I remember the first time I touched a piano. It was sort of a scary thing really, all of those notes and it was almost like a foreign language. Thankfully I had a really good teacher who guided me. Like many of you, the first question I asked my teacher was “how long does it take to learn the piano?”. Her answer was actually quite interesting, and I’ll share that with you next.
So, how long does it take to learn piano? Learning how to play the piano is a complete life-long experience. Professional pianists spend 4 – 7 hours per day practicing. Most amateur pianists play 1 – 2 hours per day. The speed at which you learn the piano is dependent on having a good teacher, developing good practice habits, and effort.
Knowing Your Level Of Experience
The first step to determining how long it may take to learn the piano is realizing where you are. I like to define this by the following levels:
Beginner – The beginner level is someone who is fairly new to the piano or someone who’s never tickled the ivories. At this level, you really don’t know your way around the instrument and certain terminology and symbols are new to you as well.
Someone at the beginner level is going to spend much of their time getting down the basics of how the instrument works; not just playing pieces.
Perhaps at this stage, you’re not even playing hands together yet, but you’re able to read music and make slow progress. As far as the repertoire being learned you’re probably going to be in some of these beginner piano books.
The daily practice routine for a beginner is anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes per day. Rather than playing an entire piece repeatedly, you’ll likely be learning a few measures for each lesson.
Intermediate – An intermediate pianist is someone who has a firm grasp of the basics and is able to read repertoire pretty well. The process of learning something like a Beethoven Sonata is certainly possible, but likely at a snail’s pace.
In my experience, an intermediate pianist will probably want to test the waters of public performance. With a good teacher that will certainly be encouraged at this stage, but don’t expect it to be anything too rigorous.
Intermediate pianists have around 3 – 5 years of experience at this point and have probably been through several method books.
At this point, the daily practice routine should certainly be around 1 to 2 hours per day, but might be more depending on the goals at hand.
Advanced – The advanced student is one who is either pre-college or actively studying at a music institution, academy or collegiate level. This is someone who is serious about the instrument and puts real time into their craft.
Repertoire at this level will include works from the standard repertoire. Anything from Bach to Mozart to Ginastera is fair game. The time spent practicing is 3 to 4 hours per day minimum due to the difficulty of the music.
At this level it’s more than just learning the notes; it’s about mastering your artistry.
Professional – When you’ve gotten to the professional level you are all in on the piano. This level requires the kind of work where no stone is left unturned.
While many pianists will publicly claim short practice hours (and that’s actually true for some) the average professional is putting in some serious work. By that, I mean anywhere from 5 to 8 hours per day on the instrument perfecting every detail.
I myself am a professional and I fall somewhere in that range. The reason it varies depends on the task. If I’m learning new repertoire then I would be practicing a little bit each day. If I have a recording project or recital approaching then surely the practice hours reach into that 6 – 7-hour range.
At this level of skill, it’s a lot less about learning how to play the piano and more about creating diverse programming, networking, collaborating with orchestras and other instrumentalists and staying engaged. This is what it takes to become a concert pianist.
Professionals tend to push the boundaries and explore creative ways to play music they know and music they have no experience with as well.
The Importance Of A Piano Teacher
No matter what stage of learning you’re at with piano, it really helps to have a teacher. Piano teachers have a huge impact on everything.
Things like your interpretation of the music, drawing up helpful lesson plans, helping you discover a method for working on music at home and much more. Think of them as a helpful guide on your journey to your musical goals.
The biggest impact piano teachers make is on your learning speed. A good piano teacher will teach you effective ways to practice so that you aren’t spending an enormous amount of hours at the instrument.
With the exception of professional pianists who choose to spend a lot of time on their repertoire, it’s really not normal to practice that much at the lower levels of skill. I mean, sure if you want to that’s perfectly fine, but not if it’s because you don’t understand what’s going on.
