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I took Piano Pedagogy classes. We discussed the boundary between beginner and intermediate (and lots of other things - 4 semesters!). We used the textbook "The Well Tempered Keyboard Teacher" by Scott McBride Smith (I met him once - a really nice guy and an excellent teacher). His criteria for calling a student early-intermediate is pretty simple:

- be able to read music notation, readily locate pitches at the keyboard, and perform short pieces with reasonable note accuracy
- identify lengths of notes and rests, recognize rhythmic patterns, and understand basic meter
- learn a piece efficiently, and be able to solve technical problems appropriate to the level
- perform a piece successfully with correct fingering, articulation, dynamics, and marks of expression, with energy, concentration, and attention to mood

You notice he includes "perform", not just "play", as the last point. Big difference...

Of course he is talking about performing a piece appropriate for the level. One thing we learned as student teachers is not to look down on someone because they are playing beginner pieces. Doing well at a piece within your reach is much better than struggling at something beyond your level.

So based on that particular textbook "definition", there aren't many true beginners here.

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I'll consider myself beyond beginner when I can site-read music relatively well, nothing complicated, anything that uses both hands that I can play through without having to pause and figure out which note it is.


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Originally Posted by KJP_65
I'll consider myself beyond beginner when I can site-read music relatively well, nothing complicated, anything that uses both hands that I can play through without having to pause and figure out which note it is.

Sight reading is a whole other animal!! Let's not go there! 🤣🤣🤣


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Originally Posted by Sidokar
The word beginner can be used with 2 different meanings. The usual sense is someone who is just starting to learn.

The other one equates with a certain level, it can be called something else like elementary or whatever.

In the first case, it is assumed that after a few months, one is not a beginner anymore, in the litteral sense. I dont know how long a starter can still be called a beginner, but certainly after 4 years, one is not a beginner anymore but a piano student.

With the second meaning, the threshold is not defined, so there is a range of possibilities. The RCM at level 5 seems reasonable.

So someone can certainly assign another meaning to the word, like equivalent to piano student, however it does carry an underlying message that he or she is not proficient. But i think that it makes little sense to call oneself a beginner when having several years of piano and a level above RCM 5. It is not an issue of being immodest but simply accurate. Otherwise there are other words more neutral.
What about those who never did or passed any levels nor followed any method books? For a long time I accepted my label as a beginner because I had no standard to measure against and I had a lot to learn or so I was told. Maybe some may have even thought me being dishonest and playing above my level but very poorly. Perhaps so, so once again thought ok then maybe I’m just a beginner and I accept that. No you’re not! Geez make up your mind!

Or maybe, just maybe there is more than just one way to learn the piano but all ways require time, hard work, persistence and dedication. No need for there to be musical snobs in the conversation. We need to appreciate everyone’s hard work. I applaud those who worked hard to be self taught even though I always recommend a good teacher to optimize your chances for success.

I think it is best in all situations not to judge just be supportive to your fellow learners.


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Originally Posted by Jethro
That was in the mid-90’s when I took 3 or 4 years of lessons. Well, I joined PW in 2007 when I was buying my first piano. In the process I learned and continue to learn that you don’t really know piano until you have acquired X Y and Z skills often based upon certain syllabi and or method books none of which I ever took part of. Taking these people to be honest people I told myself well, I don’t know X Y and Z and never worked on X Y and Z so I need to go back to school and learn X Y and Z because clearly the folk here at PW would think I know nothing but just rushed too fast at playing advanced pieces.
And I think this kind of arbitrary gatekeeping issue is what gives so many people an inferiority complex. You don't really know piano until.... and therefore you are still a beginner. That's what I'm against. Just call yourself late intermediate/early advanced with some gaping holes in your knowledge! smile As you are aware, I was in a rather similar situation, and I started calling myself a beginner for a few days because I was so lost. That's not modesty, it's an inferiority complex, and I think we should be honest about that.

Context matters as well. I might tell a professor that I'm a beginner, but not a layman, if you know what I mean.

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Originally Posted by ebonyk
Originally Posted by KJP_65
I'll consider myself beyond beginner when I can site-read music relatively well, nothing complicated, anything that uses both hands that I can play through without having to pause and figure out which note it is.

Sight reading is a whole other animal!! Let's not go there! 🤣🤣🤣

lol, it certainly is but I'd never feel like I was very good at all without that skill. To be able to just sit down and play something/anything from sheet music is my goal.


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I think the majority of those with many years of piano experience and who aren’t comfortable with the word “advanced” and who may have gaps in their skills are “intermediate with some gaps in their skills”. Let’s call it what it is. A person can be an intermediate forever, if they never reach the advanced stage (e.g. don’t play advanced music well and regularly).

Many here say there’s no reason to label and I think that is true for many here. But for some of us who interact with others or play with others, it’s a very real world practical thing to do. I also think it’s region-specific. Being in Canada with RCM, it really is a no brainer.

