How long will it take?

So, is it possible for an adult to learn piano playing to adequate level, and how much time and effort will it take? This question is asked almost every day somewhere in the net, never caring for previous answers. Everything was explained in detail long ago, and I bring to light one of the authoritative answers from a highly experienced teacher. In short, it depends on how you will approach your learning, will you waste your time visiting all the blind alleys and killing your motivation there, or you switch on your mind and listen to advices from reliable people.


 

I am an adult complete beginner (37, work in finance in NYC, just learned musical notation and where middle-C was 10 weeks ago.)  I will be able to practice about 1 hour a day.  I love music, but never actually learned to play myself.  I have no financial need or desire to be a concert performer.  My question is: will it ever be possible for me to play at a professional level, which I define as playing at the ability of a B.A. graduate of a good piano school, perhaps over a 10-20 year period?  Also, in NYC at Mannes, Hunter, and maybe some other schools, there are extension and evening programs that let one earn a degree or diploma in music part-time, while having a regular job.  Are these worthwile, and what background in playing does one need before starting such a program?  Thanks!

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Selecting a piano teacher

By Bernhard from the pianostreet forum:

A teacher is essential at the early stages for the following reasons:

1. S/he will correct any bad habits and make sure that the good ones are implanted early on.

When a beginner approaches a piano for the first time, his/her movements will be clumsy and uncomfortable. This means any kind of movement: correct and incorrect ones. If the beginner by sheer luck happens to use appropriate movements consistently, s/he will eventually get used to these correct movements and develop superb technique. However, if the beginner starts with the wrong movements, soon these will become comfortable and almost impossible to replace by the correct ones, since human beings are like that: they stick with what is comfortable.

Consider a typist who types with only two fingers. S/he may be able to type at surprisingly fast speeds, but s/he will never be as fast or as accurate as a typist who uses all ten fingers. S/he may even be aware of that and decide to learn the proper way. However this means that s/he will have to give up for the time being the relative proficiency in typing s/he has acquired and go back to a stage of complete clumsiness while learning to use ten fingers. As you can imagine the proficiency with two fingers will be a major block in the road towards ten fingers typing.

Likewise with piano playing. In the beginning, with easy pieces, such incorrect movements will be all right, the student will be able to get away with them. However, as the technical demands increase, the student will experience an insurmountable wall. S/he will be stuck and the only way out will be to go back right to the beginning and re-educate all his/her movements patterns. Needless to say, this borders on the impossibility, since the apparent proficiency s/he has already acquired with wrong movements will be very difficult to give up.

It is at the initial stages when all movements (correct and incorrect) are equally awkward and uncomfortable that it is the easiest to acquire the proper technique. This of course assumes that the teacher knows about all this (you would be amazed how few of those are around!).

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Bad habits is the reason why beginner learner is advised supervision of a teacher

This guy has developed shallow play that he hardly may repair now, in spite all the huge work he obviously invested.


Most self-learners focus exclusively on hitting right keys and pay less attention to anything else in playing. Chuan C. Chang in his book compares piano playing with juggling a dozen spinning plates on sticks. The player have to keep an eye at all of the plates and spin up those which slowing down and getting unstable. The human attention span may not hold control of the dozen objects, but just something like four or five, therefore the juggler consciously may only periodically check in turn how few objects are doing, leaving the other objects by themselves for the time being. In piano playing, a novice might be unaware that there are other factors besides key hitting and they need close attention. There are more plates to spin then one. He/she leaves them to settle down in the subconscious mind as they are, i.e. without learning. The fact that he did not notice them does not mean that they waited and were not engaged. They were, as they are intrinsic components of piano playing, but were incorporated in the wrong and ugly way. After thousands of repetitions no doubt that they were fused into your nature and your subconscious mind stone solid. They would became your new unconditioned reflexes. To make a repair to your bad habits you should first spend about the same amount of time to eliminate the old reflexes, which took to learn them, and only then spend the same amount of time to fix new good habits. That makes triple of the time, which would be enough to learn proper habits from the very beginning. The more you burdens the issue, the more time is needed to repair.

