The timelines below assume you’re a complete beginner who has never studied piano or any other instrument. If you have previous musical experience, the timelines may be shorter. If you want to play at a more refined/professional level, they may be longer.

How long does it take an adult to learn piano? This is a fair question, since like any complex skill, learning to play piano does take time and ongoing effort. (If you’re also wondering whether it’s simply too late to learn piano, it almost certainly isn’t.)

Yet learning to play piano is a process that really never ends. No matter how good you are, you can always hone your skills or learn something new. So a better question might be:  

Given a realistic amount of time and effort, are my musical goals reasonable and attainable?

If your goals are similar to most adult piano students, the brief answer is yes. Within a few weeks you’ll be able to play familiar melodies (though probably just one hand at a time). Within a few months, you’ll be playing more challenging and interesting music with both hands. Within a few years, you’ll be able to play engaging and significantly more difficult classical and/or popular music.

Exactly how long it will take you depends on several factors:

  • How difficult is the music you want to play?
  • What means will you use to learn?
  • How much (and how well) will you practice?

Let’s consider these questions one by one.

How Difficult Is the Music You Want to Play?

Popular Music

Popular music is typically available as sheet music arranged for piano. You can usually find arrangements at a variety of skill levels. Some arrangements are written to sound as close to the original as possible. Others may “creatively reinterpret” the music, such as a jazz version of a pop tune.

While easier arrangements will be manageable sooner, more challenging arrangements are usually truer to the original and more fun to play.

Easy Arrangements

An easy arrangement of a pop song typically has these characteristics:

  • Some (or all) of the arrangement may be for one hand at a time (not “hands together”)
  • Rhythms may not accurately reflect the original
  • There may be no chords, or simplified chords may not accurately reflect the original

Example (Scarborough Fair):

Timeline for playing: a few weeks to a few months

Intermediate Arrangements

An intermediate arrangement typically has these characteristics:

  • The hands play together
  • Rhythms are relatively accurate, but may still not completely reflect the original
  • Chords are relatively accurate

Example (The Entertainer):

Timeline for playing: 1-3 years

Advanced Arrangements

In advanced arrangements:

  • Rhythms are an accurate representation of the original
  • Chords are accurate; complex chord structures make the arrangement more fulfilling and/or fun to play
  • There may be an “improvised” solo (a section that sounds improvised)

Example (O Christmas Tree jazz version):

Timeline for playing: 3-5 years

Classical Music

Very Easy

In the first year or two, beginners will play simplified arrangements of classical music (some of which may have been composed for other instruments).

Example (Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony):

Timeline for playing: a few weeks to a few months

Such arranged pieces will become progressively harder and more interesting until you’re ready to tackle piano pieces in their “original form,” i.e. exactly as written by the composer.

Easy Original Form

Easy original form classical music consists of the easiest short pieces exactly as they were written by the composer.

Example (Minuet in A Minor by Johann Krieger):

Timeline for playing: 1-2 years

Intermediate

Intermediate classical music falls somewhere between the “easy” and “difficult” music typically played by adults. It isn’t “intermediate” in comparison to the most difficult keyboard music (like the Chopin Études) which is usually playable only by the most dedicated pianists who practice for many thousands of hours for years or decades.

Example (Invention No. 4 by J.S. Bach):

Timeline for playing: 3-5 years

Advanced

This includes the music playable by the average advanced adult pianist.

Example (Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy):

Timeline for playing: 5-10 years (Clair de Lune is much harder than it sounds!)

What Means Will You Use to Learn?

The means used to learn piano can make an immense difference in how fast you learn, how well you learn, and your overall satisfaction. The best to worst ways to learn piano are:

#1. Private Instruction (In-Person or Online)

Over three centuries after the piano was invented, private 1-on-1 lessons, whether in-person or online, are still the “gold standard” for learning piano. And no, AI won’t be replacing lessons with a teacher anytime soon.

#2. Group Lessons (In-Person or Online)

Group lessons can be quite effective, not to mention a fun and social experience. But because the teacher’s attention must be spread among the students, they’re not as effective as private lessons.

#3. Other Means

All other means of learning piano are inferior to lessons, including apps, self-guided online courses, teaching yourself via YouTube videos or books, or putting some sheet music under your pillow at night.

That said, any or all of the above (except the pillow method) may be useful for getting started or evaluating your interest. And you’ll likely learn something useful.

How Much (and How Well) Will You Practice?

Both the quantity and quality of your practicing play a critical role in determining how quickly you’ll achieve your musical goals.

The quantity of your practicing includes both how much and how consistently you practice. The “average” adult beginner will make steady progress by practicing 20-60 minutes most days. All other things being equal, of course, the more time spent practicing, the faster your progress. More difficult and/or longer pieces may demand even longer daily practice sessions (1-2+ hours).

The quality of your practicing involves methodically employing strategies such as breaking a piece down to its components, practicing slowly to avoid making (and learning) mistakes, and other useful piano practicing habits and strategies.

Other Factors

If you’re not a complete beginner (which has been assumed up to this point), reading, ear and technical skills you’ve previously learned are likely to expedite your progress, at least for awhile. This is usually the case even if you feel like you’ve forgotten it all!

Reading Skills

Being able to read one of the two clefs (treble and bass) used for keyboard music will give you a head start on reading. For example, if you’ve played a treble clef instrument such as flute or violin, you’ll have an edge reading notes for the right hand to play. If you’ve played a bass clef instrument such as cello or trombone, you’ll have an edge reading notes for the left hand.

Ear Skills

Possessing a musical “ear” supports many other musical skills. If you’ve sung regularly, whether in the shower or in a school choir, you’ll likely have a better ear than most. A good ear will make you a better reader, make your practicing more effective, and much more.

Keyboard Technique

If you’ve studied piano in the past, even decades ago, you’ll have an edge on the many facets of effective keyboard technique (posture, use of arm weight, hand and finger movements etc.).

So How Long Does It Take An Adult To Learn Piano?

The time it takes to learn piano depends on:

  • The difficulty of the music you want to play
  • The methods and means you use to learn
  • The quantity and quality of your practicing

Earlier in this article I measured learning time in months and years. A more accurate measurement, though, is hours spent practicing. Obviously, practicing for an hour every day will get you to your goals faster than 15 or 20 minutes every other day.

One final tip: don’t be overly concerned with how long it will take you to reach your musical goals. As the clichéd yet true adage goes, the joy is in the journey. What’s most important is appreciating what you can play today. So start learning today, keep learning and practicing, and enjoy each moment of the music you make along the way.

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