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#1041068 - 11/17/07 02:37 PM How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
Colin Dunn Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 478
Loc: Arvada, CO
There's been a lot of talk in other threads about assigning pieces to grade levels and debates about whether or not you should "stretch" and learn a piece above your actual grade level.

But how would you know exactly what your own grade level is, so as to determine if a stretch is realistic (playing the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata after 3 years of lessons) or overly ambitious (trying to learn the Fantasie Impromptu after one year of lessons).

My initial thought is that pieces appropriate to your grade level are challenging but not overwhelmingly difficult.

Studio recitals and judged piano exams usually are geared for a student to play about 2-4 pieces accurately and musically, while under pressure.

This implies that most piano students should be able to learn and polish about four pieces at their grade level every year, or about one every three months.

Then I would infer that:
- Pieces that take less than two months to learn are easy repertoire
- Pieces that take three months to learn are about the right level of difficulty
- Pieces that take more than six months to learn are a stretch and/or too difficult for you to learn at the moment

Anyone have any other thoughts about how to compare your own piano abilities against the difficulty of music you'd like to learn?
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Colin Dunn

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#1041069 - 11/17/07 03:03 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
NancyM333 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/06
Posts: 1547
Loc: Roswell, Georgia
Colin, this is a very interesting question. I never thought about it in those specific terms, so I'm glad you brought it up.

I learn about 3-4 pieces from memory each year. I think 6 months for me is a good length of time from first picking it up to being able to play it confidently in front of a group. I would prefer to play it at about the 8 month mark, though--that extra time gives me a chance to really work on how it sounds and how I do under pressure.

As far as too difficult goes, I think if I'm not getting it comfortably under my fingers in 8-10 weeks, it's an unreasonable stretch for me. This often means I'm never going to feel good about how I play it, even once it's memorized.

I guess I start a new major piece every 3-4 months, which is how I end up with that number per year. I do play a good many other things; they're just not headed for an audience of any kind. My teacher has two recitals per year, so that's mainly what I shoot for.

Nancy
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Estonia 168, Yamaha UX3

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#1041070 - 11/17/07 04:51 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2368
Loc: Denver, CO
Colin,

I think you will find as many different answers to this set of questions as there are piano students or teachers!

You might want to search for postings by John V.D. Brook over in the teachers forums. Many of his students regularly perform 10 pieces a year from memory for examinations.

From my perspective, I consider the pieces that I am working on at my level as taking 2 - 4 weeks to get the majority of the learning experience that my teacher and myself feel I can get from the pieces. An example of this is the Mozart K5 I recorded for the ABF recital. I had worked on this piece for about a month and it was definitely to the point where I could play it from memory for family.

The technical pieces that I am working on will tend to take up to 2 (sometimes 3) months before I am ready to set them aside. These are more challenging pieces by Concone and Gillock that I am using to stretch myself.

I just recently had my first live recital and played three pieces I had been working on for several months. As it was a first recital and I am not working towards examinations or a degree, I did have the music with me and used it for one piece. My next recital will probably be in April and I am starting to identify pieces for it.

From the above, I would say that I am thinking in time frames that are about half your suggested ones (or less).

Rich
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#1041071 - 11/17/07 06:17 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
There is nothing wrong with playing easy repertoire, or repertoire at the level you now can play, and a little bit of stretching is good for the brain. However, a big stretch to work on a piece is very time consuming. If you have trouble reading it and developing it that is an indication that if would be better at a future day when you could approach it with more of the skills you are developing and acquiring.

You are investing a lot of time into few pieces and I wonder if you are getting the most milage for the time invested. Time spent in this way (playing"over your head") means you are missing the opportunity to play much literature that is readily available to you with satisfying results. You could build a large repertoire in the same time by carefully selecting what to play.

There is bredth to music literature as well as depth. More music at your level would be an accomplishment to your benefit.

It should not take so long, really.

If you can't sightread through it and build it from a good first complete reading, you are over your head. It should not take the length of time to put together that a 1500 word jigsaw puzzle takes to put together. Then you can work on expression and memorization and performance. But reading the entire piece through once should not take forever.

An example of what this reminds me of, in addition to the jigsaw puzzle is watching someone build a log cabin replica out of wooden matches with glue. I watched a man do that in my childhood, and he had a fine "model" when finished, but it took a very, very long time of dealing with eaches.

I believe this completely. I think you deserve more enjoyable playing time in a musical way every day, pieces from start to finish, in their entirety.

I'm not scolding nor judging, but hoping to encourage learners to try new approaches occasionally to find out what the benefits might be.

Betty

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#1041072 - 11/17/07 10:42 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
SAnnM AB-2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2022
Loc: Canada
 Quote:
If you can't sightread through it and build it from a good first complete reading, you are over your head.
Betty, are you saying that we should be able to sightread all new pieces?? Hands together??

It usually takes me 3 months to secure a piece that I consider at my level. I usually have one piece that is a stretch above that - taking 4 or 5 months and I'm always working on a couple of easier pieces that I can learn in a few weeks.

