In many ways, this is an unanswerable question. If you are planning to start piano, then asking people how long does it take to get good at piano is not going to help you.
A better question might be to ask yourself how much time and commitment are you willing to contribute. Because without that, I am afraid the answer to the first question will probably be never.
Everyone can learn to play piano; I have always felt that. We won’t all end up concert pianists, but we can learn to the best of our abilities. But how good we get will depend on a few things.
- Your basic ability.
- How much you are willing to practice.
- The quality of your teacher.
- What are you practicing?
- What you consider to be “good.”
The latter is going to be different for everyone. Good is not a defined condition, just a basic measure, and that measure will vary depending on individual expectations. But before we get into looking at how quickly you can meet your expectations, let’s look at your expectations.
Your Basic Ability
It is a fact that when learning an instrument, we will all start from our “own place.” Some have a natural ability for playing music. Others find it more difficult. How quickly you will progress will be affected by this as some will just learn faster.
How much are you willing to practice?
Commenting on that gives me a chance to raise one of my favorite comments. Practice doesn’t make perfect. It never has and never will. ‘Good’ practice makes perfect. There is a big difference.
So, how much time are you willing to give to some ‘good’ practice? Practice where you are reinforcing techniques and knowledge and moving through new things. It will take time, and it’s best to be able to set down a specific time every day or whenever to achieve that.
The Quality Of Your Teacher
Not all teachers are the same. Just because you can play an instrument doesn’t mean you can teach it. Do your homework carefully before choosing. Your progress may well depend on it.
What Are You Practicing?
This you will need guidance from your tutor. But practice usually requires three disciplines.
- First, simple warm-up routines.
- Second, reinforcing skills already learned.
- Three, work on the new skill to be developed as set by your tutor.
It will be different for each student, of course, but that is the general guideline.
What you consider to be “good”
The big question. Only you can answer that, but your work ethic will be driven by what you want to achieve. But make sure it is realistic.
Let’s Break The Progress Down Into Levels
So, we can see the likely levels that some will have to go through. Let’s break them down into seven categories. These are very generalized as it is hard to be specific.
This is where the journey starts. For some, it might mean some simple two and three-finger exercises with both left and right hands. Getting used to making contact with the keys and feeling them and how they react to your touch.
You might learn a C chord and maybe even play a C scale. Initially, the work may be slightly biased towards the right hand, but as time moves on, the left hand will catch up.
You should also be taught about posture and hand and wrist position while playing. This is a preliminary stage of learning the piano and won’t last very long.
This is the level where we move away from simple exercises into the beginnings of technical exercises. You will start to learn to play scales. And to understand their value. It is also likely you will be introduced to some basic music theory and start to memorize the keys.
You will learn to play a simple melody using your right hand. And at the same time, hold the chords down with the left hand. The early stages of right-to-left hand coordination.
At this stage, the left hand is not moving other than to set a new chord where necessary. The hands are not working what you would call independently. You will no doubt be taught some easy Firsts, Fourth and Fifth chords in easy-to-play keys.
A difficult stage to define exactly. It is a stage that might also be called an experienced beginner or a beginner-intermediate.
It falls in between Beginner and Intermediate and is a period when you are enforcing your basic understanding of piano chords and scales. You will be becoming quite good at five-finger exercises on both hands.
It is a stage where you are starting to learn the skills you will need in the intermediate stage. Therefore, you will be beginning to look at notation and start to look at sight-reading.
The Intermediate Stage
This is the stage that many tutors consider the vital area of learning to be a good piano player. Up until this stage, it has all been quite new and interesting.
You have probably learned a few simple tunes and impressed family and friends. You may have begun to look at music theory and thought, it isn’t too bad. You have got your left and right hands to start to work independently in a basic way.
Watch out, Oscar, I’m On My Way
You are feeling that you are on your way and that Oscar Peterson had better watch out. That all changes in this stage. Now it gets serious. This is the stage where frustration can creep in, and more people quit here than anywhere else on this timetable of progression.
Why Do I Say All This?
It is just an early warning for the average player. If you are a budding Oscar Peterson, you will sail through this stage and wonder what the fuss is about. If you are a mere mortal like the rest of us, it might be a struggle.
It is just to let you know in advance so you can be prepared. Having come this far, it would be a shame to throw it all away. Because you are well on the way to figuring out, “how long does it take to get good at piano.” In terms of running a marathon, you could be about to “hit the wall.”
