Piano Education Project vlog number 4 forms today’s post. It looks at how long it could potentially take to learn to play the piano. This is a difficult question to answer, yet it’s a very common one amongest beginners, so I have attempted the impossible, and have hopefully given some useful advice.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.
51 Comments Add yours
Just given up the piano for the second time, and my instrument is up for sale. I am in my 40s and for many many months I practised regularly, daily, little and often, and diversely – doing a mix of scales and pieces – and felt I was learning nothing. Now I’ve not touched my piano since early July and have great difficulty remembering Grade 1 scales.
You see, without wishing to sound nasty piano teachers are at the end of the day business people and will tell you anything to get your money in these hard times. Last time, a piano teacher told me I was being too hard on myself, and keep playing…no I’m not too old, no such thing as a bad exam result etc. etc. I had some lessons with this person (my third teacher) and proceeded to have the nastiest of panic attacks in the exam room, the sort of thing I haven’t had in years, and of course failing the exam miserably, which was grade 3. Why the exam caused me to have a panic attack I ask??? Because I was worried about how it would go and it indeed went belly-up, despite the false assurances of piano teachers.
All I ever wanted to do in life was to play the piano, as I wanted to do as a boy, however I now know that this is impossible to do as I seem to be past that age ‘limit’ and even if I did try to do it without the aid of a teacher I really would not know where to begin…and I have tried teach yourself methods over the past 10 years which haven’t worked either.
Hi, Thank you for your comments. Many piano teachers are business people and many of them aren’t properly trained either. I’m sure you know that this a completed unregulated profession so it’s vital that you pick your teacher carefully. Obviously if you start as an adult it is unlikely that you will ever reach a very high standard as rather like sport, it is something that needs to be done as a youngster. However, you can achieve some things as an adult and play to a reasonable level. I’m sorry that you have had bad experiences. If you ever decide to play again make sure you check out your new teacher carefully!
So you created a self-fulfilling prophecy by having a panic attack in the middle of an exam and somehow this is your teachers fault? And she “lied” to you because she said an adult was capable of learning and that your endless negativity might, in fact, be on you? From your story it sounds like the only thing you would have believed from a teacher is if they had said that you were incapable of learning and you shouldn’t even try. If you were testing at grade 3, it means that you have, in fact, been learning. Try a psychiatrist before you try a piano teacher. It will have a profound impact on how well things “work” for you.
I just got my piano about five months in Mar of 20014 and I also work a lot hours. So yes I played a keyboard when I was a kid never took lessons you can here my music on you tube Boris MacDonald. The way I play is listening and going with your emotions. I can’t play the piano I play with how I feel but one day I will be good it take time. (You Can’t Give Up) Play by ear. Start with the first video and reading the (Description) people say that’s it’s hard close your eyes and make the music flow. . That’s how I do it. Good luck. .
I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since I began the piano and posted here. Practically every single day I have been obsessed with learning to play the piano. A couple of hours every day average at least. I’m only now starting to read music so I can play something. I’ve been developing my finger skills and music hearing. The few simple arrangements I have memorized for practicing are sounding so good, that as soon as I can translate the written notes into memorized arrangements, I’ll be playing like a pro. I’m sure I can complete this final phase in about one more year.
Hi Melanie, Last year I began playing piano. I’m 52 and have always loved listening to the piano but felt extremely intimidated. Reading music seemed like a foreign language. Over the past year I have wondered how long it will take me to really play the piano and your answer – two to three years – eased my mind. Thank you. I am also looking forward to reading your book – do you have a date it will be available on kindle?
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog Kathy. My book was meant to be published as an e book only but after being read by various writers and musicians, I have been advised that it must be published as a hard copy – so I am in that difficult zone of trying to find a publisher. Hopefully it won’t take me too long and I will let you know as soon as it’s available 🙂
I have not been able to find your book. I too am a bit old to start to learn 58, but I will because I want to do it and have always wanted to be able to play. I’m more than a bit focused when I want to do anything.
