This is usually the question frequently to a music teacher: “How long does it take to learn to play the piano?” The usual answer is: “It depends.” Why so?
Summertime is when most parents want their children to learn life skills through non-academic activities. That is one of the peak seasons for a music teacher, besides the Christmas season featuring choral concerts, musical plays and parties where live music is played. Musicians are busy, their calendars is full to bursting, during the Christmas holidays.
Parents tend to think that 12 sessions in the summer constitutes enough time to learn how to play the piano. Then they expect their children to be musical prodigies specializing in playing the piano after those 12 sessions.
Let’s experience the journey of learning the piano, as an instrument and as an extension of one’s musical soul. Most of the time, it takes several hours of daily practice to gain piano skills. It takes even more daily practice with the piano to gain mastery of a single musical piece.
A person with no experience at all can probably learn to play a single melody in a short period of time. For example, there are several piano versions of the birthday song, from a simplified single melody, to the thick texture of harmony and variations. Also, it depends on what level of skill at playing the piano a person wants. We need to consider a lot of things.
Twelve sessions per hour learning a single melody on the piano, such as the birthday song, simple and traditional Christmas songs, the National Anthem, simple folk songs, and the like teach you how to play those pieces on the piano. But learning simple set pieces does not encompass all there is in playing the piano. Even if the student practices a piece or two consistently every day, they’ve only learned how to play set tunes on a piano. This is skill, but not mastery.
If you want to become a world-class classical pianist like performing the pieces of musical masters like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, especially their complex and difficult piano concertos, you need to commit to a minimum of 10 to 15 years of concentrated and focused study with a master music teacher. You must be prepared to engage in a maximum of 16 hours per day of practice piano time—and that’s just the practice time, not the performance time.
Musical talent is very lovely, but, in order for this talent to truly shine, you need to invest plenty of patience, time, sacrifice and practice at the keyboard. Talent needs discipline and practice to bring the musician to his or her full potential. Talent needs daily nurturing, even assuming “cheat-skip-day.” If you lose even that day of practice, piano skills and the nimbleness of your fingers and feet can slip below the levels you have already achieved.
Our brains and fingers do not coordinate well unless that coordination is practiced and that practice is constant. Good practice depends on the progress of the piano player, who should work diligently, constantly, consistently and effectively to maintain and improve his or her skills on the keyboard. The word here is consistency.
One of the important factors in whether or not you learn to play the piano and, if that is your wish, gain mastery, includes your music teacher: How your music educator motivates you and helps you cope with your difficulties, how this educator works to help you motivate yourself during practice and at your own individual learning pace. Motivation and confidence in your own music builds the confidence you need to progress through your piano lessons. Piano teachers and their students will bond over this shared endeavour well if they are well matched.
There are piano studies organized into systems like piano level one to 10—these are also called “grades.” A concert pianist usually reaches level 12 before he or she is good enough to play before an audience in a jam-packed auditorium. Learning a piano piece, also called a score, involves knowing how to sight-read the notes and the complete set of elements of music used in the score sheets, like rhythm, melody, harmony, tempo, dynamics, texture, timbre and form. Music has its own complex language, complete with grammar and usage rules—and you must master fluency and, eventually, mastery of this language to be able to play the piano well enough to perform in public.
It is possible to learn a musical piece a few levels higher than you current level, but it may takes months or, even, a year of practice. Besides that, there may be techniques for the fingers to learn the piece you need to know and understand. You can perform such a piece accurately by being prepared well—that is technique, but the emotions evoked by music transcend the techniques you may master.
In classical musical pieces, there are musical genres with different finger techniques designed to produce classical repertoires from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th to 21st Century Music.
Piano students can reach level one after a year, if they dedicate themselves to studying and their teachers nurture their learning. After that, progress can take longer, with the student reaching level two may be after two years. The advanced levels are more complex and intricate and the techniques involved in learning how to play the piano at these levels will take more time to master.
If you want to reach the higher music education levels for playing the piano, invest in a quality music teacher—and in a piano of your own so you can practice at home. A great teacher will challenge you to the next level. Be open-minded. The adults paying for your piano lessons want you to learn how to play your instrument to the best of your ability. They can help you to achieve your maximum potential as a pianist or musician. But you have to want the same thing, because it is, in the end, still your choice just how far you intend to go to learn how to play the piano.
INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
Here are some of the lessons I learned in my musical craft through the years: To achieve success, you must have all the necessary ingredients. For career success in music, you need a great music teacher, added to you as the hard-working and dedicated music student. There is no shortcut to success. Just a lot of hard work and practice.
The ultimate goal in playing the piano is to produce music from your chosen musical genre with a happy heart and enjoying what you are doing—you are going to excel at what you enjoy doing if you just add discipline and commitment to your natural inclination.
Each journey begins with baby steps. Begin with practice time, every day. Performing as a musician means you need to master the knowledge, techniques and have built up the body memory for playing an instrument like the piano, which requires the use of your hands and feet to produce the music it does. One day, if you keep the faith with your music and practicing it daily, you could very well find yourself performing to entertain audiences with your gifts in music.
Studying any musical instrument requires hard work, patience, abundant time, motivation, passion, sacrifice, dedication, discipline and confidence. It is considered a life skill, just like writing or cooking are considered to be both life skills and gifts. The effects of learning how to make music on a piano in your life include fulfilment—you can express yourself without words, and beautifully, too. If you look at professional musicians, they rarely look old. They look young, mostly because they love what they are doing.
Dismiss any thoughts of discouragement while you follow the long road that learning to play the piano entails. Everything takes time to learn—especially things that are so very worth the time and effort it takes to learn them. Remember that nothing in this world worth having is ever had easily.
The joy of learning is an adventure in itself, and on the journey of one’s life. If you love what you are doing with such determination of dedicated and hard work, you may play that piano concerto of your dreams. Maybe, then, you can look at composing music of your own, who knows? But that’s for another story.
About the author: Sampaguita B. Flores-Nepomuceno finished her bachelor’s degree in commerce major in entrepreneurship and music education with piano principal at St. Scholastica’s College, Manila, where she is taking her M.A in music education. She teaches piano and voice lessons to children with autism as well as neurotypical students in Las Pinas City.