At This Stage, You Can…
Play quite a few songs and are comfortable with the chord patterns. You will know the finger patterns for all the common scales and keys. And you will also be able to work out and play the remaining scales and keys intellectually.
Crucially, you will be going through that early stage of learning complete independence of the left hand when playing. You will also be familiar enough with the black keys to recognize them instantly.
This is one of the areas that are a big problem for some players. And for the majority of us, it isn’t easy at all. Someone said it’s like learning to read a book. I can only go along with that a certain way.
To me, it is like learning to read two books at the same time, each with its own storyline. The left-hand storyline and the right. It isn’t easy, and it takes time, but you will get used to it if you practice it. And remember “good” practice.
Do You Need Sight-Reading?
You may be thinking, why learn it? I’m never gonna use it. Well, for a start, you don’t know that. Sight-reading may one day be important to you.
Let me give you an example…
I was playing bass in a band when I was offered a much more prestigious job elsewhere. It included playing in a larger band that provided the backing for some well-known artists.
They came in, often with their musical directors, with the music all written for every instrument. Gulp. I couldn’t sight-read. I was one of these “I’m never going to need it” people.
Fortunately, I had gone up to the venue a week early. I had one week to learn. It was only just enough to get me started. I managed to pick up a little bit, but it was only a little bit of knowledge. That and some improvisation and jamming skills I had picked up got me through. But only just. I had to get better quickly, though.
The Answer Is?
So the answer to do you need sight-reading is this. You either do, or you could do. Therefore, it is best to learn it as soon as you can.
More Important on Piano?
You could argue it is. Playing the more complex pieces will demand it. You may think Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt are irrelevant to you. They aren’t. Mastering some of the works of the “Masters” will only help you. And once you have come through it, your standard will have risen dramatically, and you will be ready to move to the next stage.
The Advanced Stage
There will be no thoughts about quitting now. You have gone through “the wall” and come out the other side unscathed. If you want to consider yourself quite a good piano player, it is at this stage you might think you are. And you would be quite right. But how much better can you get?
Where Are You At This Stage?
Your hands are now playing independently, and you are reading the “two books.” Scales and arpeggios in both major and minor keys are not a problem now. And you have begun to improvise some basic harmonies to chords.
You can now understand the fingering positions required when looking at the sheet music. And while your sight-reading skills are still in the “in progress” mode, you can play simple tunes and work out the harder stuff.
You will likely have begun to learn some of the easier pieces from Beethoven and Mozart and are finding it fulfilling to work on those pieces. And when your tutor thinks you are ready, it will be time to take another step forward.
The Higher Advanced Stage
This might not be a stage that is recognized by some. I have included it for the same reason that I included the Improver section between Beginner and Intermediate.
Moving through the advanced stage of your studies, the jump to the Professional Level is quite wide. That is why this stage is here. It will bridge the gap just a little bit.
What Technical Stage Have You Reached Now?
Your hands are now completely independent and require little thought to play the pieces. However, you may still be struggling a bit with some of the techniques required for higher-level play. These might be crossing hands, moving the hands over wider distances over the keys, and wide hand ranges.
You are now able to play in any key, and your technical skills have improved with the various exercises you have completed. Sight-reading basic music is now easy for you, but complex, often classical pieces, are still taking some work. But you are improving.
Your improvisation skills are improving. You are now able to take the basic theme of a song or piece of music and add improvisations that sound natural. The world of the jazz pianist is no longer a mystery to you as you start to comprehend what they are doing and why.
You now realize that many of the well-known modern piano players are at or around this level. Did you once think they were good?
Also, at this higher advanced stage will be many piano students at the undergraduate level. But for you, there is still one more step to take if you are brave enough.
The Professional Level
Did you ever think you would get this far? Welcome to the world of the professional player. I think there are three main differences between the Higher Advanced Stage and the Professional Level.
- The Professional will do everything at a higher level.
- Their repertoire range is wider and often more complex.
- Sight-reading skills are at the highest level.
Have you ever watched a professional player and wondered how on earth they got that good? How, when they play, they can touch you emotionally? Now you know.
It is at this time that you will probably have started to specialize in a specific genre. If you have, that is good. You have found your niche. But don’t ignore everything else. It is best to have as much variety in the way you play as possible. But let’s be realistic; most will not achieve this level. That is not being negative, just realistic.
