A lot of people ask how long it takes to learn to play the piano. Maybe you have a certain song in mind, and you want to know how long before you can play it. Maybe you’re starting lessons and wondering where it ends. Or maybe you want to know how long before you can accompany yourself while you sing, or play with a band, or play hymns in church. The real answer to “How long does it take to learn to play the piano?” is: it depends! Let’s explore the possibilities.
How Well Do You Want to Be Able to Play?
First of all, the amount of time it takes to learn to play the piano depends on what level of playing you want to achieve. A person with no experience can learn to play the melody of a short song in minutes. For instance, if you want to play “Hot Cross Buns” you can watch the first Hoffman Academy lesson and master this simple song right away, without any prior training. On the other hand, let’s say you want to become a world-class classical pianist, and perform crazy-advanced pieces like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3. In that case, you’re looking at a minimum of 10 to 15 years of concentrated study with a master teacher, and hours per day of practice.
Most people who want to learn the piano aim for something in between these two extremes. Whatever level you’re hoping to achieve, your progress depends on how diligently and effectively you practice. Other important factors include your teacher, how motivated you are, and your individual learning pace.
To give you an idea of how long it might take to reach your desired level of piano playing, we’ve created a calculator. It takes into account how long you’re willing to practice and the type of teacher you’re studying with. Remember that this calculator presents an ESTIMATE only, the actual amount of time needed will vary.
Practice Time Calculator
With this calculator it’s easy to see how much your daily practice time affects how long it takes to learn the piano. Choose any level, with any kind of teacher, and compare 15 minutes of practice per day with 30 minutes of practice per day. It makes a huge difference!
Stages of Piano Learning
Many systems of piano study are organized with 10 levels or grades. When you have reached a certain level, you can expect to be able to master any piece at that level with just a few weeks of practice. It is possible to learn a piece a few levels higher than your current level, but it may takes months of practice. Not only that, there may be technical challenges in the piece that you are not fully prepared for.
In general, piano students can reach Level 1 after a year of dedicated study, Level 2 after two years, and so forth, but this is only a rough guideline. Check out the sample videos below to see what kind of music you’ll be able to play at each level. You can view them in order, or jump around using these links:
Before you’ve even had a single lesson, you can learn to play a few melodies. However, you’ll probably be limited to one hand at a time, one note at a time, with your hands in one position. Examples include songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Lean on Me.”
Level Prep A:
At this point, you’re starting to add simple two-note chords, and can play a wider range of melodies. If you’re learning with Hoffman Academy, you’ll play “The Wild Horses,” which uses both hands together. You’ll also be able to play the melody of some popular tunes like “Linus & Lucy.”
Level Prep B:
Both hands can play together with increasing complexity. You’ve learned a few chords, like I, IV, and V7, and can use them in more complex rhythms as you play songs like “Jingle Bells” or “The Imperial March.”
Now you can play faster songs, and are incorporating more dynamics and expression. You’ll learn your first simple classical pieces, like “Vivace” by Gurlitt. Also tackle a growing repertoire of simplified pop songs, like “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.
You can play songs that require more hand shifting, and you’ve learned to cross over and under with your fingers. Many simplified versions of pop songs are within your ability, as you’ll find if you give our Katy Parry “Firework” tutorial a try. In the Hoffman Academy repertoire, you’ve reached “Canoe Song.”
You can play one-octave scales in a few keys, stretch your fingers to handle skips, and use a variety of chords. In classical repertoire, you’ll learn songs like “Andante” by Johann Christian Bach. You can also learn easy arrangements of songs like “Hedwig’s Theme.”
Now your hands are more independent, and you’ve continued to master the skills you learned in earlier years. You’re playing the famous “Minuet in G,” and more challenging arrangements of pop songs and movie themes like “Duel of the Fates” from Star Wars.
You can play songs that include an octave reach, arpeggios, and constant hand-shifting, such as the lyrical opening section of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and “He’s a Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Your artistic expression continues to develop. Your fingers are comfortable with frequent wider reaches, and you can play four-note chords. You can learn to play most popular music and movie themes, like the theme from “Mission Impossible,” as well as many classical pieces, like the full version of “Für Elise.”
More complex keys and harmonies are now open to you. You can play more challenging classical music, like the famous first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
Now you can play music with large chords at virtuoso speed. You can tackle impressive piano solos like Jon Schmidt’s “All of Me,” which is the music I play during the opening sequence of every lesson.
Now speed and large chords are combined with quick, wide-ranging hand shifts. You can play advanced pieces like “Maple Leaf Rag.”
With virtuosic speed on double octaves, arpeggios, large chords, and fast hand shifts, there’s not much outside of heavy-duty classical repertoire that you can’t handle. Pieces like Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” are now within your reach.
Great Teacher + Dedicated, Hardworking Student = Success
If you are serious about maximizing your rate of progress, I highly recommend that you invest in a quality teacher. A great teacher will know when to push you to the next level, and will show you how to squeeze the most out of your practice minutes. In fact, having a great teacher is the only way to achieve your maximum rate of progress. Read more about finding an excellent teacher in your area.
Even with the right teacher, a huge factor in your rate of progress is simply the amount of focused practice you consistently put in, week after week, month after month. Read more about learning how to practice effectively.
Learning Piano is a Lifetime Journey
No one should get discouraged if it takes them longer to learn. The joy is in the journey! Once again, while it is true that with determination and really hard work you could learn a favorite song that is above your level, it may take months to learn it, and your performance may have some technical challenges. It is good to progress one step at a time and tackle repertoire that fits your level. That way you’ll have so many more possibilities open to you with the kind of pieces you’ll feel comfortable learning as you advance.
Try to see your piano study not as something you’re doing just to reach a certain level of skill, but as something that’s meant to provide you a lifetime of musical fulfillment and enjoyment. For me, there’s nothing quite like being able to sit down at the piano at the end of a hectic day and play a favorite piece.
If you’ve been waiting your whole life to learn the piano, please start today! You can get started for free with my Hoffman Academy lessons. It may seem like a long road, but in five or ten years, you’ll look back and be so glad you started that journey! Happy practicing!
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