A bad teacher will really hinder your abilities to succeed at the piano. I wrote a short guide on how to choose a piano teacher; it’ll help you tremendously in this regard.
Anyway, the reason I mention this is because I’ve been on both sides of the fence when it comes to teachers. Fortunately, some of my first teachers were excellent and gave me a great foundation to start from.
Piano teachers not only have an effect just from a skill perspective, but also from an encouragement standpoint. The piano should be something you’re confident in rather than a skill you’re negative about because it isn’t perfect.
The expectation should be to work diligently and grow over time. A good teacher will push that mindset on you.
Ways To Speed Up Piano Learning
There’s a number of ways you can actually speed up your piano learning. It’ll be easier to discuss this by breaking it down to a couple of key areas:
- Plan Your Practices
- Invest In A Quality Teacher
- Take A Piano Course
- Upgrade To A Grand Piano
- Sightread Frequently
- Practice In Chunks
- Change Your Mindset
- A Desire To Learn
Whether you’re a beginner or well along, if you can get these areas under control from the start then you’ll be well on your way to mastering the piano much faster than you are now. Let’s hop quickly into the planning aspects and then we’ll cover the rest.
Plan Your Practice
Organizational skills are crucial when it comes to piano. This doesn’t just apply to the teacher, but the student as well. When I was younger I wasn’t so good at this on my own, but a good teacher will break your lessons down and tell you exactly what to play and for how long.
A good way to plan practices on your own comes down to a few things.
Setting Aside Practice Time – This is probably the biggest part of planning. It helps to set your practice to occur at a consistent time every day. If you have kids consider making them practice after school or before dinner.
Perhaps you the adult need to practice, so maybe find a lunch break or do it after your gym workout. Whatever you do, try to make your practice consistent and let nothing else get in the way. Cutting out distractions like your smartphone and computer use will help you focus better.
Writing Down Your Goals For That Day – Your teacher may give you specific goals to focus on each day. After a while that can get old, so be intuitive here. As you practice write down a few things you want to go over the next time you’re at the instrument.
Executing The Plan – Nothing happens without solid execution. If your practice notes say to “practice the C major scale 5 times in a row” and you do it maybe 3 times, then that’s not executing the goal.
Everything you put into your practice plan is there for a reason. Too often pianists get impatient and lack discipline. Build good habits by following through with everything you have set up no matter what.
Invest In A Quality Teacher
I’ve already made a quick mention about teachers in this article, but I can’t stress the importance of quality enough. I’ll simply give you a list of things you need to look for in a quality teacher to help make this easy (also see the list in my piano teacher guide here). A quality teacher has the following:
- Good Organizational Skills
- Warm Personality
- Attention To Detail
- Good Communication Skills
- Solid Piano Skills
- An Ability To Problem Solve And Fix Technique
- Requires High Expectations Of The Student
It’s not any more complicated than that. Finding this teacher might not be obvious at first, so definitely do a couple of interviews before hiring one!
Take A Piano Course
There are some excellent piano courses available to help you learn the piano faster. Piano courses are convenient because they allow you to set your own practice and learning schedules.
For adult pianists taking an online piano course really comes in handy because you can learn at your own pace.
It’s also more comfortable if you’re a little nervous about playing for a teacher. There are tons of good courses out there, but I definitely recommend this one if you’re just getting started with piano.
Upgrade To A Grand Piano
Not all pianos are the same. As a beginner, you might be learning on a keyboard that doesn’t have hammer action. Those thin flat keys don’t develop your technique properly though. As the repertoire becomes more difficult so will the ability to play them.
If you ever find yourself wondering “why can’t I play it well on this other piano” or crash and burn during concerts then this is probably why.
Even uprights have their drawbacks; especially the cheaper ones. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn the piano, but you’ll have to work twice as hard to get the same results as you would on a grand piano.
Grand pianos provide the kind of accelerated action and responsiveness serious players need. You don’t have to be a professional and I highly recommend investing in one even at the very beginning if you’re able too.