Let Us Be Specific Now
We have spoken about a lot of things. But that was in a perfect world where everything moves along in an orderly fashion. But life, and music, isn’t like that, is it? So here you are at the beginning of your journey; what can I say to help you along the way.
Firstly, How are You Going to Learn?
Very early on, I mentioned the quality of your teacher. But that is not the only way you can learn. Let’s look at the most common ways to learn how to play the piano.
There are plenty to choose from, some good, some not so. Doing them by yourself is fine but can be problematic. They are not usually designed to be used as a single item. But they can be good as a support tool when used with other options.
Online Piano Programs
There are also plenty of those. Some are free, others you will need to pay for. But, as I said earlier, anybody can set themselves up as a piano teacher online. But, just because you can play doesn’t mean you can teach.
YouTube is full of them. But remember, YouTube is not interested in checking people’s credentials to teach. They are only interested in making money; they are not interested in the individual, just like Facebook. So be careful who you work with if you choose the online route.
You will sometimes find group lessons. There might be half a dozen students, some at different levels working with one teacher. This isn’t a bad way to go if your finances are on a budget.
At least you will get the essentials of posture and hand and wrist position right. You will also get instant feedback from your tutor. You may be able to find them in operation through your local piano or music store or university, or college.
Private One-to-One Lessons
It goes without saying really that this is the best way to learn how to play the piano if you can afford it. Not everyone can. If you are on a budget, you can schedule lessons once a month, or at times you can afford.
But be sure to get a tutor who won’t mind you emailing them with a problem between lessons to get some help. As long as it isn’t every day, they are usually accommodating.
In my opinion, the best thing to do is to get yourself a good private tutor. Study with them as often as you can afford to. And then supplement your learning program with elements from the other options.
While we are talking about the specifics of learning, let’s answer a few questions you may have.
How Long Is a Practice Session?
Ideally, a practice session should get longer as you improve. In the early stages, ten-minute sessions, two or three times a day, will be fine. Any less, and you won’t see much of an improvement.
Make it 30 minutes as a minimum each day early on. This amount of time will increase as you improve. But how long is not the most important thing?
This is more important than the actual length of a session. It would be good if you could practice every day, but this isn’t always possible. Aim for five days a week and have set times, so you know. Phone off, iPad off, TV off, everything off… it’s piano time.
What Do You Practice?
What your tutor tells you to. You may want to do something on your own. But get their assignment finished first, then have some fun.
So Here We Are At The End
And I haven’t even answered the question you asked me, “How long does it take to get good at Piano?” As I said at the beginning, it all depends on you. Everyone will progress at a different rate. But there is one other thing I haven’t mentioned yet.
Before I do, here are some very general time frames of how long each stage might last for you. Please note I said “general timeframes,” not hard and fast timeframes.
How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Piano? – Time-frames:
- Starter- About 4-6 weeks.
- Beginner- About 6-8 weeks.
- Improver – About 6-8 weeks.
- Intermediate – About 2-3 months.
- Advanced – 8-12 months
- Higher Advanced – 3-5 years.
- Professional – 8-10 years
For the average person, I would think after about five years, you are going to be good. No, I would go a bit further, pretty damn good.
If you are thinking about embarking on this ‘magical mystery tour’ of learning piano, there will be some things you may need.
One of the best digital pianos around at the moment is the YAMAHA P45 88-Key Weighted Digital Piano. Or if you’re on a budget, this is a decent piano for the money is the Donner DEP-10 Beginner Digital Piano 88 Key Full-Size Semi-Weighted Keyboard.
If you are a bit cramped for space, a solution is the Alesis Recital – 88 Key Digital Piano Keyboard with Semi-Weighted Keys. And to help you along, there is Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play Piano.
Interested in the Piano?
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How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Piano – Final Thoughts
I said there was one thing I hadn’t mentioned. I have saved it until last for a reason. One thing will determine how ‘good’ you get. And that is your attitude.
- First, accept you won’t be any good at the start.
- Accept that it is going to take time.
- Accept that it is a long road.
- Don’t ever turn to yourself and say, “I am rubbish,” you are still learning.
- Know that a positive attitude to those things will determine if you are successful.
Now, let’s have plenty of the right attitude and get hitting the old ivories.
Until next time, let your music play.