How Long Does it Take to Learn to Play the Piano?

I’ve been teaching piano lessons for years — in fact, I probably began giving lessons 35 years ago! I haven’t given lessons all those years continuously, but let’s just say I am experienced as a piano teacher.

One question people who are interested in taking lessons often ask is, “How long do I have to take piano lessons before I will be able to play the piano?”

Well. That’s a difficult question. But let’s look at the issues and see if we can come to some sort of answer.

Play the Piano

The first thing I’m wondering is, what do you mean by “playing the piano”? There are so many levels. Some people take lessons for years, and they are able to play the pieces in several of their piano lesson books. However, they would not be able to accompany someone to sing or play a solo. They could not just pick up a piece of music and play it. They would not be able to play something by Bach or Mozart. So, what you need to determine is what level of piano playing you’re hoping to achieve. What are your piano goals? Do you want to play popular music for your own enjoyment? Do you want to accompany your child for his or her band solo at contest? Do you want to play for weddings or play at your church? Your goals will determine, partly, how long it will take you to get there.

What do you mean by ‘Piano Lessons’?

During my years of teaching, I’ve learned that parents (and students) have wildly varying ideas on what “taking piano lessons” actually means. Some feel that they will bring their kids to me each week for 30 minutes, and that that weekly lesson will be sufficient to teach Junior to play piano. I’m sorry to say that that is wrong, in 100% of cases. Piano lessons need to be a partnership between the teacher (who will assign, teach, and guide) and the student (who will practice daily). Hopefully, the parent is part of the equation too — ensuring that their child is practicing, and letting the teacher know about any difficulties if the child is too shy or stubborn to do that. I once talked to a “piano mom” and asked her how much time her child was spending on practice, since he wasn’t progressing. “I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that he needed to practice,” she said. Well, at least she was honest. And if you think about it, her comment isn’t that unreasonable. Parents take their kids to soccer practice and dance practice, and kids rarely need to “practice” those activities at home. Many assume that piano lessons are no different. They are!

piano teacher duet

So, How Long Does it Take to Learn to Play the Piano?

I guess we’re back to where we started then: how many years of piano lessons will it take before you can play the piano? Well, if your child practices, say, 20 minutes daily, and is of average musical aptitude (this makes a big difference too, although there’s not much you can do about it), I would say five years is the average. I’ve had students who practice faithfully, and who aren’t all that great after 5 years. And on the other hand, I have some who are pretty good after less time than that. If you’re hoping to become anything like acceptable on classical pieces, five years is not really enough. But for the average child who wants to learn piano as a skill to enjoy for his or her own enjoyment for life, 5 years is a good benchmark.

Another key aspect is that, once you know how to play, you need to keep it up. If you take for 10 years as a child and then don’t play again for a decade, much of  your skill is going to have disappeared. Don’t let your hard work go to waste!

Do you play piano?

If you do — sound off in the comments. How long did you take lessons? How many years of lessons would you recommend for learning to “play” piano?

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4 thoughts on “How Long Does it Take to Learn to Play the Piano?

  1. I would love for my kids to learn but we live in a small town with no piano teachers. I keep hoping to find something online to help. Thank you for this post, it gives me a good idea of the practice time involved.

  2. Good practical advice was sincerely given in this report! Having been a piano teacher for many years myself, I totally agree with the 5 years. However, for a lifetime of being an accomplished pianist, it does take much more than that, at least for most people. Personally, I took lessons for 8 years along with several years of theory. When finished as a senior in high school, my teacher told me that I had about the equivalent of two years of piano in college, which made me feel very good! Since then I continued to play for church for nearly 40 years, played for a few weddings, and several other events, as well as accompanying students at ISSMA contest. For me it brings satisfaction to know that I can still play for my own enjoyment and sightread music whenever I choose to do so.

  3. I started learning to play the piano in 3rd grade. I’ve played both the piano and organ for my church congregations and I can say that one of my pet peeves about being a “piano player” is that often those who choose music give little consideration to the skill level of the accompanist. They pay little attention to key signatures, accidentals or difficulty. Yes, I can “play the piano”…..I’ve been playing for church congregations for over 30 years now. But I can’t necessarily sight read anything that someone can sing. I still have to practice, sometimes I need to work out particularly difficult music with a teacher as well. I find that sometimes those who can sing, have little respect or regard for the years and years I’ve sat on a piano bench practicing to be able to play. (I find other instrumentalists to be more sympathetic!)

  4. I can certainly underscore your statement about needing to continue to play. At one point, I was a fairly accomplished pianist. I’ve played for church in various locations in three countries. Sadly, I’ve quit playing and have lost much of my skill. I feel so frustrated now when I sit down to play because I can’t play the same things I could years ago. What a disappointment. Having lived in Africa part of my life, it was hard to be able to keep up my skills, but I’ve been back in the US for years and I could have regained much of my ability if I had continued to play.

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