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I know that individuals vary greatly in ability and that everyone learns at his/her own pace.
However, how long is too long, to be a "beginner?" What types of progress should you be able to see when you have been playing for less than a year, or even, if you have been playing for about a year?
I have read about "levels" on this forum quite.a bit and I don't really know enough about the criteria for each level, so I'm not asking in terms of numbers. I have seen a lot of videos online which suggest that within weeks or a few months you should be able to play some of Bach's easier pieces. However, there are some teachers who don't introduce that type of repertoire, but, instead, utilize method books. I realize it may be difficult to benchmark but I guess what I'm wondering is, how do you know if you're really on the far side of the bell curve, in the negative direction?

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Syllabi like RCM and ABRSM are calibrated to one level per year. For children this is about right. Adults learn differently (not necessarily faster or slower, just differently) because we can grasp more abstract concepts. From observing other dedicated adults with a substantial time commitment and private lessons it's possible to advance through the lower levels very quickly but most people seem to stall somewhere in the intermediate stage for many years. The reason is that your reading skils and technique need to catch up. Especially reading skills. So although you could do several levels in a year I don't think it's realistic to expect your reading skills to progress faster than about one level per year, just like children.

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I have wondered the same thing myself. The formal piano learning path does incorporate "levels" or "grades" as you say. However, I am not at all familiar with that format, since there is nothing at all about my learning path or skill level, after about 15 years, that is what I'd consider normal, or even adequate.

But it has been a lot of fun and enjoyment for me, even if my learning methodology is not the same as the mainstream learning process. In fact, sometimes I feel like an oddball here, or even an outcast or a rebel of sorts? smile

As for me, I consider myself a perpetual beginner or sorts, and I do know my limitations, and my strengths. smile

Getting back to the question at hand, I've heard some real beginners and some exceptionally skilled and advanced pianists. Where you draw the line between the two is somewhat subjective, I suppose, with a lot of wiggle room in between.

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
it's possible to advance through the lower levels very quickly but most people seem to stall somewhere in the intermediate stage for many years. The reason is that your reading skils and technique need to catch up. Especially reading skills. So although you could do several levels in a year I don't think it's realistic to expect your reading skills to progress faster than about one level per year, just like children.
Totally agree with this, that's exactly my experience.

Piano Career Academy say that you are considered an intermediate when you can play a piece like H. Pachulski's Dreams Op. 23 #4 musically and have it performance ready within 2 months.

Sheet music: https://s9.imslp.org/files/imglnks/usimg/b/bd/IMSLP297109-PMLP481723-HPachulski_Album_pour_la_jeunesse,_Op.23.pdf


Last edited by ebonyk; 12/01/21 11:14 AM.

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What sorts of things were you playing in the first year? Were you working from method books?

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
but most people seem to stall somewhere in the intermediate stage for many years. The reason is that your reading skils and technique need to catch up. Especially reading skills. So although you could do several levels in a year I don't think it's realistic to expect your reading skills to progress faster than about one level per year, just like children.

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Originally Posted by Rickster
I have wondered the same thing myself. The formal piano learning path does incorporate "levels" or "grades" as you say. However, I am not at all familiar with that format, since there is nothing at all about my learning path or skill level, after about 15 years, that is what I'd consider normal, or even adequate.

But it has been a lot of fun and enjoyment for me, even if my learning methodology is not the same as the mainstream learning process. In fact, sometimes I feel like an oddball here, or even an outcast or a rebel of sorts? smile

As for me, I consider myself a perpetual beginner or sorts, and I do know my limitations, and my strengths. smile

Getting back to the question at hand, I've heard some real beginners and some exceptionally skilled and advanced pianists. Where you draw the line between the two is somewhat subjective, I suppose, with a lot of wiggle room in between.

Rick

Sounds like me. After many many years, and with having more time now than ever, I'm really a perpetual beginner, but I still enjoy it.
A friend of my son is a talented guitarist and he starting playing piano and surpassed me in 2 to 3 months.
Someone else I know is a classical pianist playing some of the hardest pieces around.
I admire people like that but I still believe music is for everyone who wants to play.
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Originally Posted by peterws
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
but most people seem to stall somewhere in the intermediate stage for many years. The reason is that your reading skils and technique need to catch up. Especially reading skills. So although you could do several levels in a year I don't think it's realistic to expect your reading skills to progress faster than about one level per year, just like children.

That's me. I'll never be anything else now. frown
You play very nicely. Enjoy! 🙂


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Originally Posted by Mils
What sorts of things were you playing in the first year? Were you working from method books?
Yes, mostly from method books. My teacher introduced the first "real" pieces like AMB minuets and Tchaikovsky op. 39 after a few months but we continued working with method books until about 1.5 years into lessons. Although, he didn't really follow a specific method and simply assigned material based on what he judged necessary.

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Originally Posted by stevedoz
Originally Posted by peterws
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
but most people seem to stall somewhere in the intermediate stage for many years. The reason is that your reading skils and technique need to catch up. Especially reading skills. So although you could do several levels in a year I don't think it's realistic to expect your reading skills to progress faster than about one level per year, just like children.

