for six months and be good to go – but that amount of the time barely scratches the surface.
…Longer than you think
There are a lot of things to consider with this question, like how much time and commitment you’re willing to put forward, motivation and passion, and natural coordination. The short answer is, longer than you think.
First, think about learning to read music like learning a language. With daily effort, you’ll almost definitely be “fluent” in 1 or 2 years – that is, the ability to look at most notes on the staff and identify them without effort. Fluency at a more complex level, one that involves reading many notes at once (think about the hard and expert levels on DDR or guitar hero), takes even longer than that.
Also, for the first year of learning, you almost definitely won’t be getting into anything too fancy – no Chopin, Beethoven, Bach or the like, except maybe their very easiest pieces, and even then, that’s ambitious. In order to pull off complex pieces, you need a really solid foundation in piano rudiments and basic technique, and that takes a while to develop. It’s not that all your pieces are going to be boring and baby-ish at this stage, but don’t expect to rapidly advance to the piano masterpiece repertoire just yet.
What music level am I at?
Two popular systems of measuring piano ability levels are the RCM, popular here in Canada, and ABRSM. The RCM uses grade levels, 1 through 10, and assuming it takes the average person 1 year per grade, you can expect to spend about 10 years getting to one of the highest skill levels, grade 10 (roughly equivalent to ABRSM level 8). Teenagers and adults might move a little faster than this pace, but as usual, it all comes down to how much time you’re willing to commit.
Of course, not everyone is going to want to get to the highest levels of piano repertoire, so if you’re wanting to jam out some of the easier contemporary pieces by artists like Yiruma, George Winston, Yann Tiersen, etc, expect to put in a good 2-4 years effort if you practice around an hour a day. At this point most people are competent at learning most pop songs (you’d be surprised at how difficult some are), and there are a good handful of easier classical pieces that can be done by this point as well, like the first movement of Moonlight Sonata.
How much time do I have to spend practicing?
Another thing to keep in mind is, the more advanced you get, the more you have to practice. At a beginner level, pieces are short, but the further along you get, the more complex and involved the pieces get. In the beginning, half an hour a day is more than adequate to get through a few pieces, but at an advanced level, 30 minutes is practically just a warm-up.
The good news is, playing piano is basically like riding a bike – even if you take a break, it’ll all come back really quickly.
So just to recap, it takes a long time to get REALLY good at piano – but with a bit of effort, you’ll be a solid amateur in a year or two. That’s them apples. Unless you’re willing to commit hours each day, and even then, there really is no quick fix or solution to good ol’ discipline, patience and perseverance.
If you have any other questions about this, or anything related to piano, leave a comment below!