Is your book on amazon?
Hi Allen. Here is the link to purchase my book:
And here’s my book website too;
Hope this helps! 🙂
My original comment was indeed about piano teachers. No piano teacher would honestly say to a prospective student ‘you just aren’t musical, just try something else like learning French or something….’ because of the business aspect. Maybe previous experiences with learning the piano should send me straight to my local Francais class after proof that I’m just not ‘musical’ but a piano teacher, with the hypothetical pound signs in eyes just would not honestly say that….it wouldn’t be proffessional would it….even though it would be honest from my perspective. And my blooming piano just will not sell!!!
Interesting that you should make that comment…….I have actually told students the truth many times – just to save them all the agony and pain of practising and applying themselves when it quite obviously isn’t the hobby for them. However, as you say, most teachers would never do that as they wouldn’t have a job!
If someone was to hear me (have a go at) playing and tell me there and then I would at least be put out of my misery and frustration….at least I admire your honesty Mel, wish there were more like you.
Thank you. I think it’s cruel to force people especially children, to come to lessons every week by giving them false hopes. Yes good piano playing takes practice, a good teacher and it also takes a certain amount of aptitude too. I think this last point is often forgotten in the greed to earn money. Many students are very talented and benefit from lessons but equally there are many for whom piano playing is just not a suitable hobby.
Mel, I don’t think it’s dishonest not to be brutally honest with a student. I am not a teacher, but frankly I think like one, as I am my own teacher. I gave a few lessons on other instruments (not the piano, as on the piano I am only a good intermediate). Making a living as a musician, no matter how serious, is already so hard; if everyone were brutally honest, no one would teach anybody anymore. A teacher, in the end, is like a cook: he cooks what the customer wants to eat. His job is cooking well, not to try to change the customer’s diet. If the teacher teaches well and honestly puts in the effort, he doesn’t have to wear his heart on a sleeve, or kiss and tell, or anything. A student is free to come or go, it’s up to them to ask themselves if they are learning anything or if they are practicing, they aren’t 3 years old. The dishonest ‘teachers’ are the ones who market trash like ‘learning the piano is very easy’ and rubbish like that. And believe me there’s a lot of those. We all know that learning the piano is not just pressing a few keys, it takes a lot of different skills, even at the lower grades. It will take talent, time and work. And humility too. If some people are delusional, that’s their problem. A teacher is not stealing anybody’s money by taking in students. His job is teaching well, not guaranteeing that the student will succeed. No one can do that, and some people just don’t get it, they think that they’ll go to a teacher and voila’, they will learn to play the piano well by practicing 10 minutes a day for a year or two.
It takes already several years just to learn to practice effectively ANY worthwhile instrument, let alone the piano, which is pretty much a lifelong endeavor.
It also did occur to me that I could have been going about it the wrong ‘way’. There must surely be a piano learning method that would suit me….Just don’t seem to be able to find it, or to know where to look for it in all honesty.
Sorry to be a pest but I should have said this before – thank you Melanie for producing these vlogs. I have uploaded them all and have made some very useful little notes to ponder over. As a matter of interest, is it you playing the music at the start and end of each vlog?? Can’t wait for no5, If you ever need an adult ‘experimentee’………
Hi, I am so glad you like the vlogs – thank you so much. They are quite an experiment – I have recorded 28 in all and they will be published on my blog twice a week. They are a warm up for my interviews with famous artists – Classical Conversations – which begins next month and also some teaching online. As you can see from previous comments I am already getting criticism but then I expected that especially from teachers!
The music playing at the beginning and end of the vlogs is from my recording ‘Liebestraume’ – here’s some info: https://classicalmel.wordpress.com/my-recording/. Thank you for reading – I am very sorry you have had bad experiences with teachers – if I had a pound for everytime a student has made exactly the same comments as you, I would be rich. Until we have some regulation in the profession substandard teaching will always exist….. and teachers who are economical with the truth! Keep in touch 🙂
Great vBlog and material. I find when I have a student that doesn’t have a lot of talent is that I change gears a bit and try to help the student appreciate music more where they would get more out of concerts and recitals. The more talent the more we can focus on the actual mechanics of playing the instrument and the skills to properly look at the music page and translate the musical information.