That's me. I'll never be anything else now. frown
You play very nicely. Enjoy! 🙂
It worked . . . . . smile


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Originally Posted by Mils
how long is too long, to be a "beginner?"

Hmmm. How to answer this question, and what to do with the answer? Let us say, just for argument's sake: four years. First you are an early beginner, then a beginner, and then a late beginner. But what if you have played for five years and you feel that you are still a beginner?

So what?

As long as it is pleasurable and fulfilling, what does it matter how long it takes?


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Depending on your background, I think it's reasonable to work through just a method book your first year. In my first 1 I learned Scarborough Fair and Amazing Grace in the Alfred's 1. I thought I was rock star ;0 Note, I spent a couple of years in my twenties working through the Alfred's books 1 and 2. 20 years after that and not having played piano, I decided to take formal lessons. Spent about a year working through Alfred 2 with a teacher and then transitioned to the RCM syllabus.


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I am 73 and have been playing keyboards on and off for years mainly arranger type keyboards. But at some time a few years ago I decided I wanted to play piano music again so I bought a Roland FP30. I can play a couple of Ludivic Einoudi like Neffeli but mostly I am on easier stuff, so I still consider myself a beginner. In a way I have come round full circle, I started has a child learning piano, my last teacher had a baby grand piano. Has a teenager I gave it up then in my twenties started to play organs, ie 2 manuals and pedals till they went out of fashion. Any way I still class myself has a beginner no idea what level I am. I keep thinking of taking lessons but has a pensioner I have to watch what I spend, the main thing is I enjoy it. This site inspires me to try and improve, and I found it a good source of material to study.


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Originally Posted by Mils
I know that individuals vary greatly in ability and that everyone learns at his/her own pace.
However, how long is too long, to be a "beginner?" What types of progress should you be able to see when you have been playing for less than a year, or even, if you have been playing for about a year?
Unfortunately, this is very hard to answer, because it depends a lot both on age and learning style/having a good teacher/talent. The latter three are related, because people learn differently by using things they are naturally good at, and teachers as well teach differently so there needs to be a symbiosis.

I'll try to give some rough categories based on what I've seen.

Child (starting at 4-5): Will be initially very uncoordinated, and therefore usually learn slowly because they don't have experience with hand movements. However, they pretty much don't have to undo any bad habits, so they will tend to eventually mimic what the teacher tells them to quite well. The extent will depend on the talent of the child and how good the teacher is. They will also have a better ear for pitch and will often acquire quasi-absolute or even absolute pitch under the right circumstances. This is not possible for someone who starts later. I would expect them to advance at about a grade a year, but they will tend to feel very at home at the keys.

Child (under 12 or so) without much talent: Will probably progress at about a grade a year. However, if they are taught to have a good technical foundation, they will pick it up relatively well and it will persist into adulthood.

Teenager (15-18 or so) typically: The way I've seen teenagers learn to play the piano is a bit different than children. They will often pick up harder pieces earlier, and have a mindset of trying to catch up to their younger peers or feel they started out too late. Almost all of them that I've seen tend to either progress multiple grades a year even if they play somewhat poorly, or leave the piano altogether. They are able to use the hand-eye coordination they have learned as a child playing sports etc. to be able to go through the earlier stages quicker. However, these hand movements are not built from scratch and so there are often technical issues. This may get them to play grade 4-6 pieces which they like in a few short years, but they then hit a wall.

Up until 25-30: The brain is still good at picking up technique and other aspects of playing relative to older adults, but people almost never acquire very good technique like a child would though there may be some exceptions. Like Qasdecraft said, they tend to advance faster through initial stages (upto grade 3 or so) because they have basic motor coordination from playing sports or other activities which a kid is still developing. However, these handicap them pay a point and you have to relearn things for the piano which is very hard to do.

Middle aged (say around 40): From the cases I've seen, it usually takes about 1-2 years to get past grade 1, and then a similar amount for subsequent grades. Even then, people usually hit a wall somewhere between grades 5-8.

Senior (above 60-70): It often takes 2-3 years to get past a grade level.

Now, enter talent into the equation:

One thing I will note is that in my experience, a sudden interest to rapidly get better at the piano, followed by putting in several hours a day of intense effort is in itself a clear sign of talent, though there are exceptions.

Very talented child say in the top 1% of ability: With a good teacher, these kinds are often able to play Chopin etudes competently at age 12 or so. They can advance 2-3 or even more grade levels at once like young adults, but do not hit a wall afterwards. They are still not prodigies, but just those students who are talented enough to get into top 10 conservatories and the like. With a good teacher, they can form a very solid basis for advanced technique, but on the other hand if they are taught bad habits they may ingrain them as well. There are even quite a few concert pianists who have started at 12-13 and improved very fast. Talent is related to hard work put in in most cases. It is almost always the talented student who decides at a very young age to put in hours a day to master an instrument (or anything really).

