That is a loaded question!
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How long does it take to learn to play the piano?
The real question should be How Long Does It Take To Learn To Play (blank) Piano? Because:
What is your definition of learning to play the piano?
Do you want to play a few backup chords on a keyboard while you sing? Then it shouldn’t take more than five or six youtube videos to learn simple chords then consistent practice until it comes second nature.
Do you want to learn to play keyboards in a band and play backup with other hobby musicians for open mike night at your local bar? Then you need private lessons from a musician who plays gigs on a regular basis and knows lots and lots of chords and rhythms. Weekly lessons for a year or two plus learning, practicing and experimenting with a group of other learning players in a combo should get you started on a solid foundation.
Do you want to really LEARN the piano and know how to read music ? Then not surprisingly, that is going to take some real time investment on your part and commitment to personal lessons with a great teacher. It is much like learning to read and speak in a foreign language with hieroglyphics coupled with fine motor dexterity training.
Are you hoping for a career in music via playing the piano? Then like most skilled professionals, you will need to devote a significant portion of your life and time to learning the basics, paying out of pocket for skilled teaching and mentoring, perfecting your craft, and reaching a level of professional competence. In addition, you will be forever learning, improving, and experimenting, just like any other profession, and music will be your life in much of your waking hours.
Here’s a basic time table of how long (in years) it will take to be confident in your piano playing via music reading skills:
Typical Timetable to Learn to Play Piano By Reading Music:
Let me be real here. Playing the piano by reading music is tremendously rewarding at every stage of progression! It is no small thing to accomplish, and you should be very, very proud of your newly acquired knowledge no matter what level of achievement you do! I want to stress that it’s not rocket science! Lots of rock and roll musicians do this stuff completely stoned/drunk. The trick is to learn it bit by bit, and practicing the stage you are currently at until you feel a certain level of success before moving on!
You know the old joke: How Do You Eat An Elephant? answer: one bite at a time.
It is ALL learnable. A great teacher will simplify things for you, challenge you according to your learning style, inspire you to keep going and make you feel like a million bucks for your efforts.
Able to read simplified music and play Christmas Carols, some hymns and very easy pop songs: One to two years of weekly lessons and frequent practice.
Be able to read music and play all of the above with a fairly full sound, have flexible mobility and dexterity in your hands, have improved musical expression and do simple blues, pops, and swing music plus the easiest classical music: Three years of weekly lessons and practice.
Do all the above and begin to play intermediate classical music, arrange your own music pop songs for soloists, choirs, and bands. Have very useful dexterity and hand muscle strength and control, play any hymn or carol easily and start to sound pretty darn impressive: four to five years of continuous lessons and practice.
All the above and begin to play masterworks classical music (unsimplified), impressive lounge pop and ballad music, accompany singers or other musicians, create your own pop song arrangments in any style you like and have great dexterity and fluidity: Six to eight years of continuous weekly lessons and depending on your personal challenges (musically speaking), your teacher and your dedication.
Move into advanced music, headed for fluency and competency in most music styles and ranges of difficulty with grand and virtuosic technical skills: about 10 to 16 years depending on your daily dedication, your teacher, and your work ethic and passion for music. To retain this level requires daily all-day-long dedication like a professional athlete.
Here’s the kicker:
Please note the above approximations are just a general timeline. Some people fall in love with playing the piano and practice quite heavily. That can cut your time in half!
It’s rarer, but some people are born with a ‘gift’ of music and everything just comes to them easier and faster. Geniuses are still found in music all over the globe, much like anything else.
Also, dedicated college students or teens and adults attempting to forge a full-time career in music play their instrument for up to 8 or more hours a day and make light-years of progress! That’s because it is their JOB. I hazard a guess that anything you devote most of your waking hours to will improve drastically and quickly as well. Most people learn piano as a side interest.
It really comes down to what level are you aiming for and how much time can you devote to it?
In my piano teaching, I say that if you can give piano 20 minutes a day (at the minimum for a busy adult, or 30 minutes a day for a child) and plan on practicing at least four days a week, you’ll make great consistent progress and be very happy with your piano playing at every stage of growth. When or if to call it quits is up to you!