If for some reason you cannot afford an acoustic piano, a digital piano like the ones I mention here are a great alternative.
Something that sped up my ability to get through repertoire quickly was by sightreading. This is an effective method because it gets your brain to recognize certain motives and musical gestures really quickly.
The more you expose yourself to new bits and pieces of music the more second nature it all becomes.
That way when you come in contact with a Chopin Etude or something like that your hands and mind will connect much faster. This isn’t a replacement for technique exercises or general time commitment, but it will improve your progress.
A lot of the beginner method books incorporate sightreading and ear training materials to get you on track from the start.
Practice In Chunks
Spending a few hours at the piano each day is real work. The smart way to do it is by breaking the practice sessions into chunks. If it’s a 5 hour practice day I would hope nobody tries to do that all at once (I’m guilty of this by the way).
Over the years I’ve learned it’s more efficient to play maybe 20 – 25 minutes at a time and then take a short 5 to 10-minute break. That break allows my muscles to recover and my mind to reset.
When I come back I can either resume what I was working on or rotate another piece of music in its place.
Sometimes I find that when practicing for longer periods all at once I actually stop making progress. My mind kind of checks out and then the fatigue on the fingers makes anything technical I’m working on failing more often than not. Chunking is the way to go!
Change Your Mindset
Learning any instrument is hard at first. Even after you’ve mastered the most difficult aspects of it things don’t always come that easy. What I found works for me is changing my mindset. Especially with a new piece, new genre and something I completely don’t know.
My first instinct is to always kind of go “okay I’ve got this”. Then I start chunking it down, analyzing it and formulating a practice plan. When you put a plan like that together then the light at the end of the tunnel is that much clearer.
Having confidence in your playing and ability to learn will actually make you learn the piano way faster than you think. Dreading a new piece is only going to slow you down and make those practice hours go up and up.
A Desire To Learn
To go along with having a positive mindset, you need to also have a true desire to learn. If you’re unsure about whether you want to study the instrument or not then you’ll find many cases where half effort occurs. That’s really not a good thing.
If you’re a student being forced to play by your parents that’s even worse. When you play the piano you should do it because it’s in your plans to do so. If you hate it then that’s okay too, but understand practicing the instrument is going to be like pulling teeth.
My advice here would be to try it out and find repertoire that inspires you. Sometimes people think the piano is all Beethoven and Mozart and suits and ties. Not necessarily so, and I’ll get into some of those other genres next!
Going Beyond Classical Music
The information I’m giving here is really from the scope of a Classical musician. The reality though is that many amateur pianists desire to play other genres too. Maybe you want to learn how to play a Pop tune on the radio. Another situation might be your desire to play just for fun or at church or even family gatherings.
In that case, your piano study probably won’t be as rigorous, especially at the early levels of skill. Some pianists only want to learn how to play chord charts and bypass note reading altogether. That’s actually okay!
Learning how to play the piano is a lot more than just note reading though.
There are theory and terminology to master along with technical development. Surely a professional Jazz pianist will put in just as many hours as a Classical artist, but if you just want to play for self-enjoyment not so.
It’s Life-Long Process
Outside of the daily practice routine and weekly lessons, it’s important to understand that your experience with piano will be a lifetime journey. I really mean this. Piano study isn’t just limited to days, weeks, and years; it’s much more.
I’ve been playing the piano for 22 years and I’m still finding myself learning and exploring and figuring things out. Some of that is technical matters, other bits of it are musical maturity and then the career elements as a professional.
The piano is an instrument that you grow alongside rather than growing into. As you continue to train on the instrument you’ll develop new interpretations, new practice habits and different appreciations for all types of music.
Even if you’re not planning to go the Classical music route there’s no doubt that any genre will present daily challenges.
This is the real joy of piano playing though; the fact that it never gets dull or boring. Each day that you approach it you’ll come away having learned something new.