I’ll give you some real life examples:

1. I approached a music school wanting to find a sax teacher. The coordinator asks me, “What level are you?…so I can let the teacher know and he can be prepared.” I go about describing that I played a couple years in elementary school and 2 years in high school but I’m not really sure. Then we go back and forth and finally she says, “If you’re above level 4 RCM, then the price will be different.” And I tell her I’m probably under RCM 4 but let’s let the teacher decide.

2. Pre-pandemic, I played with a New Horizons Band in my area. They had 4 levels, Absolute Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate and Jazz Band. Usually, the member discusses with the teacher about the member’s prior experience and then the member is slotted into a level. Playing with members at the same level makes everyone comfortable and progress in their skills appropriately.

3. We have a summer music camp here in Canada that also requires people to be slotted into appropriate levels. Most workshops require what they call intermediate/advanced ability, which they specify as RCM 6+. They have a novice level and a beginner level and neither is what we would consider as absolute beginner. Then they refer the potential participant to the ACMP self rating guide for further guidance.

https://acmp.net/join-acmp/acmp-guide-playing-levels

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for many of us who interact and play with others, knowing our level somewhat accurately is both polite and necessary. It sure saves a lot of time.


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Originally Posted by Jethro
What about those who never did or passed any levels nor followed any method books? For a long time I accepted my label as a beginner because I had no standard to measure against and I had a lot to learn or so I was told. Maybe some may have even thought me being dishonest and playing above my level but very poorly. Perhaps so, so once again thought ok then maybe I’m just a beginner and I accept that. No you’re not! Geez make up your mind!

Unless you are at the very top level, and even there, you always have a lot to learn. Certainly at intermediate level or advanced level. Otherwise there wouldnt be categories. If you can play musically pieces at a certain level that will give you an indication of where you are. Of course you can have certain areas to develop, but that is true for any activity. People are rarely uniformly good everywhere. I have not listened you play, but i would think you are not a beginner anymore.

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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
I think the majority of those with many years of piano experience and who aren’t comfortable with the word “advanced” and who may have gaps in their skills are “intermediate with some gaps in their skills”. Let’s call it what it is. A person can be an intermediate forever, if they never reach the advanced stage (e.g. don’t play advanced music well and regularly).

Many here say there’s no reason to label and I think that is true for many here. But for some of us who interact with others or play with others, it’s a very real world practical thing to do. I also think it’s region-specific. Being in Canada with RCM, it really is a no brainer.

I’ll give you some real life examples:

1. I approached a music school wanting to find a sax teacher. The coordinator asks me, “What level are you?…so I can let the teacher know and he can be prepared.” I go about describing that I played a couple years in elementary school and 2 years in high school but I’m not really sure. Then we go back and forth and finally she says, “If you’re above level 4 RCM, then the price will be different.” And I tell her I’m probably under RCM 4 but let’s let the teacher decide.

2. Pre-pandemic, I played with a New Horizons Band in my area. They had 4 levels, Absolute Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate and Jazz Band. Usually, the member discusses with the teacher about the member’s prior experience and then the member is slotted into a level. Playing with members at the same level makes everyone comfortable and progress in their skills appropriately.

3. We have a summer music camp here in Canada that also requires people to be slotted into appropriate levels. Most workshops require what they call intermediate/advanced ability, which they specify as RCM 6+. They have a novice level and a beginner level and neither is what we would consider as absolute beginner. Then they refer the potential participant to the ACMP self rating guide for further guidance.

https://acmp.net/join-acmp/acmp-guide-playing-levels

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for many of us who interact and play with others, knowing our level somewhat accurately is both polite and necessary. It sure saves a lot of time.

Very interesting point regarding the work requirements.

I often see people ask for 'excellent sight-reader', 'excellent piano skills', 'Grade 8 standard'.

But the truth is that most of these people don't understand what they're asking for. I know some excellent, professional musical directors who have just passed their Grade 1 piano exam. Judging by the criteria some people set out, they wouldn't qualify for those jobs - yet have the CV to show that they match the required skill-set.

I guess hearing someone in action can often been the quickest way of sussing out someone's level.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
[quote=WeakLeftHand]I think the majority of those with many years of piano experience and who aren’t comfortable with the word “advanced” and who may have gaps in their skills are “intermediate with some gaps in their skills”. Let’s call it what it is. A person can be an intermediate forever, if they never reach the advanced stage (e.g. don’t play advanced music well and regularly).

Many here say there’s no reason to label and I think that is true for many here. But for some of us who interact with others or play with others, it’s a very real world practical thing to do. I also think it’s region-specific. Being in Canada with RCM, it really is a no brainer.

