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#1103943 - 01/26/06 03:11 AM How long does it take to learn a piece?
hoho Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/08/06
Posts: 6
I've been playing playing the piano for one month now and I'm working on George Winston's version of Canon.

I practise about 1-2 hours a day and only get through 2 bars (up to speed though). It's painstakingly slow, and at time very frustrating but I love the piece so much I'm able to persevere. At my current rate, I should be able to finish the piece in 50 days.

How long does it normally take you to learn a piece you would consider at or above your level? I don't mean perfecting it, just being able to play it around about the right speed.

I believe that starting with something difficult and technical and really sticking with it will make easier pieces easier to play in the future. Any comments on this approach?

Thanks in advance

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#1103944 - 01/26/06 04:16 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Kam Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/13/06
Posts: 184
Loc: Canada
I've played tat piece before, it sounds beautiful. \:\)

According to ur post, it seems tat u are just a beginner coz the first page is very easy.
(1/2 max for page1)
It gets difficult very quickly after page 1

Back to ur question, if I were playing a piece above my level (tat much), I would first look at the "key" then read every page and understand how the chords are constructed (so i will have an idea what chord i would play next)

There's no exact definition on "how long does it take to learn a piece" because difficulties and length varies

- I dont think ur approach is right -

Do u think u can pass a University paper with just
middle school knowledge? Of course it's not going to happen.

Learning piano is like learning a language, it takes time to learn vocabs/word phrase(melody), sentence structure(chords), and how to read word by word (how to play note by note).

The better way is to learn the foundations first. With those basic techniques, you will find tat learning piano will become much easier than learning difficult pieces from level 0.

A friend of mine who likes music is at level 3.
His case is similar to urs. While he was still at level 2 he tried (or I say "manage") to play a level 7 piece (pop song). He ended up struggling thru the piece for a long time (probably as slow as u are). Although he had the piece memorized, but he doesn't know why he has to play certain chords to accompany the melody at certain spots. He just plain doesn't understand how chords are constructed.

Since he forced himself to memorize the song, he couldn't play it again after a few weeks later. He even had difficulties playing the song with the sheet music in front of him.

Therefore, you have to be "comfortable"
(at least u know wut u are doing)
with the piece you are learning to "really" or "truly" learn it.

Even you have learned the piece (the hard way), it
doesn't mean tat other pieces becomes easier because you don't have the basic techniques to play
virtually any song.

BTW I like George Winston's and David Lanz's version of Canon, they both sounds great.

Hope you can learn George Winston's lovely Canon
at a quicker pace one day.
"Bass creates motion" - David Lanz

#1103945 - 01/26/06 05:11 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
hoho Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/08/06
Posts: 6
Thanks for the advice. It's been very helpful. Canon is truly a beautiful piece and it's only due to its elegance that I'm persevering right now. You're right, the first page was quite easy. It's the co-ordination between the left hand chords and right hand melody that's troubling right now...I've nearly finished page 2.

I'll take your words to heart and work on some easier pieces, though I'll still work on Canon on the side - it's part of the reason I've decided to learn piano. Perhaps I won't be so demanding on myself in that I won't force myself to learn 2 bars a day. Rather I'll go at whatever pace my hands and mind dictate.

What kind of pace should one be progressing through a piece to know that it's 'suitable' for them...it's a rather open question but if I go to the stage where I'm doing 4-8 bars a day of something, would the piece be around the 'right level' for me?

Thanks again

#1103946 - 01/26/06 07:46 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Father Bob Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/24/05
Posts: 66
Loc: Mississippi
My teacher's got me on a different approach entirely.

She's got me playing various beginner-level pieces at a comfortable speed, and as I progress, the speed increases naturally.

I do tackle the most challenging parts of a practice piece until I can get them "up to speed" after a fashion. But I figure if I keep at it, I'll be jamming along soon enough.
"Tickling" the ivories since 11/18/2005.

#1103947 - 01/26/06 09:43 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012

Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 18122
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
I think you should keep working on Winston's Canon. It's important to have a goal that means a lot to you. But it shouldn't be the ONLY thing you're working on, as I would hate for you to start feeling frustrated and discouraged.

