Time

This leads to another all too common question, “How long will it take me to learn to play the piano?” I cringe and am flustered when asked this question and am trying to analyze why. When I am faced with this inquiry I usually come up with my pat answer, “Everyone is different, it depends” and this is true.

Upon reflection, I now realize that not one child has ever asked me that, it is always an adult. Adults have two concerns that children don’t when signing up for lessons and those concerns are number one, the cost and number two, the ever pressing idea of Father Time. They are acutely aware that their time on earth is oh, so limited. Children’s lessons are paid for and they have no pressing sense of time limits in their lives.

The cost concern is understandable and more reason to put a great effort in to practicing and learning. Other than cost, I think it is a matter of lack patience and understanding about what they are about to embark on. If I flippantly say one year then it completely discounts all of the years I have had being trained in the field of music. Even worse, if that student does not progress enough in that year they will be discouraged. Music is a craft, an art and a discipline that cannot even be completely learned in a lifetime, there is so much literature to study!

Beyond all of this, some students are tone deaf, they can’t tell if they have made a mistake and yes, I have had one student with this problem.

I have a student now who I think might have photographic memory and she learns very quickly. Nurture versus Nature tells us that some of a person’s ability is gifted to them at birth and some of talent is because of upbringing.

So, general rule is practice 30 minutes a day, if you do less you won’t have great results and if you do more you generally will progress more quickly. Performance majors in college are expected to practice at least 3 to 4 hours a day to be able to meet their goals.

As an undergraduate, I tried to practice 8 hours a day. As a graduate student at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, I once did a marathon practice of 11 hours in day. I was preparing for an audition and needless to say, I injured myself, having a trigger finger injury to my pinkie and could not practice for about 6 weeks. I had to wear a splint and I think there may have been a small part of me that felt it was a “badge of honor” for a pianist, but I know better. We, as pianists, want to avoid injury at all cost and I will talk about technique in a bit.

Along with the question of “How long will it take to learn to play the piano?” is “At what age can you start piano lessons?”. What is the youngest age a person can start piano lessons? Another time related question which deserves some attention here. I started accordion at 4, and yes, there are small accordions made for children. The youngest I have had success with at the piano is 3. That being said, I have had 4 year olds who couldn’t read a word, didn’t know left and right and I have had 4 years old that were reading books and listening to classical music in the car.

I also am trained as a Suzuki teacher and if you follow the teachings of Dr. Suzuki you may have read “Ability Development from Age Zero”. His idea is that children learn language skills at a very young age and music is, after all, a language of sorts. Having your child listen in utero is one of his teachings. Training a child’s ear from age zero.

To quote Dr. Suzuki, “the fate of the child is in the hands of his parents”. In other words, a child might have innate tendencies toward music ability but unless it is nurtured by the parents, it is wasted, undeveloped. Parental guidance is of the utmost importance and can benefit a child greatly unless it is a “Tiger Mom”or a “Helicopter Mom” approach. It is important not to create a child who resents music for a lifetime. You want your child to love making music and benefit from it or have others benefit from listening to them play.

In summation, time is tricky, there is no quick, shortcut to learning an instrument. It is better to start young and stay with it but it is never too late to learn. Stay far away from any “shortcuts” you see for learning the piano. Usually they are teaching you chord symbols and playing lead sheet music which, guess what, you will still have to learn to read music and there will be no one watching your technique and listening to your timing.
This is a good place to take a break…..be back soon and please leave comments!

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