Answering the question by showing you my own progress
Before I attempt to answer the elusive question, “how long does it take to learn piano?” Let me try and be the voice of authority by showing you my own experience of learning piano, how long it took and what I did to get to the level that I’m currently at.
The goal was simple. Teach myself the piano piece “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme” from the movie La La Land. For those of you that have seen the movie, you know what scene I’m talking about. You know, the scene where Ryan Gosling starts going crazy on the piano and won over my respect.
When I found out that prior to the movie Ryan Gosling had little to no experience with playing the piano, I was inspired to learn the piece myself. My thinking was,
If he can do it, why can’t I?
It was a tall order that lead me down a long path of many ups and downs. It lasted a lot longer than I had imagined, but I was grateful of what I learned in the process.
I’ll outline my entire approach and how long it took in a bit, but before you take my word, it would be a good idea to watch the video below to see if you want to carry on with this article.
It’s not perfect (look at me making excuses already), but when I look back at my progress, it pleases me to see how much I’ve progressed with playing the piano.
My Starting Point
If you’ve decided to carry on reading after watching the video it means you didn’t think I totally sucked.
I would be lying to you if I said that my starting point was that of a complete noob.
Any normal 7 year old can tell you that learning classical piano isn’t really on the top of their list of after school activities. I, however, didn’t have much of a choice. My parents forced me to learn the piano and I hated it. They meant well, but their approach wasn’t the best.
After a few boring lessons that included going up and down the C major scale with a very old classical pianist, I cried to my parents and managed to get myself out of it. That was my short-lived life of a grade 1 classical pianist.
Although I got my wish, it’s a decision I regret to this day. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the ability to be able to play piano and I wish I had stuck it through, but I was a stubborn 7 year old.
Fast forward several years later and just like every other teenager in the noughties, I decided to pick up the guitar as well (you can probably thank John Mayer for that). I took it quite seriously and even got pretty decent if I say so myself.
I was self-taught and I figured out my way around the guitar by watching a lot of YouTube videos. And I mean a lot of them. From watching guitar tutorials to understanding music theory, I was always trying to get better.
I would touch the piano every now and then, but every time I played I would approach it from the mindset of a guitarist. Which every pianist would tell you is quite limiting.
What I’m trying to get at is that prior to teaching myself piano, I had been exposed to music for quite some time, but not enough to say that I can confidently play it.
There were many different aspects to the piano that I wanted to get better at. Sure, I could put a few chords together, but I wanted to know how to sight-read (the ability to read music) as well as play certain complex piano pieces.
Give Yourself A Goal
It’s important to know which direction you’re heading towards when learning piano. Whether they’re big goals that are broken down into little goals, each goal is a landmark that gets you one step closer to your ultimate goal of learning how to play piano.
For me, the goal was simple. To be able to play “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme” from the film La La Land.
I had two options. Learn by rote, which meant that I would watch someone play the piece, follow along and just keep playing it over and over again until I got it down. This is what Ryan Gosling did.
The other option was to teach myself how to read the music sheet.
I did a little of the two together.
Since I didn’t have anyone who could teach the piece to me, I had to figure out what each note was by reading the music sheet. Once I figured out the notes, I would watch someone perform the song (on YouTube) and just keep playing it until I had it down. Whenever I would forget a certain section, I would refer to the music sheet since I was able to read music.
After a quick search on the internet I found a music sheet that I thought was similar to the original.
Now that I had the music sheet in front of me, I had to figure out what on earth I was looking at!
The process was painstakingly slow. I had to understand what every line meant, what every space represented, where every note was located on the piano. Fortunately, I had a basic understanding of music theory from my days teaching myself the guitar, but I was starting from zero when it came to reading music.
Naturally, the more I would read, the more I would get better at it, which meant the more I would be able to play. The pace I progressed depended on the complexity of the song.
A section like this would take me a few hours to figure out:
A section like this would take me days, even weeks to confidently play:
Life Will Happen
The goal was set, the methods of learning the piece were in place and all I had to do was sit down in front of the piano, figure out what every note I had to play and attempt to put it all together.
Unfortunately, life didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope. I had started this project in late 2018 and only felt confident enough to record myself mid-2020 (I’m still not happy with the final outcome).