I’ll give you some real life examples:

1. I approached a music school wanting to find a sax teacher. The coordinator asks me, “What level are you?…so I can let the teacher know and he can be prepared.” I go about describing that I played a couple years in elementary school and 2 years in high school but I’m not really sure. Then we go back and forth and finally she says, “If you’re above level 4 RCM, then the price will be different.” And I tell her I’m probably under RCM 4 but let’s let the teacher decide.

2. Pre-pandemic, I played with a New Horizons Band in my area. They had 4 levels, Absolute Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate and Jazz Band. Usually, the member discusses with the teacher about the member’s prior experience and then the member is slotted into a level. Playing with members at the same level makes everyone comfortable and progress in their skills appropriately.

3. We have a summer music camp here in Canada that also requires people to be slotted into appropriate levels. Most workshops require what they call intermediate/advanced ability, which they specify as RCM 6+. They have a novice level and a beginner level and neither is what we would consider as absolute beginner. Then they refer the potential participant to the ACMP self rating guide for further guidance.

https://acmp.net/join-acmp/acmp-guide-playing-levels

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for many of us who interact and play with others, knowing our level somewhat accurately is both polite and necessary. It sure saves a lot of time.
Notice all the examples use specific levels in RCM or other tests to determine placement. They don't use self chosen verbal descriptions like beginner or advanced. They use specific criteria based on things like RCM levels. BTW there is no universal definition for "advanced" either.

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Originally Posted by fatar760
Very interesting point regarding the work requirements.

I often see people ask for 'excellent sight-reader', 'excellent piano skills', 'Grade 8 standard'.

But the truth is that most of these people don't understand what they're asking for. I know some excellent, professional musical directors who have just passed their Grade 1 piano exam. Judging by the criteria some people set out, they wouldn't qualify for those jobs - yet have the CV to show that they match the required skill-set.

I guess hearing someone in action can often been the quickest way of sussing out someone's level.

Those were not working requirements. Those were just so that music learners and amateur players can be slotted into groups at their appropriate level more easily.


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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
I think the majority of those with many years of piano experience and who aren’t comfortable with the word “advanced” and who may have gaps in their skills are “intermediate with some gaps in their skills”. Let’s call it what it is. A person can be an intermediate forever, if they never reach the advanced stage (e.g. don’t play advanced music well and regularly).

Many here say there’s no reason to label and I think that is true for many here. But for some of us who interact with others or play with others, it’s a very real world practical thing to do. I also think it’s region-specific. Being in Canada with RCM, it really is a no brainer.

I’ll give you some real life examples:

1. I approached a music school wanting to find a sax teacher. The coordinator asks me, “What level are you?…so I can let the teacher know and he can be prepared.” I go about describing that I played a couple years in elementary school and 2 years in high school but I’m not really sure. Then we go back and forth and finally she says, “If you’re above level 4 RCM, then the price will be different.” And I tell her I’m probably under RCM 4 but let’s let the teacher decide.

2. Pre-pandemic, I played with a New Horizons Band in my area. They had 4 levels, Absolute Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate and Jazz Band. Usually, the member discusses with the teacher about the member’s prior experience and then the member is slotted into a level. Playing with members at the same level makes everyone comfortable and progress in their skills appropriately.

3. We have a summer music camp here in Canada that also requires people to be slotted into appropriate levels. Most workshops require what they call intermediate/advanced ability, which they specify as RCM 6+. They have a novice level and a beginner level and neither is what we would consider as absolute beginner. Then they refer the potential participant to the ACMP self rating guide for further guidance.

https://acmp.net/join-acmp/acmp-guide-playing-levels

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for many of us who interact and play with others, knowing our level somewhat accurately is both polite and necessary. It sure saves a lot of time.
Precisely this. If I meet a new piano player, teacher, or anyone really, and they ask me how well I play the piano, I would like to give a good ballpark answer. Saying that I've been learning for under a year would be very misleading. And that would be hard from a communication standpoint. I usually say it's complicated and that I've tried my hand at some undergrad-level pieces, but I'm not quite there technically. And as a few people have told me, my skills are truly all over the place, the most obvious example being octaves, which I can play faster than many degree-seeking students.

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Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by Jethro
What about those who never did or passed any levels nor followed any method books? For a long time I accepted my label as a beginner because I had no standard to measure against and I had a lot to learn or so I was told. Maybe some may have even thought me being dishonest and playing above my level but very poorly. Perhaps so, so once again thought ok then maybe I’m just a beginner and I accept that. No you’re not! Geez make up your mind!