I personally strive to have a mix of pieces that I'm working on at any time. Usually I have several that I've essentially mastered and am just polishing up and maintaining for my repertoire. Then I'll have one or two that I'm about 75% there, but I usually only have one piece at a time that I've just begun or am really struggling with. (I can take only so much frustration.) So I won't start a new piece until I've got the others in okay shape.

One of the reasons I encourage you to stick with Canon is that your story is very similar to mine. One of my all time favorite pieces is Winston's "Longing/Love", and shortly after I started playing I bought his CD with the sheet music for it on it. It was way too advanced for me at the time, but I loved it so much I stuck with it. I have literally been working on it for about a year and a half, and I FINALLY have it in decent (definitely not perfect) shape. But it's my proudest accomplishment in piano.

I also like to mix up the difficulty level of new pieces that I start. If I've just finished one that has been a struggle or taken some weeks (or longer) to learn, then I might deliberately toss in an easier one that I can master in a few days, just for the boost in ego.
Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

#1103948 - 01/26/06 10:37 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Nina Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/01
Posts: 6467
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
It's a hard call to say how long a piece should take.

But some of the more challenging things in my repertoire (ha ha) might take me, say, six months or more to really play. However, a lot of that is polishing, not simply playing the right notes.

I agree with Monica, keep working on the Winston piece but pick up some other, easier things to give you some satisfaction along the way. (Plus you will give yourself the opportunity to learn different techniques when you are learning different pieces.)

#1103949 - 01/26/06 10:42 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Andromeda_Aiken Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/02/05
Posts: 43
Loc: Singapore
Have a decent recording of the song and listen to it regularly. It works very well for me. I only passed Grade 3 ABRSM before I stopped piano. With recordings, I am able to play Grade 5 and 6 pieces easier. The recordings kinda tunes your ear I suppose. I don't really know why but it works. =)

#1103950 - 01/26/06 11:18 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
IrishMak Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/20/06
Posts: 1614
Loc: New Hampshire, USA
I usually have a mix of difficulty in my pieces, as well. It's nice to have something that is relatively easy and can be put together at least reasonably, if not perfectly polished, in a shorter period of time. That gives me, at least, a sense that I am accomplishing something. And then, I also usually have one or two pieces that are a bit difficult and need real work and concentration to put together. I have one right now that will probably take me months to get to the point where it sounds like music and not just notes, but I'm learning as I go. My teacher thinks it is not a bad idea to have something challenging to work towards, as long as it is not too far advanced (and she will tell me if something I bring in is way beyond my level). We use the easier pieces to learn technique, etc, which I can then apply to the more difficult ones. I don't think I would be enjoying myself if I only were working on harder pieces, tho. That would get frustrating very quickly.

1889 Mason & Hamlin screwstringer upright
Kawai MP-4 digital

When life hands you lemons, throw them back and add some of your own. Stupid life.

#1103951 - 01/26/06 04:29 PM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Kam Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/13/06
Posts: 184
Loc: Canada
I think it's ok to keep working on the GW's Canon for fun if it isnt way too difficult for you.

Most of the time u should be practicing on basic stuff

Although I didnt like to do it when I was a kid, I find it helpful after I grew up. I realized tat if i have the basics, I can play most of my favourite songs with fast learning rate.
"Bass creates motion" - David Lanz

#1103952 - 01/27/06 04:42 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
hoho Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/08/06
Posts: 6
Today, I tried a different approach. Instead of doing hands together and struggling with two bars, I worked on just my right. I found that I got quite far, much more that I expected.

Since Canon is just right hand melody with left hand chords, would it be okay if I learn the whole piece right hand first, and then add the chords later, or would this just heap my frustration all at the end when I try to co-ordinate myself instead of my current gradual appraoch?


