Learning the piano is an exciting endeavor. How nice would it be to play your favorite songs? Imagine impressing your friends and family at a party, or just relaxing in the comfort of your home, filling your sanctuary with beautiful music.
Then the doubt kicks in:
- What if I know nothing about music?
- Can an adult learn the piano, or is it too late?
- How long will it take?
- Is learning the piano too hard for me?
It’s safe to assume that the more advanced pieces or song arrangements you want to play, the more difficulty involved and the longer it takes. Even so, by itself, that is not the main determining factor of how hard it is to learn the piano.
Answer the following six questions with genuine responses, and you’ll get a better idea of how long it will take and how hard it will be for you to learn to play the piano at the level you want.
Do You Have Any Knowledge of Music?
You don’t necessarily have to know how to play a different instrument.
- Do you sing a lot?
- Did your parents sing or play an instrument?
- Do you listen to music regularly, and did you grow up with music playing in your home?
Just like everything else, frequent exposure to something creates familiarity. Your ears get accustomed to different harmonies, rhythm and expression. This former awareness makes it a little easier to get started and naturally play.
However, if your answer is no, it only means you need about two to four extra months to learn the basics. As an adult, there is a good chance this will be easier because you can understand more sophisticated concepts.
If a child is learning the piano, daily repetition deepens their understanding over time, as well.
Though someone with prior musical knowledge has enough skill to learn to play simple song arrangements in only three to four months, it would take you about five to six months instead.
However, the next question plays a huge role in the outcome.
Do You Have the Time to Commit to Daily Practice?
Anything you want to become good at takes consistent and regular practice. We all fall into the trap of wanting quick results and disregard the patience to stay the course and take each necessary step to get tangible results.
Whether a child or adult starts learning piano, they have to get the repetition of developing skills at least five days a week, just like in school or at a new job. Learning music is like studying another language.
You have two sets of notes to learn because piano music has two staffs, one for each hand. You have to use both hands at the same time. It takes plenty of trial and error, which is why often the beginning is the most challenging phase.
Two things happen when you don’t schedule daily practice sessions:
- Playing continues to feel difficult.
- Enjoyment decreases, and you may decide to quit.
When you get in as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day, five to six days a week, playing gets easier and more comfortable. You progress enough to start playing songs, which increases your pleasure and motivation to continue.
The farther you move along, the longer your sessions. Eventually, 30 to 40 minutes a day may be necessary for more advanced playing.
However, by then, the rewards are worth that amount of time, which still isn’t a lot compared to all the hours in a day.
With consistent daily practice, you can:
- Play easy arrangements of popular songs with chords in just four to six months.
- Build a technique, such as playing all 12 major-scales accurately and quickly with both hands.
- Enjoy lusher harmonies of pop, jazz, ragtime and some classical music in one to two years. Arrangements at this point can sound beautiful when played with accurate rhythm, dynamics and other techniques that bring music to life.
- Play more elaborate pieces in every genre of music in three to five years.
If you plan to play very advanced classical music like Chopin and Rachmaninoff, it can take from five to ten years, but, again, this depends on how much you practice.
An hour a day consistently will get you there faster than half that amount.
But remember, it’s not just about the destination. The journey brings you relaxation, fun, a sense of accomplishment while improving your mental agility.
Likewise, don’t cheat. Practicing 50 minutes in one day does not bring the same results as 10 minutes for five days. Smaller bites of time you can stick with are better.
The biggest challenge of learning the piano is carving out daily practice time. Put the keyboard or piano front and center to remind you to sit down and play. Schedule practice time like you do everything else.
Here’s a video that talks about the importance of a consistent daily practice schedule:
Do You Plan to Hire a Private Teacher?
Having a professional piano teacher shaves off unnecessary time and difficulty in learning the piano.
A teacher makes sure you:
- Sit correctly at the piano with a straight back, leaning forward, feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hands in the right position, a flat, relaxed wrist and curved fingers playing on the tips.
- Build a solid foundation of technique playing scales with both hands and other exercises with increased speed and articulation while building finger strength and coordination.
- Practice piano chords, along with their inversions.
- Focus on the skills that need improvement.
- Stay on track by creating accountability for assignments.
- Catch the things you’re doing wrong with personalized feedback.
- Use correct fingering that makes playing a piece much easier to do.
- Play by ear, improvise and learn music theory, all part of a comprehensive approach.
- You get moral support and encouragement.
Seeing or hearing your mistakes and knowing how to fix them isn’t easy, especially in the beginning.
Without a strong foundation of good habits, the more difficult learning piano becomes. Even worse, you’ll have to undo all the bad habits later to keep progressing, which is time-consuming and very hard to do.
Online piano courses and books seldom give you the individual attention and feedback you need to move forward swiftly and with more ease.
There’s a lot more to playing the piano than someone showing you where to put your fingers.
A piano teacher provides the extra push, tailors lessons specifically to you and gives you the knowledge of how music works. Having official musical training gives you the tools to use online resources to their fullest extent.
Do You Jump Ahead and Skip Steps When Learning Something New?
Learning the piano is challenging, but if you master each step along the way, you’re building a strong foundation that makes each level easier to accomplish.