Absolutely Dan, I couldn’t agree more. So glad you like my vlogs/blog. Thank you for reading.
To learn piano at an early age is good but, give yourself a pat on the back for attempting to learn piano at any age. Relax and enjoy the experience of growing and exercising your brain.
Very true Debby – thanks for your comments 🙂
A., I feel your pain! I’m 57 years old and have been trying to learn to play golf for the last two years. I get so frustrated at my perceived lack of progress, I wish I could get someone to honestly assess my ability and tell me if I’m wasting my time. Instead, all I get is “just go out and have fun”. I can’t get anyone to realize that playing badly isn’t much fun, whether that’s golf or piano. I don’t expect my golf teacher to ever tell me I should stop taking lessons. I think he really believes he will always be able to teach me something to make me play better. I commend ClassicalMel for such a direct and honest approach to teaching. I also think she is right that not everyone has the inherent aptitude for learning the piano (and I think that applies to golf as well!). I wish you luck and speed in finding your answer, whether that’s to quit or to continue. It’s difficult to give up on a dream, but sometimes more difficult getting reminded constantly that your dream is never likely to become reality.
As a piano teacher I think – How long will it take? – may be the wrong question. It’s like determining how long will it take a child to draw. Can you say their first “pictures” are not drawing? Each “picture” is a step in a long process. In each picture something is learned. I think the student needs to learn to ENJOY THE JOURNEY or ENJOY THE PROCESS. I think the teacher needs to make the journey as enjoyable as possible and to approach each lesson as a step of the journey. Each piano lesson is a SNAPSHOT of the journey.
Yes you are probably right Dan…..but it’s a question I’m always asked so I wanted to give some kind of reply….most pupils don’t want to know about the journey they just want to be able to play!!
My comment wasn’t meant as a “complaint”. I think your vlogs are terrific. I just wanted to add a perspective from a different angle. Looking forward to your next installment.
Thank you Dan – so glad you enjoy my vlogs. Yes, there are many ways of looking at this question…..it’s an almost impossible one to answer really but it is one that prospective students all seem to ask! 🙂
I’ve been reading your blogs and I just liked to say that they are amazing. I’ve just started to learn to play the piano, however I’m 30 now and wish I had taken it up sooner. I basically want to learn because i compose my own music and have been doing so for the past 10 years. I have had 4 lessons so far and have been making progress. However, my last lesson i was a bit disheartened as my teacher gave me 2 pieces to learn. I was practising each day for around 30 mins-1 hour, but arrived at my lesson really nervous. Thus this meant I was playing the pieces wrong and she wanted me to try changing the book. I’ve been at the moment working through the classic piano course by carol barratt and it seems the middle section jumps pretty rapidly, but I love the book. I really felt like I didn’t want to go anymore but I’m determined not to give up. I’m not bothered by how long it would take to become good at the piano, as I know with anything these things take time. Anyway just wanted to ask is this normal that I should be feeling a bit discouraged. Also how do you know if you are making progress? My teacher said I’m doing well and that i could pass grade 1 by easter at the rate I’m picking it up. But I’m not sure if they just say those things to keep you motivated. Thank you for your time.
