This is a common question when it comes to learning any instrument. Sure, you’ve bought yourself a piano, got a teacher, maybe signed up to an app like Flowkey or Simply Piano. But how long will it take for you to actually be able to say “yes, I can play the piano?” You’ve made a start, but where does it end?
The real answer to this question, unfortunately, is “it depends.” There is no definitive end to your piano learning journey; you will be learning for as long as you are playing. Even concert pianists at the highest possible level are still learning. I will say that this process is often quicker for children than it is for adults, for the same reason that children pick up languages easier; their brains are more malleable. That’s not to say that adults can’t reach a level of decent proficiency at their craft; you just might need to be more patient.
However, here's a rough estimate of what you can expect your level to be after a certain amount of time. Figures are based on an adult beginner who has no prior experience of playing the piano or any other musical instrument.
You can expect to reach beginner level after around a year. This would correlate roughly to Grade 1 or 2 level (ABRSM.) Expect to play very basic pieces and have a reasonable grasp of learning from sheet music, playing basic one-octave scales, etc.
Three to four years
You can expect to reach this level after around three to four years. Expect to be playing at roughly a Grade 4 or 5 level (ABRSM). You should have a decent grasp of more advanced concepts at this stage, such as sightreading, more complex rhythmic patterns, as well as scales in most keys up to two or three octaves. You should be comfortable with learning pieces by yourself without having to rely on a teacher at this stage, but expect most of your guidance still to come from your teacher or tutor.
Five to ten years
Expect to reach this level after at least five years and up to ten years. By this stage you should be playing at a Grade 8 (ABRSM) level or beyond. You should have no issues sightreading pieces around three or four grades below your playing level. You should know scales, arpeggios, broken chords, etc in every key. You should be very comfortable choosing your own repertoire and learning pieces by yourself at this stage.
How long does it take to learn piano for adults?
Again, this is a very tricky question to quantify. It depends on numerous factors, such as how quickly you learn, what your musical background is, and whether you have the time to dedicate to practicing. For example, if you have already played the violin to a Grade 8 standard, you will be able to pick the piano up very quickly, to the point where it might only take you two years to be at the same level with your piano playing. If you’re a total beginner, expect to be playing for at least five years before you get to the same level.
The length of time also depends on the kind of instruction you’re getting. If you are working with an excellent, experienced teacher who is able to very quickly spot your mistakes and rectify them, alongside prescribing repertoire that you’re interested in and that will help you develop, you will learn quickly. If you are working with a teacher who is not so interested in your personal development, or who is not too experienced at teaching total beginners (and in my experience, very few teachers are) then your development will be much slower.
A key piece of advice here is to find the instruction method that suits you. The ideal is an experienced teacher who understands the common pitfalls that beginners experience. However, lots of teachers will say they are experienced at teaching beginners, when in actuality, they are not, and would be much more suited to teaching advanced/intermediate level students.
If you can’t afford a teacher, or don’t have the time to go to one, then you may consider a piano learning app, or simply trying to teach yourself. A piano learning app will help you, but be aware that your progress will be slower than going to an experienced teacher. Not everyone can afford this or have the time for it, so if you can’t go to a teacher all hope is not lost, just be aware that it might take you longer.
How many hours a day should you practice piano?
As with so many things in the piano-learning world, the answer is “it depends.” You should ideally practice for:
Let me elaborate on this. Logic dictates that if you spend an hour per day practicing, you will develop at three times the pace as someone who practices only twenty minutes per day. However, this is not necessarily true. The QUALITY of your practice is more important than how much you do. If you decide that your practice consists only of playing through your pieces, making the same mistakes over and over again, it doesn’t matter how many hours you sit at the piano. You will not improve.
However, if you take a conscious, deliberate approach to practicing the piano, you will progress more quickly. Even if you dedicate only twenty minutes per day, as long as those twenty minutes are hyper-focused, you will make progress. Ideally, however, you will do as much hyper-focused practice as you possibly can every day. If your practice is good, then obviously if you do two hours a day you will improve quicker than someone who does twenty minutes.
If you want more information on how to make your piano practice as efficient and effective as possible, I highly recommend you check out my related article here.
Can I teach myself piano?
The answer to this is absolutely yes. I was, at least until I was around fourteen or fifteen, for the most part, self taught. I had a good ear for music and was able to pick tunes out on the piano with relative ease. For all intents and purposes, I could “play” the piano.
But, I knew nothing about music theory. I knew nothing about learning to read music. If you had put a piece of music in front of me, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. This is a major problem. Now, it would have absolutely been possible for me to go online and learn how to read music myself. I would eventually have been able to pick it up. However, it would have been quicker and easier if I’d had a teacher.
You can absolutely use apps like Flowkey and Simply Piano, or use YouTube videos to help you learn. This isn’t going to do you any harm. However, there will be things that a teacher can point out or tell you that will help you learn quicker. It will be much more efficient if you have a teacher to help you. If you have no teacher, you will eventually get stuck on something that you can’t figure out, and you’ll have nobody to turn to.
This is not only true for beginners/intermediate level players. This is true for almost anyone; I remember when I was at university I would get stuck on certain things. Perhaps an awkward fingering somewhere, a tricky chord voicing, something like this. It was always extremely helpful to have a teacher around to point me in the right direction.
Is it hard to learn the piano?
Any musical instrument is hard to learn for someone with no musical background. However, I would encourage you not to think of the potential difficulty, but think of the reward. Learning music is a lifelong journey. Nobody ever stops learning. Even 80 or 90 year old musicians still practice, because with practice, they improve. Learning the piano never stops.
So yes, it is hard. It requires a lot of dedication. You will find that you want to give up and not play again. You will get tired of practising. You will come home from work or school and not want to practice. I would encourage you to look past this, and stick to it. You will be glad you did.
I’ve written loads of articles on learning the piano. I’d encourage you to check them out if you’re on the fence about learning. I cover a number of topics, such as which piano to buy, how to practice the piano, and more.
Until next time; happy practicing!