More to read:

http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/1.II.22

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1820549/What_bad_habits_do_self-taught.html

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=2916.0

Format and content of my posts

Somebody with the nickname of Skylarking started the topic “What Can I learn for Now Without a Teacher or a Piano?” at the pianoworld web forum, where he asked:

I have a 61-Key Keyboard and I’m going to buy a Piano soon and get teacher as well. It’s going to take a few months since money is very tight right now.

What should I do for the time being? Work on my posture? Learn music theory? Ear train? Learn some Chords/Scales? Transcribe?

He got some advices from other forum members, but in six days he opened a new topic “How do I balance everything out?”, where he actually pleaded for advice about all those given advices:

I was given a lot of advice. Which is great. The problem is that I am so overwhelmed with a lot of the advice. I don’t really know where to start. I’m a really disorganized person. I’m a mess.

Thus, what is the use to give advices about piano learning? Even the question “What to start with” turns to be too general. That is a problem for ones who self-teach themselves piano and try to find solutions for their specific issues in the net. All they find seems too abstract and not quite to the point, and it takes much time to read, watch and filter out numerous web resources to distill a proper guide to action. What does your time cost? How much would you charge for an hour, if someone asked you to do some research work? Do you value your time or not at all? This question is to yourself that may help you estimate whether you really need a teacher, who presumably is able give prompt replies to your particular and conditioned questions about piano playing. Does his work save your money?

The process of handling information is more important than the information itself. The teacher deals with the processing of information and implements it on your particular case, he/she does not simply lecture you on some valuable information. In fact, I believe all, which conceptually could be told about piano methodology, had been already told. One hardly can add anything new, but prepares just new mixtures of the old ideas. The way of making the mixtures may be unique and that is what we appreciate it in a teacher. But the teaching ingredients are the same old ideas he/she got from his own teachers, who had got from their teachers, etc. New elements are added mostly because of communication between various teachers and schools, and in the internet era that goes on at full speed. Anyway, the seminal and basic ideas, in my opinion, do not change perceptibly, at least not so fast. We just have got more ingredients at our disposal. Good chefs are more valuable to prepare meals than raw food products themselves.

That is why I do not see anything wrong, if I am not going to propose any new ideas of my own here in this blog, – who am I to offer anything of that kind and with my command of English – but would instead offer citation compilations from most interesting texts I met on my journey on piano learning. Some blog writers try to be original, but either their texts seem watery or one gets the feeling that he/she read that already and not only once. Therefore, I intend better to take you by hand and lead along a possible path through some places of value for a self-learning piano player. The way that teachers may do.

About me

I was born to love piano. I used to stare and gape at our piano player at music lessons in kindergarten to the extent that she started missing notes and complained to the mentor about me harassing her.  50 years later I still remember that my child enchantment by the instrument. It was I who solicited my parents to buy an upright, so at the age of 6 I started my first occasional piano lessons with a private instructor. Later on, I entered a state music school, but gave up it at the second grade, drawing a line by that of all my formal and supervised music education. I was 11 by the time, eager to be a normal boy with street boy’s interests, which do not commonly implied playing stale sonatinas and gavottes. Perhaps something was askew in the way young children had to be taught at those music schools, once their love for music proned to diminish there.

The first pause did not last too long, and in three years I found myself sitting back at my big and black friend and since then I started off in my long life journey of self-learning.  Now, over 40 years later I still walk alone along my piano path and I just love it. Was the journey straight, comprehensible and uninterrupted? Not at all. I studied in a technical university away from my parents’ home, leaving behind my piano, then lived in dormitories where there was no place for any piano. And altogether, there were no any affordable electric keyboards in those ancient pre-computer times. Still I took any opportunity to find places where was a piano to play and learn it once in a while.