Hi Craig, Many thanks for your message and for your kind words about my blog….much appreciated. It’s always difficult knowing just how quickly you are progressing with your piano playing. It’s an age old problem. Playing the piano is very difficult and for many, it can prove impossible – just getting to Grade 1 is a challenge for some. Teacher’s may discourage if they are being truthful….but as you say, many won’t because they need an income! If you don’t feel you are progressing then maybe find another tutor? Or keep working at it for a while longer and then see how you feel. Ultimately, if you aren’t happy with your progress you will be demoralized and will search for other ways to make progress – finding different books/tutors etc. I hope you can find a way forward. Very best wishes 🙂
Just a quick update to tell you where i am at now. I’ve been playing for just over a year and recently got a merit on my grade 3 practical exam. So now i’m onto grade 4. Thank you for your reply i really appreciate it. One thing i am struggling to get my head round still is theory but i’m guessing that will all fall into place the more i do it. I know this sounds really stupid but i want to be as big as mozart lol i’m now practising 4 hours a day so i feel you can do whatever you want to do if you are willing to work hard and put your mind to it 🙂 thanks again.
The problem I always had with that was that
it seems to move vrry slowly, and life always seemed to get in the
way. Parents and caretakers of individuals with special needs
such aas ADHD claim that music therapy hhas helped “cure” their child of the disorder.
In doing so, thhe person will know which method is most appropriate for them.
I am a piano teacher and I truly believe that just about everyone can learn to play the piano. Do some people catch on faster then others? Of course. The only people I would ever turn down from lessons are those who are completely tone deaf. Those people are very few. Everyone else can at least achieve some level of fluency. I would not tell someone they are going to become a concert pianist if they are 50 years old and are learning to read half notes, that would be ridiculous. It really just depends on how hard the person is willing to work and what kind of aptitude they come in with as to how far they will get.
I think it’s very cruel to throw piano teachers under the bus when they work as hard as anyone but will never see the type of income that a doctor as a lawyer sees, even though they train just as long and probably longer and harder to achieve greatness on their instrument. I don’t see what is wrong with telling a person that comes in off the street that they can enjoy the piano and learn to get better, even if this person has little aptitude to begin with and even if it will take a great while. As human beings we long to be involved in music. Why would I deny someone that right?
In our fast paced society everyone wants it now and doesn’t want to put in the work. I think that is where the problem lies. Just because you put the money in does not guarantee results. You need to take responsibility for your own learning.
Many thanks for your comments Anne.
I hate to say this because it sounds so old to most people, but I feel really young at 67. Five years ago I bought a piano not expecting anything, I just thought I would push the keys and listen to the pretty sound the piano makes. I just pushed random keys the first year, not caring if I “learned” anything. It was just nice to have some little extra thing to do. Even looking at the piano itself as furniture is a nice thing. I think it was about one and a half years of just messing with keys that something big happened. I discovered that when I pushed keys and listened to their sound for 45 minutes straight, the keys started harmonizing with each other. It was the most amazing sensation. It was like my brain started floating and ascending into something like heaven. Now about 3 1/2 years after that discovery, I’ve spend nearly every day, enthralled, following those harmonic sounds after I do the warm-up. It’s most fun for me to experience those harmonies while following simple key pattern arrangements that I memorize. Apparently this state of mind I discovered is called the “zone”? What’s also really fun for me to do is get into my zone and rush over to someone’s house who has a piano and play my simple arrangements. I swear, they think I’m some kind of piano prodigy, lol. I also find it quite time-consuming and inefficient trying to memorize moderately complicated arrangements involving both hands. Maybe my memory is not as good as a young persons’. I’m thinking if I learn to read notes in the most conventional way, then the notes might help me remember the keys. Even if the tune itself will replace to need to remember anything, it seems like being able to see the notes would be a nice thing. Especially at the beginning of learning a new arrangement, not having to rewind those video tutorials over and over. I’ve always wondered if what I’m doing is comprehensible to any real piano players.
Thank you for commenting Ron. It’s great that you are enjoying playing so much,and you are right, it doesn’t matter whether you are older or younger. Enjoyment is the most crucial factor.