Let’s say you jump ahead and want to learn a piece above your current level. While this starts off motivating, often frustration sets in, and you get discouraged. You might even decide to give up altogether.
Learning songs above your level can take months to master, whereas mastering appropriate pieces at your current level takes only a few weeks.
Additionally, as you slowly inch your way to the next level and then the next one, when you finally do get to that piece of music you were dying to play, you’ll have a much easier time learning it.
Before you know it, you realize how far you’ve come with a moderate challenge that feels doable. Therefore, you feel encouraged to keep going.
It’s helpful to find songs or pieces you love and enjoy along the way. The pleasure you get working on them provides continued motivation. You can check with your teacher to find the right arrangements for your level.
Going through a well-put-together method course covers rhythm, notes, pedaling and time signatures. When you complete the course, you have the tools to play most sheet music independently.
Do your best to get through the rudimentary songs, and you will get to the ones you love a lot sooner.
There are no shortcuts. Like the rabbit and the hare, you only hinder your progress and feel stuck in the same place for a long time.
It happens to many students!
What Kind of Piano or Keyboard Do You Plan to Use?
Using a cheaper keyboard without weighted and touch-sensitive keys can dramatically hurt your ability to play well and progress. An acoustic piano has weighted keys that respond to how soft or hard you play a key.
Their construction makes it possible to control the volume and shaping of music. You have to press harder overall, which strengthens finger dexterity and independence necessary for great playing.
If you don’t have a piano, buying a keyboard or a digital piano with high-quality weighted keys and touch-sensitive technology is the next best thing. Without these, you can’t develop the appropriate techniques necessary to give music expression.
If you start with a substandard keyboard, when you do decide to purchase a piano in the future, you’ll have to start at the beginning to strengthen the skills you never formed. That equals a lot of lost time, frustration and difficulty.
When you start with a low-end keyboard, you will also need to upgrade quickly and continue to do so throughout your training.
Furthermore, you won’t enjoy the sound of the notes very much. You’ll end up feeling disappointed in the fact that no matter how hard or soft you hit the keys, the volume stays unchanged.
Poor-sounding keyboards kill motivation fast.
It makes sense to invest in a piano, or touch-sensitive and weighted keyboard, or digital piano now. That way, it can go the distance with you, especially as you develop those crucial good habits and skills!
When choosing a keyboard or digital piano, make sure it has at least 66 keys. Even better, get one with all 88, so you have no limitations in what you can play. The keyboard should also have a sustain pedal, which all acoustic pianos have. They become essential for musical expression.
What Kind of Mindset Do You Have?
Sometimes overthinking things can deter you from starting to learn the piano. If you’re worried about your age and experience, there are advantages to starting as an adult.
You have a longer attention span that makes learning something new less time-consuming.
Rather than parents requiring their child to take piano lessons, you have a strong desire to do it yourself.
Because of that, you bring focus, purpose and determination to the table, which balances out the fact that children generally have an easier time absorbing new knowledge.
Your attitude makes all the difference. Have an open and curious mind and a willingness to take risks. You can reactivate the creative part of your brain and establish new neuron connections.
You’ll find that your ability to learn just needed warming up. Research shows that learning an instrument keeps the mind young, increases your memory, motor skills and concentration. It also helps ease depression and anxiety. It even increases life expectancy!
Many kids lose interest or end up hating the piano because they experience too much pressure. Enjoyment leaves the process.
You can be gentle and encouraging to yourself and know that what you’re doing is for your fulfillment.
Sometimes adults get critical of themselves and can’t tolerate errors and mistakes they make. However, with any learning endeavor, we learn through trial and error. You can’t play perfectly every time, especially in the beginning.
Pressure and nervousness make learning the piano much harder.
Unless you want to be a concert pianist, which takes years of dedication and hours of practice, starting as an adult is no hindrance. Your mindset is the only roadblock. Consequently, many adults without prior music background have even gone on to play professionally.
If you’re worried about weak fingers or physical limitations with age, playing helps exercise your fingers, and you can find plenty of pleasure playing slower ballads if you want.
Before you know it, you’ll have the ability to play your favorite songs and classical pieces and realize your musical potential.
Keep in mind that when you see someone sit down and magically play beautifully on the piano without music, behind the scenes, it took weeks of practicing and memorization to play those songs that seem to fly out of their fingers effortlessly.
- When you memorize a song, continue looking at the notes on paper as you play to help your mind make the connection between what it sees and what your fingers play to strengthen sight-reading.
- Divide songs into sections and work on them separately. It feels less overwhelming.
- Don’t spend too much time playing each hand individually. Do this only to go over the notes. The sooner you practice with both hands together, the sooner you gain the coordination necessary to master the piece.
- Take things slowly. You need lots of repetition, just like with anything else you learn. Otherwise, it takes longer and feels much harder to progress.
- Master several songs at your current level before moving on to the next one.
Now that you’ve taken an honest look at your answers to these questions, you know what you need to do to make learning less arduous and more successful.
It takes time to learn intricate skills, so ensure that you make the act of practicing and progressing enjoyable.
Learning anything new is challenging but also very rewarding. With realistic expectations, a sound game-plan and the commitment to see it through, you can learn the piano and experience gratification throughout your life.
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Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.