In-between that time several life-changing moments had happened:
- I moved to another country to live with my partner
- I learned the language
- I left my old business to start a new one
- Got engaged
- Became an uncle
- The list goes on and on …
I’m not trying to give myself excuses, but you can see why learning piano wasn’t always at the top of my list.
Starting this project, I was diligent with my deliberate practice time. I would dedicate at least an hour a day of practice. However, when life got busy – especially during my move to another country – I would fit in time in front of the piano only whenever I got the chance. Which wasn’t often.
If you’re going to start learning piano, you’re going to have to understand the long journey ahead of you and be willing to put in the time. Life will happen and the excuses are going to pile up, but you’re going to have to balance the two together if you want to make real progress.
Don’t make the same mistake that I did and let other aspects of life get in the way of your progress.
Give Yourself A Hard Deadline
My time in front of the piano was sporadic and I knew if I had continued at this rate I would never learn the piece.
Weeks (even months) would go by without me touching the instrument and that’s when I told myself,
No matter what, in one months time I’m going to record myself playing the piece and put it online.
My time in front of the piano was stacking up again and although I didn’t commit as much time as I had done previously, I could feel and hear an improvement. Perhaps, the thought of looking like a failure on the internet was enough motivation to keep me going.
I had tracked the amount of time I had spent in front of the piano and you can see the difference once I gave myself a deadline.
If you’re struggling with staying consistent with your own practice, I find it helpful to hold yourself accountable with little (or big) goals. Give yourself a deadline to perform a song, record 5 songs by the end of the month or perform a piece to your friends and family.
Whatever it is, keeping yourself accountable is important when learning the piano. It’s even better to share your journey with friends and family so that they can hold you accountable as well.
Also, by giving yourself a hard deadline you stay clear from the infamous issue that every creator goes through; wanting it to be perfect. There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection, but if left unchecked it can be a slippery slope.
Rather than spending all of your time on getting the perfect take, you could be focusing on other, more important aspects of playing piano. Don’t waste your time on such things. Keep moving forward and focusing on improving your skills.
I gave myself a deadline and I was going to release it no matter what. Whether I bombed or sounded like a complete noob, I was going to upload something either way. It was daunting, but by doing so it motivated me to get in front of the piano and held me accounting with recording and releasing something.
An On-Going Process
Answering the question, “how long does it take to play the piano” is a difficult one. It really depends on where you want to take it and what your goals are.
Do you want to learn a specific piece? Do you want to learn composition? Do you want to understand music theory? Do you want to be able to play by ear? Or read music? Or all of the above? As you can see there are many aspects to learning piano.
My advice is to figure out a rough goal and just start. Sit in front of the piano and play. Makes mistakes and just keep on playing. Along the way, you’ll figure out what you’re lacking and that will take you down another path and so on and so on.
Go slow, be deliberate with your practice time and add in a little patience as well.
It’s the same mentality that I’ve incorporated with every other single skill that I’ve picked up. Rather than wasting time pondering how long will it take me to get good at the skill, I just get stuck in, leap and grow wings on the way down.
As I’ve shown you from my own progress, daily practice is important. You need to be putting in the reps on a daily basis. Otherwise, your progress will stagnate.
Life will happen and your priorities will change, but if you’re really serious with learning how to play the piano then you need to hold yourself accountable with practising every single day for the rest of your life.
Learning a skill is a lifelong journey. You never really reach the finish line. You’re either getting better or worse, there’s no in-between.
I started this project trying to learn piano by playing a specific piece and that’s what I managed to do. The thing is, I realised that if I want to get better at playing piano I’m going to have to commit even more time and effort.
Frankly, I have other projects that I would like to explore. That’s not to say that I won’t be playing piano anymore, I just won’t play it as often.
It’ll be likely that I will regress with this skill, but I’m okay with that, it’s one of the reasons why I recorded myself, so when I’m grey and old I can remind myself that I could play something a little more complex than Chopsticks.
I hope this article inspires you to take up the challenge of learning how to play the piano and give you insight into how much time and dedication you’re going to have to commit.
Everyone will have a different journey. It’s just a matter of how dedicated are you to learning the instrument.
If you reached this far it means that you’re still interested in learning the piano. I thought I’d give you a little treat and share with you my progress throughout the months in video format. Perhaps, it’ll inspire you to do something similar and hopefully better!
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