As for “how long does it take to learn to play the piano”, I think for all practical purposes, and in general, it takes five years. When someone like A. Laymen says they can’t do it, and of course they are being honest, what they are really saying is they can’t get up the motivation and desire to actually start doing it and stay doing it long enough for the piano to become part of their life. I think it takes about a year before you establish a deep rooted habit of playing the piano. I wanted to do it most of my life, but just like A. Laymen, I couldn’t get into it, I couldn’t get it started. But here’s how I DID get it started. I watched a lot of videos on the internet like many people do, and for some reason I started really enjoying watching “talent”. The little kids that sing like professionals, the famous piano players etc. etc. And the more I got involved watching piano players, the more it moved me emotionally. To the point where I said “that’s it, I’m playing the piano”. No hesitation at all, I started reading about playing the piano, looking at videos about playing the piano, bought a piano and started playing. That was five years ago. You can spend your time at the piano in different ways too. Like if you spend time only learning to read music and no time developing rhythm and harmony, you might be able to read good, but you won’t sound good. But on the other hand if you do like I did, and spend all your time developing rhythm and harmony, you won’t be able to play much more than a few simple arrangements with simple hand coordination’s, but it WILL sound good. I should have started reading music at least two years ago because I really want to be able to apply my musical skills to some real music. I would recommend, if you can do it, to develop both aspects simultaneously from the start. Or at least start on the music theory and note reading as soon as you discover the magic in the piano, along with your talent, which took me a year and a half. I sort of got into a trap learning simple arrangements from video tutorials just to keep me going and having fun. It’s probably better to get the work part of it done sooner rather than later. You need to learn your way around the keyboard. Scales and arpeggios etc. etc. All these things are just some logic I have recognized as a beginner myself.
There’s two parts involved in playing the piano. The first part is the WAY you push the keys. The second part is the combination of keys you do push. The second part takes no talent or special skills, it’s just remembering a sequence of keys. Even someone with a poor memory can do that well because the tune plays in your head along with it. The first part, the WAY you push the keys, is generally what we call “talent”. But that talent comes natural to anyone with EXPERIENCE pushing the keys. The only way someone could play the piano for five years and it not sound like talent, is if they never searched for or payed any attention to what their keystrokes sounded like. But if you listen carefully to what your keystrokes sound like, they will automatically continue to sound more and more musical. Playing the piano is really about patience.
I know this might sound odd and I don’t know if anyone else has felt this.
From the first time I sat down at a piano, I knew how to play, and read notes without anyone teaching me. I was just born, knowing how to play. In music class in elementary school, we’d play keyboards while trying to play songs in a book (going from easiest to hardest) and as kids were on there 3rd song I’d had already played the whole book twice, and fluently.
By age 13 I finally took real piano lessons and since I already knew how to play, I was able to start in at an intermediate level. By 1 year of on and off again lessons, I was already playing 7,8,9 year pieces that were 4 or 5 pages long.
Also I can take pieces that have been composed by piano players like ludovico einaudi (with time and lots of practice of course.)
I’m not a servant who can play a complex piece, precisely after one lesson but I can find my way around a baby grand.
I’m currently 16 and will continue playing and playing
Oh, I also compose too!
Sam, making good music is a mystery, that’s why we call people who can do it “talented”. When a person is told they have a rare talent for playing music, by people qualified to tell them that, they are usually smart enough to know they should put everything else aside and just play music.
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Thank you Cassie 🙂
Me thinks, before you can do ANYTHING on the piano, your fingers need to be functional and independent. It takes many years to get your fingers that way. And if you try to push them, you will only hurt your fingers. So yeah, START with videos on the proper way to develop your fingers for piano playing.
This secret is TOO big for everyone to know about. If there is a piano arrangement you love so much that it makes you cry every time you hear it, then how much time it takes you to be able to perform it well on the piano is not relevant.
“When I play, I make love – it is the same thing.”
-Arthur Rubinstein, pianist
Attention all wanna-be piano players, this is it, this is the master key, the universal secret for leaning to play the piano, BRACE YOURSELF!
“Keep play’n and you’ll get better.”
>>Keep play’n and you’ll get better
I totally agree. But you may never become as good as you want to be. At least that’s what my experience is teaching me.