The next reborn happened when I could buy my first Yamaha keyboard (PSR-2700) in the middle of the 90-ths. That was a kind of breakthrough, as by that time I could write program codes and used all the possibilities, which connection between the keyboard and PC could provide. Here are examples of my playing that time. Nevertheless, it still was the pre-web era and I had been building my playing technique through my own trials and errors with the unappropriate flabby keyboard, in spite the fact that it was not cheap ($1 500). I never had an idea that mechanics of the keyboard prevented me from progress. Thus, in next few years I hit a wall and got distressed by my mediocrity, blaming only my innate abilities and myself. That thrusted me out of piano playing for the longest period – 7 years. I just saw no leading light ahead, why I could improve. It was just darkness around. No use to continue being a drab.

It turned out that the piano may gnaw at you all your life, even if tried to shoot it down… One night I was disquieted by the song «What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life» (I started with it with a new keyboard after the pause), as if a forlorn and shot down piano was singing that song to me somewhere deep in my mind. That happened to be the final resurrection. I switched on the keyboard, entered the web for relevant information and my journey continued. Another seven years passed by. I must say I am happy with my piano, which current reincarnation is Kawai CA65. I am satisfied with my playing and I may choose and learn whatever piece I like to play. My wishes never go as far as something like Liszt’s transcendental etudes, but I managed to learn “Appassionata”, after which I calmed down with proving what else I am able to play and just have joy of learning and playing more simple pieces.

I perform in public, have a few adult beginner students and find teaching a lot of fun. I went long way from “Wild Rider” of Schumann to “Appassionata” and Oscar Peterson’s transcription of “Whisper Not” by self-study for decades and believe me I know something about the road.

I have a blog in Russian about piano self-studying, where I mainly translate selected English language articles, links to which could be found right before the translations, so perhaps English readers may also make use of the blog when following the links.

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Anton Rubinstein was asked what was the hardest when he learned piano.
– Paying for lessons – was his answer.

No doubt, that one should better learn piano with a personal teacher. No questions about that, no argue. But it is not so easy to do than to say, as the endeavor costs quite a money, taking in additional consideration cost for an adequate instrument, many years of study and huge amount of practice time, which probably would be deducted from your activity to earn those money. Therefore, it is not surprising that many adults start piano by self-teaching, however unproductive and sometimes dangerous it might be.

I went the road of self-teaching for over than 40 years after few years of formal music education in my childhood. It seems that I bumped into all possible walls and fell in all pits on the way, therefore I perhaps became an expert in self-study )) I was really in the dark and alone in those ancient pre-computer and pre-internet times. Actually, I was not even fully aware that I needed a teacher as nobody scared me about possible negative effects. I was sometimes even satisfied that my hands ached after scale runs, which meant to me that I really worked hard for better. It was a luck that I escaped more serious injures than ganglia on both hands and later I managed to repair most of my bad habits, partly because I took a pause for 7 years that time.

Now I feel that I am safe and come to some logical journey destination to my satisfaction. Having got the web, I have read really a lot and tried to implemented all that in my piano learning. I translated many articles and videos for my Russian blog, which are only some minor selections of what I have read. These days I may play whatever I like. I just get music sheets and learn a piece, or transcribe it from audio or improvise. I perform in public (hotel lobby) on regular basis and even are paid for that. Was it not my dream after all?

I feel that now I may share my knowledge with other people with close relation to self-teaching. I may give a fishing rod to those who need it, instead of fish, which is offered by diploma teachers. Again, I will emphasize that I consider studying with an experienced teacher as a robust and secure way to learn piano, and that the fat and delicious fish offered by them might be much better than the skinny roach you would fish out with your rod. Anyway, you will not starve if you keep doing things by yourself.

As you noticed, English is not my native language. I live in Russia and not I Moscow, which makes it possible for me to offer you, adult beginner, piano lessons at lowest possible rate, at least twice as low as in most developed countries. Feel free to contact me for a couple of free lessons via Skype or any questions.

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Content

About me

Format and content of my posts

Bad habits is the reason why beginner learner is advised supervision of a teacher

Selecting a piano teacher

How long will it take?

How to find and recognize a good teacher

Links to Bernhard’s forum posts about teachers

Bernhard’s forum posts about self-teaching

Bernhard’s posts about practice

Bernhard’s posts about technique

Bernhard’s suggestions on pieces to play

The rest of Bernhard’s posts