I don't think I've ever been able to sightread a new piece hands together. Maybe slowly.... hands separate.....
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It's the journey not the destination..

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#1041073 - 11/18/07 12:59 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
LisztAddict Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/05
Posts: 2895
Loc: Florida
I spend at least 2-3 years on an average piece to reach a satisfactory level. Even the easy Chopin Nocturne C minor No 21 Op Posth. took me more than 1 year. I am a slow learner, I guess.

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#1041074 - 11/18/07 01:12 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
You should be able to process the music moving ahead in slow steady tempo - each hand individually has to be able to do it's task alone, before you could do hands together. I was talking about advanced literature for sightreading purposes, but I am not saying you have to play it the first time like a performer would. It just has to be something that your brain can process and make music of.

If it takes a long time to construct the piece and it's difficult, you would be better off spending your time on developing your sight reading ability.

Pieces over your head are not a good choice if you hope to have it sound musical. Your pieces should be more easily playable and achievable, with or without memory.

By the way, what music and what level are we talking about here. It would make for more specific communication if we were talking about the very same thing.

You are not slow learners, people, you have left gaps in your music education, and some things making your pace through the music next to impossible if it is taking months and years to be finished with the complete playing of the piece.

Please read my post above and see if any of my comments might make sense to you. In order to make changes or improvements in the way you process (think/play) your music, you have to do something different.

Betty

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#1041075 - 11/18/07 01:26 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
jazzyprof Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2598
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
 Quote:
Originally posted by LisztAddict:
I spend at least 2-3 years on an average piece to reach a satisfactory level. [/b]
But of course, your "satisfactory level" is Ashkenazy level, as in your posted Chopin Nocturne op.48 no.1. \:\)

By the way, how many pieces do you typical have "under construction" at the same time?
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"Playing the piano is my greatest joy...period."......JP

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#1041076 - 11/18/07 09:32 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
SAnnM AB-2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2022
Loc: Canada
As an example for me. My newest piece (assigned by my teacher) is Chopin Op. 69 No. 1. I can read it slowly hands separate and am inticipating it taking about 3 months to feel secure. My curent "polishing stage" pieces include Arietta by R. Gliere (started in September), Sonatina in A- by Kuhlau (last movement) which I started back in June but didn't work on over the 2 month summer break. And I have a couple of intermediate Martha Mier pieces that I'm working on besides the etudes and scale etc. studies assigned.
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#1041077 - 11/18/07 11:02 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
LiszThalberg Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/06
Posts: 3288
Since the summer, I've learned 3 new pieces and have started about 4 more to work on.

It takes me about a month to learn all the notes... and the funny thing is: I can almost instantly memorize a piece after one playing. The down side to this is that I begin to ignore crucial dynamics. So besides from the month it takes me to learn the piece, it takes me 2 or 3 months to get it to perfection and concert ready preformance.

Matt

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#1041078 - 11/18/07 11:28 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
playadom Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/21/06
Posts: 1366
Loc: New Jersey
Obviously, it depends on the difficulty of the piece.
Take some pieces I've recently worked on/am currently working on:

Chopin's 70/2: Grade 7 or so, about 1 month.
Beethoven's 2.1: Grade 7, about 1.5 - 2 months.
In comparison to:
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2: About 6 months to memorize, so this was at the very edge of my technique at the time, and as a result was not completely perfect.
Compare to:
Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag: Learned in about 3 months back in the spring of '05, been playing for about 6 mos at the time. This piece was perfectly at my level. I had the most fun learning this piece out of any that I've learned. I've never been able to find a piece that was this perfectly fit to my level again.
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Practice makes permanent - Perfect practice makes perfect.

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#1041079 - 11/18/07 11:38 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
gmm1 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/06
Posts: 1674
Loc: Spokane WA
 Quote:
Originally posted by LisztAddict:
I spend at least 2-3 years on an average piece to reach a satisfactory level. Even the easy Chopin Nocturne C minor No 21 Op Posth. took me more than 1 year. I am a slow learner, I guess. [/b]
When you play, it's absolutely spellbinding. I want to play like you. I don't want to "repeat" the notes, I want to feel them.

Slow learner? Don't know, but expert learner, yes. I am willing to put in the time if it means I will sound like you.

But, for now, I am months learning stuff from Alfred's. I can only dream about pieces that require a page turn.

You don't know the meaning of slow.....
_________________________
"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro

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#1041080 - 11/18/07 05:37 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
FLMikeATT Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/24/07
Posts: 106
Loc: Port St. Lucie
It takes me about 2 months to learn 3 or 4 pieces at my level and be able to play them with good dynamics and musicality. It would take less time if I learned them singularly, but when I practice I tend to warm up with some technique, and then practice/learn 3 or 4 songs, and at the end of the session I'll play a few songs I already know to keep them fresh in my memory.

This probably isn't the most efficient method of learning, but it serves me well. On the rare occasion if I have already put in my good 1 1/2 hour practice for the day and I feel like playing some more, I might sit down and play just 1 piece for an hour or so to hammer out the mistakes and little details.