Thanks for your comment Tommy 🙂
Okay, after 5 years at the piano, I think I know how someone could start from nothing and play well in three years. Of course you will only be able to play 4 piano arrangements at that point, but they won’t be simple arrangements either. You do two things the first and second year. One thing you do is spend an hour or more every day just pushing keys and listening to the sound, any combination of keys. You will be searching for harmony. You condition your MIND to be sensitive to the tones and the way those tones can interact with each other. Don’t bother trying to play any key arrangements that sound good, you will do that during the third year, and then you will memorize key arrangements. The other thing you do during the first two years is develop the physical functionality of your fingers. That you have to do every OTHER day. If you work any one muscle for more than 20 minutes a day, you will waste your time. Look at all the videos about how to do finger exercises for piano. And also pay attention to the proper ways to position your fingers and body. Your 4th and 5th fingers are the hardest to get in shape, so work on those a little more. But however you do it, DO NOT PUSH your fingers hard. Go slow. At the end of the two years, ALL your fingers should be pushing the keys in a very relaxed and controlled manner.
Every key you push, with left and right hand working together, will sound like music, even though it won’t make sense as a musical arrangement. You will continue doing all this self-training the third year, but you will add another fundamental element to it. You will choose four wonderful piano arrangements you would like to be able to play. Not real complex, but not real simple either. And since you don’t know how to read music, your are just going to memorize finger movements for those arrangements. Video tutorials that show you what fingers go on what keys. You learn each hand separately until each hand knows what it is supposed to do by heart, and then you start working on them together.
It takes so much time to do, that you will at first think you will never be able to memorize all those keys, much less different keys on each hand. But on one video the guy explained it like this: you have a huge pile of bricks dumped in your front yard, but you need to whole pile to be in your back yard, how are you going to move it, it weighs tons? Simple, one brick at a time. lol You can work on four arrangements, eight hands, and in about one year you will be pushing all the right keys on both hands without even thinking about it. Of course this IS a lot of work. But just keep thinking about how you will sound as good as someone who has been playing the piano most of their life, and it will be well worth the work.
Thanks for this Ron….
I’m 50 and at a point I have some time on my hands. I’ve always loved music and I might like to spend some of that time learning to play piano. I don’t aspire to be a concert pianist but I would like to learn maybe a few difficult songs that I am very proficient at, one at a time. Is that a reality? I recently saw this video and was inspired. If you haven’t seen it I know you will like it. When I say a few difficult songs I mean songs played like in this video.
My better half and I wanted all of our children to learn a musical instrument and they all started young. Our oldest daughter on classical guitar, middle son on piano and youngest daughter playing the violin. Our oldest daughter enrolled in the Suzuki method and after finishing grade three she was stubborn enough not to play anymore. Our son took Royal Conservatory lessons at the University and finished grade 5. But at being to the point where he lost interest he unfortunately did not want to go on. Our youngest daughter is still taking lessons with the violin but on a somewhat casual basis. I tried as much as I could for both kids to carry on but again if the interest is not there it is to no avail. I just hope that sometime in their future, no matter how long down the road’ they will realize what a gift they learn’t and take up playing again. When my son was playing no more we had a piano in our house that was not being used. So at 53 years of age I decided to learn to play. I took my son’s time slot with his former teacher and enrolled in the Royal Conservatory program and am now in grade two. I must say it is a challenge. But there is great satisfaction to slowly learn these pieces. And the challenge is there as I am registered for the piano exam on June 12 2015. So I MUST practice and I will be ready for the exam! No one is never too old to learn and yes it does exercise the brain. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment after first learning a series of measures and eventually the whole piece. Of course there is time and commitment to be made but there is satisfaction in doing this and a sense of accomplishment. So for anyone who is on the fence about playing, try it and you won’t be dissapointed.
I really want to learn piano. Your site is one of the very few sites which really helps people. I visit your site every now and then. Please keep writing.