Very talented teenager in say the top 0.1%: With good instruction, they can still learn high level piano technique, but the likelihood is less than that of a child. Still, you do hear of the occasional virtuoso who started at 17 so it's probably still possible. I will say that the trajectory of a very talented teenager can be quite different. They may put in 4-6 hours of effort a day with a great teacher and appear to advance multiple grade levels a year (playing some grade 8 pieces after a year) since basic hand eye coordination comes to them easier than as a child with the same level of talent, because they have more experience. However, they then tend to hit a wall at some point which they can sometimes break through but which requires specialized instruction and is still very difficult. This point often comes around diploma standard or higher, where basic technique needs to be excellent in order to perform those pieces, such as Chopin or Lizst etudes well, but whereas talented children in the same situation sometimes breeze through, this is seldom the case with teenagers.

Very talented mature adults: I have found that they often, again, get up to grade 8 or so, sometimes quite fast, with enough effort, but almost never manage to get the coordination to play virtuosic works.

Originally Posted by Mils
I have read about "levels" on this forum quite.a bit and I don't really know enough about the criteria for each level, so I'm not asking in terms of numbers. I have seen a lot of videos online which suggest that within weeks or a few months you should be able to play some of Bach's easier pieces. However, there are some teachers who don't introduce that type of repertoire, but, instead, utilize method books. I realize it may be difficult to benchmark but I guess what I'm wondering is, how do you know if you're really on the far side of the bell curve, in the negative direction?
I think pieces such as the Menuet in G are possible after a few months. But the average student will probably need 2-3 years before they can play Bach inventions even with good instruction. If they learn quicker than that, they aren't average! If you can play two-handed scales at 60 bpm after a year, you are probably at least average. It's tough to talk about averages because of attrition rate (80% drop out in the first two years and so never get beyond grade 2 or so), and effort put in (you can't compare 2 hours a day with 15 minutes a week).

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As I've mentioned frequently before, I've never been unblessed with unfalse modesty (not even as a kid), so I considered myself no longer a beginner when my teacher gave me my first original classical piece to learn, which wasn't composed specially for beginners and which wasn't simplified or arranged.

Never mind that it was composed by little Wolfie at the age of four (with the help of Leopold), and I was more than twice his age when I learnt it.

Because I was no longer a beginner (three months or so into lessons by then - a long time for a 10-year-old), I told my teacher that from then on, I would only learn and play pieces which were original piano/keyboard music and which had not been simplified or abridged. My teacher had no choice but to agree to my terms & conditions.......... smirk

BTW, I considered myself (bearing in mind my unashamed unfalse modesty) an average student, with all the musical talent of a gnat.


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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
but most people seem to stall somewhere in the intermediate stage for many years. The reason is that your reading skils and technique need to catch up. Especially reading skills. So although you could do several levels in a year I don't think it's realistic to expect your reading skills to progress faster than about one level per year, just like children.
If you mean your reading skills have to catch up to your technical skills, I don't think this makes sense since reading skills are not too important in determining how advanced the music you can play is. Technical skills and musical understanding are far more important.

Or do you mean your reading and technical skills both have to catch up (to what?)?

I also see no reason why someone's reading skills should progress more slowly than other pianistic skills.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I also see no reason why someone's reading skills should progress more slowly than other pianistic skills.
I think they are definitely different. Reading skills require skill with translating ideas from text, more pattern recognition and theoretical understanding. As well as audiation from the score at higher levels which is a hard skill to develop.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If you mean your reading skills have to catch up to your technical skills, I don't think this makes sense since reading skills are not too important in determining how advanced the music you can play is. Technical skills and musical understanding are far more important.
I disagree. Reading skills determine how fast you can learn new music. When your reading skills lag behind it takes forever to learn a new piece, hence you stall.

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I also see no reason why someone's reading skills should progress more slowly than other pianistic skills.
Because you evidently haven't had to learn piano from scratch as an adult. A cursory look at all the sight reading threads here is sufficient to show that this is the case.

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Originally Posted by ranjit
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I also see no reason why someone's reading skills should progress more slowly than other pianistic skills.
I think they are definitely different. Reading skills require skill with translating ideas from text, more pattern recognition and theoretical understanding. As well as audiation from the score at higher levels which is a hard skill to develop.
I didn't say or imply they weren't different skills. I said I thought there's no reason why someone's reading skills should progress more slowly than their other pianistic skills. Unless, of course, one spends no time reading through music.

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If you mean your reading skills have to catch up to your technical skills, I don't think this makes sense since reading skills are not too important in determining how advanced the music you can play is. Technical skills and musical understanding are far more important.
I disagree. Reading skills determine how fast you can learn new music. When your reading skills lag behind it takes forever to learn a new piece, hence you stall.
Not really. I have really poor reading skills (don't roast me for this, I'm learning!) but still learn quite fast (maybe a piece in a week or two), because I memorize using patterns etc. So you can still learn a piece every week or two despite having poor reading skills, and so you can still progress fast.

How it works is like this: Read a small passage or phrase of music. Play it and understand how the patterns interrelate (if it's a melody you can sing it in your head), and then memorize it. I memorized the Ocean Etude and played it through (I'm not saying fully polished of course, but solidly memorized) in a month. Of course, this is much slower than conservatory students, but I think it still says that you don't need to have good reading skills to learn fast. I can still barely read a grade 1 piece fluently!

Last edited by ranjit; 12/01/21 04:38 PM.
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