Also, long pieces tend to take a long time to learn (obviously), and get to the level where you can play it in front of others and impress them. Cristofori's Dream comes to mind. I've been playing it for nearly 2 months now, and I'm still a decent bit away from completing it.

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#1041081 - 11/18/07 08:56 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
Donna R. Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/26/07
Posts: 794
 Quote:
Originally posted by playadom:

Take some pieces I've recently worked on/am currently working on:

Chopin's 70/2
Beethoven's 2.1
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2
Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag[/b]
Aaaagh! I couldn't even begin to attempt any one of these "adult beginner's" pieces.

In answer to the question, a two page piece at my mid-late elementary level will take me around 2 weeks to get to a stage where I can play it through with confidence, and another 2-4 weeks to get it really polished. This year I took on one piece that was way above my level (the Petzold Minuet in G from Anna Magdalena) and it took me about 6 months to get it to the stage where I could get it right about 90% of the time. I'm still polishing it.

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#1041082 - 11/18/07 10:56 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
NancyM333 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/06
Posts: 1547
Loc: Roswell, Georgia
If I spent 6-8 years on a piece, I wouldn't reach LisztAddict's lowest level on his easiest piece!

LisztAddict, do you have a place where I can join your fan club? Your dedication to getting this just right really amazes me, and I love listening to what you are working on.

I know you practice a lot, but I'm curious also how many pieces you work on at a time. Do you ever play anything to a level of less than "satisfactory," or do you only work on pieces that you'll polish to that final end product for yourself? Also, do you have pieces you keep in a repertoire, or do you let them go when you finish them?

Nancy
_________________________

Estonia 168, Yamaha UX3

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#1041083 - 11/18/07 11:49 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
LisztAddict Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/05
Posts: 2895
Loc: Florida
 Quote:
Originally posted by NancyM333:
LisztAddict, do you have a place where I can join your fan club?[/b]
Yes, NY city is where my fan club is. And I live in FL. \:D

 Quote:
Originally posted by NancyM333:
how many pieces you work on at a time. [/b]
About a dozen.

 Quote:
Originally posted by NancyM333:
Do you ever play anything to a level of less than "satisfactory," or do you only work on pieces that you'll polish to that final end product for yourself? [/b]
Yes, there are pieces that never quite sink in so I put them aside for some other time.

 Quote:
Originally posted by NancyM333:
do you have pieces you keep in a repertoire, or do you let them go when you finish them? [/b]
I try to keep a performance-ready repertoire of 5-10 pieces. It's hard to keep every piece under the fingers while learning new pieces. I visit some old pieces every now and then.

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#1041084 - 11/19/07 09:49 AM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
Peyton Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/02/06
Posts: 2501
Loc: Maine
When does one say one has "learned" a piece? I've yet to get any classical piece to a point where I'm satisfied... \:\) Of course the worst part is learning a new piece and then watch the pieces behind you start to crumble...
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"One's real life is often the life that one does not lead."- Oscar Wilde
www.youtube.com/Biffer5
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#1041085 - 11/21/07 06:10 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
pianist.ame Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/18/07
Posts: 1164
Loc: Singapore
it depends on the piece itself.

Usually, i'm expected to have my notes learned in a week or 2 after a new piece is assigned depending on the length. After that my teacher will expect me to be able to play h.t well by the 2nd week. As for mastering the piece itself, sometimes it might take just 2 months, but sometimes up to a year. I usually will work on a piece for minimum 8 months and finish it off, at the same time my teacher will assign me new pieces when i'm done half-way with the older piece.

Now it has reached the point that my teacher has said that I can learn any number of pieces that I know I'm capable of learning and get help from her as long as I keep up the standard of my exam repertoire.

I work on 9-10 pieces.

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#1041086 - 11/21/07 06:44 PM Re: How long "should" it take you to learn a piece?
epf Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/07
Posts: 658
Loc: Central Texas
I think each person brings a unique talent to the process of learning music, and there is no right answer to how long it will take. I'm an intermediate player and find that pieces at my level take about a week to get the flow and another week to get everything working at the right pace. Then there's another week to polish. So, three weeks and I'm at a point where I'm comfortable with it (but it's not really ready for public consumption for yet another week).

I generally work on one or two pieces at a time. My practice sessions last one to two hours starting with warm-up exercises (usually something from Hanon) and then I play my some of what is already in my bag of tricks, then work on the new pieces and finish with things I'm comfortable with from the past. By doing this I am always starting and ending with material I know -- and this helps me to come back the next day.

At 60 years of age I find that I don't memorize as easily as I did at 10 (and I didn't memorize all that well then, either) so I play mostly with the music in front of me, but I do have the piece in my head in terms of dynamics and melody so the music becomes a reference eventually and not the primary focus.

As with all such statements, your mileage may vary.

Ed
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"...a man ... should engage himself with the causes of the harmonious combination of sounds, and with the composition of music." Anatolius of Alexandria

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