Unless you are at the very top level, and even there, you always have a lot to learn. Certainly at intermediate level or advanced level. Otherwise there wouldnt be categories. If you can play musically pieces at a certain level that will give you an indication of where you are. Of course you can have certain areas to develop, but that is true for any activity. People are rarely uniformly good everywhere. I have not listened you play, but i would think you are not a beginner anymore.
Yeah I’ve come to accept the fact that I am no longer a beginner which is nice because it means I am making progress. I’ve always thought it important to leave ones ego at the door if someone wanted to learn how to be good at anything. If it meant taking classes with 5 year olds I would have done it. What’s most important is not to worry whether others perceive you to be dishonest but rather that you are honest with yourself. You can’t improve at the piano unless you recognize and address your weaknesses. You can’t look at the past and have regrets nor should you look at others and make comparisons. Set your own standards. Don’t let others set them for you. I have a high standard that I want to reach when it comes to performing on the piano. In that regards I have always seen myself as a beginner and I push myself to try harder every day.


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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
Originally Posted by fatar760
Very interesting point regarding the work requirements.

I often see people ask for 'excellent sight-reader', 'excellent piano skills', 'Grade 8 standard'.

But the truth is that most of these people don't understand what they're asking for. I know some excellent, professional musical directors who have just passed their Grade 1 piano exam. Judging by the criteria some people set out, they wouldn't qualify for those jobs - yet have the CV to show that they match the required skill-set.

I guess hearing someone in action can often been the quickest way of sussing out someone's level.

Those were not working requirements. Those were just so that music learners and amateur players can be slotted into groups at their appropriate level more easily.

They were working requirements for the people teaching you...

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Originally Posted by ranjit
Originally Posted by Jethro
That was in the mid-90’s when I took 3 or 4 years of lessons. Well, I joined PW in 2007 when I was buying my first piano. In the process I learned and continue to learn that you don’t really know piano until you have acquired X Y and Z skills often based upon certain syllabi and or method books none of which I ever took part of. Taking these people to be honest people I told myself well, I don’t know X Y and Z and never worked on X Y and Z so I need to go back to school and learn X Y and Z because clearly the folk here at PW would think I know nothing but just rushed too fast at playing advanced pieces.
And I think this kind of arbitrary gatekeeping issue is what gives so many people an inferiority complex. You don't really know piano until.... and therefore you are still a beginner. That's what I'm against. Just call yourself late intermediate/early advanced with some gaping holes in your knowledge! smile As you are aware, I was in a rather similar situation, and I started calling myself a beginner for a few days because I was so lost. That's not modesty, it's an inferiority complex, and I think we should be honest about that.

Context matters as well. I might tell a professor that I'm a beginner, but not a layman, if you know what I mean.
Yes also I think there is an erroneous suggestion that adults who attempt to self teach aren’t willing to work hard- that they just want to skip steps and play whatever they want to play. While that may be true for those who half heartedly attempted to play more difficult pieces than they are accustomed to some have succeeded through hard work and NOT skipping the steps that it would take to succeed. Regardless of the manner in which you learn the piano you have to work hard and put your time in. There are no short cuts. Successful self learners were often on their own. Nothing was spoon fed. There was no one there to keep them on track. I give them credit for all their hard work. I would hardly criticize them.


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Other than seeing job adverts no one has ever directly asked me my level. I have been asked 'can you play this?', to which the answer has been yes - but never levels.

Mind, I'm not convinced the grade systems equate to ability in the professional world in the UK.

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Originally Posted by fatar760
Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
Originally Posted by fatar760
Very interesting point regarding the work requirements.

I often see people ask for 'excellent sight-reader', 'excellent piano skills', 'Grade 8 standard'.

But the truth is that most of these people don't understand what they're asking for. I know some excellent, professional musical directors who have just passed their Grade 1 piano exam. Judging by the criteria some people set out, they wouldn't qualify for those jobs - yet have the CV to show that they match the required skill-set.

I guess hearing someone in action can often been the quickest way of sussing out someone's level.

Those were not working requirements. Those were just so that music learners and amateur players can be slotted into groups at their appropriate level more easily.

They were working requirements for the people teaching you...

Ok, I guess that’s correct too! smile


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I'm pretty sure you are no longer a beginner once you have reached 'advanced'.

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Originally Posted by fatar760
Other than seeing job adverts no one has ever directly asked me my level. I have been asked 'can you play this?', to which the answer has been yes - but never levels.

Mind, I'm not convinced the grade systems equate to ability in the professional world in the UK.

I think grades/levels set a somewhat standard of entry for learning establishments (music schools, music camps, music programs at universities, etc) and perhaps that very first job or gig, but beyond that it becomes less important for sure. Just like my degrees and grades at uni are much less important now to a prospective employer than when I first started my career.

But let’s circle back to beginners...that’s the original question. When are we no longer beginners?

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 07/01/21 04:45 PM.

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Originally Posted by gwing
I'm pretty sure you are no longer a beginner once you have reached 'advanced'.
Yes and one is no longer hopeless when one is merely pathetic. Once past pathetic you are now a beginner.

That’s in the Jethro syllabus BTW.

Last edited by Jethro; 07/01/21 04:52 PM.

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