#1103953 - 01/27/06 05:24 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
CC2 and Chopin lover Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/06
Posts: 1981
Hi hoho,
I think your last question is one of the keys to your predicament. Trying to learn a piece that is relatively advanced for you by playing both hand parts together is what is slowing you up. If you concentrate on learning, say, the Left hand's part for 5 measures, playing the patterns over and over for several days, then switch over to the Right hand part and do the same, while continuing to practice what you've been playing in the Left, you will firmly establish those patterns individually in the motor centers in the opposite hemisphere of the brain that controls each hand's musculature- (sorry if I get technical here, besides being a pianist, I am also a Physical Therapist). Then, once firmly established, you can begin to "weave" the notes from one hand into the notes being played in the other essentially creating a "cross connection" between the brains two hemispheres. You do this very slowly and meticulously, so that it becomes apparent to your brain where each note being played fits in relation to the other side. This method of learning a piece also helps you to discover where your muscular imbalances are located, ie: the fourth and fifth digits, especially in the left hand. Then you can concentrate of working them more diligently to get them up to speed with the others. When you play hands together right away these weaknesses are very often masked by all that is going on elsewhere. You will find that most of your difficulty, and the mistakes that you will make in a piece will derive from the fourth and fifth digits- their inherant weakness and lack of tactile accuracy as compared to the first three digits. So you play hands seperate, concentrate on hitting the notes with equal force and accuracy with each finger and then put it all together. Also incorporate more training for those fingers in your regular exercises on the keyboard. I also agree wholeheartedly with KAM that learning WHY you are playing what you're playing, ie: music theory, will help tremendously. Hope this helps. ;)Dan
Piano Technician/Tuner

#1103954 - 01/27/06 10:11 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Cindysphinx Offline

Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
Yes, do play hands separate for an entire section of the piece, then go back and learn the other hand.

Also, I wouldn't worry about getting a tiny section up to tempo. Play very slowly. The speed will come.

Anyway, to answer your original question, I have a piece I'm currently doing that could easily take a year (DeBussey's Reverie). It is lengthy, and I'm currently focusing on other pieces more than this one. Maybe I'll perform it at the December recital, if I get after it.
Vote For Cindy!!


#1103955 - 01/27/06 11:45 AM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
IrishMak Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/20/06
Posts: 1614
Loc: New Hampshire, USA
My teacher has me practice hands separately a lot, on difficult pieces or sections of pieces that I'm having trouble with. She keeps saying that we'll get it toghether, no worries. And she is constantly telling me to slow down! till I get things right.

1889 Mason & Hamlin screwstringer upright
Kawai MP-4 digital

When life hands you lemons, throw them back and add some of your own. Stupid life.

#1103956 - 01/28/06 12:46 PM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
PianoMentor Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/23/06
Posts: 28
Loc: RI
Interesting perspectives here. Not to get in the way of anyone's teacher's approach (never my intention), my viewpoint is that challenging yourself beyond your current means/ability is a good thing as long as it does not become conducive to discouragement. It helps to be conscious of your present ability, using materials that will take you from that point to where you want to go in incremental stages. I do feel that getting through certain challenges with the "higher level" pieces can, in fact, make things a tad easier with the easier material - we just don't want to ignore what that "earlier level" material can provide.

I would suggest being more regular with the pieces that are closer to your level, since your achievements will be more quickly realized. It's human nature to want to see results, and when we do, we tend to create the energy to continue.

Considering that you are playing out of your comfort zone, it is apparent that you like a good challenge - this is a good thing. Just don't forget to give yourself the opportunity to enjoy enough easier accomplishments - it will develop your confidence!
Online Piano Coach, Performer
~ "Chord Butler" ~

#1103957 - 01/28/06 05:57 PM Re: How long does it take to learn a piece?
Rach.3Freak105 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/06/05
Posts: 446
Loc: Moorestown, NJ
Well it took me about two or three monthes(maybe 4) to learn Prelude in c sharp minor (Rach) and I still have yet to "master" so 50 days sounds pretty goods to me! Different people have different rates of learning so just take your time. To me there is not much that is more rewarding than finishing a piece even if it's not perfect. So just keep working on it and don't worry how long it takes. Good luck!
Once during a concert at Carnegie Hall, the violinist Rachmaninoff was playing with lost his place in the music and whispered to Rachmaninoff, "Where are we?" Rachmaninoff replied, in all seriousness, "Carnegie Hall".


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