How Long Does It Really Take to Learn the Piano?

Practicing the piano is something you can enjoy for a lifetime, but how long will it take until you can play your first song?

by Drew Philip

The question of "how long does it take to learn the piano" is a difficult one to answer. How long does it take to learn to paint a portrait that looks just like the subject? How long does it take to learn a foreign language in which you can fall in love? To write a novel that will break the hearts of readers, to compose a symphony that will make the audience swell with joy?

Any true answer is going to be inherently unsatisfying because it will depend on a number of factors: how often and how much you're able to practice, what teaching methods you have at your disposal, some degree of natural talent, and just how much you want it.

Anyone who has ever tried their hand at anything creative knows there is no real answer—but we also know that that answer in itself is wholly unsatisfying. So we need to propose a concrete goal for which we can give a concrete solution. 

When it comes to music in particular, almost every piano player has started with the same goal: to play their first song. Our goal is for you to be able to play a simple but interesting song of your own choosing with both hands, in a manner both exciting and impressive.

You can start thinking about what song you'd like to play now, or perhaps you already have one in mind. Some advice about selecting an appropriate song: this song should be something you both like and recognize, but one that's not overly complicated. Keep your goals high but realistic. Choose something for which you'll feel a real sense of accomplishment once you've mastered it. We've made some suggestions for beginners in the Week Three section below.

So, with all of that said, how long will it take to learn your first song? 

About two to four weeks.

How to Learn Your First Piano Song in Under a Month

In the example below we've divided up practice into four weeks. If you have more time to spend practicing, you're a quick learner, or you already know another instrument, it may take less time and you can condense the lessons into half weeks. For some, it might even take a little bit longer. But that's more than okay. 

We're confident everyone can do this, and you need not compare yourself to anyone else. Your only competition is who you were yesterday, and your only real milestone is the player you were before.  

In this guide we're making the following assumptions: you have a piano or keyboard at home or you have easy access to one, but you have little to no previous experience playing it. 

We're also going to assume you're learning on your own, without a human teacher. Maybe you've borrowed some piano books from the library, or you're watching YouTube videos, or perhaps you're using an app like ours here at flowkey. 

Finally, we're going to assume you're committed to practicing on a regular basis, at least twenty minutes a day a few days a week.  

Ready? Let's get started! 

How to Practice 

How often you practice is more important than how long you practice. Learning piano is based on creating muscle memory, and the part of the brain responsible for creating these memories is mainly triggered by repetition and habit. That's why it's most important that you practice as many days a week as possible, even if only for a few minutes. Practicing five days a week for twenty minutes will allow you to progress faster than practicing one day a week for two hours. 

Week One—Learning the Basics

The first week, you're going to focus on the basics of piano playing. 

Let your enthusiasm for how you'll play in the future carry you through this week. Don't get too bogged down here with technical details. You just need to know enough to start playing a song. 

We've packaged the basics up into our Introduction to the Piano course that's available to Premium subscribers on our app. You can access it now with a free seven-day trial. We believe this is the fastest, easiest way to get started, but there are also YouTube videos and piano books available to help you. It's important to find the learning tool that feels right for you, so explore your options.

The basics will start with how to position your hands. The first position that everyone learns is middle C. Remember this term, because you'll hear it a lot. Here's a image of what that looks like.

And here's a link to our article on playing technique. It's about how you should sit, how to place your hands, things like that. 

Next, you'll want to begin learning to read music. It's easier than it sounds. While there are other ways to learn to play, and some musicians never learn to read music, there are very few musicians out there who regret learning. Like proper hand positioning and posture, it's another arrow in your quiver to becoming a competent musician. 

There are many books and resources to help you along, and flowkey teaches this in our courses. We also offer this free guide on how to read piano sheet music to get you started.

Master the Basics

  • Practice the middle C position. Place your right thumb on middle C and rest each of your other fingers on one key. From this position you can already play a five-finger scale plus the opening notes of popular songs like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
  • Build confidence playing with the right and left hands. Start learning with your right and left hands separately, then practice playing with the two together once you feel confident.
  • Follow a rhythm. You can build on the previous two exercises by practicing them in a steady rhythm. 

If you're already familiar with the basics or you're simply eager to start playing songs right away, you can learn a song directly, right from the get-go. flowkey's song library includes thousands of beginner-level songs, in all genres. To get a sense of what you might like to play, you can browse it here. You'll need to sign up for an account, but it's free to do so.

Week Two—Things Are Picking Up

This week, you'll learn how to play with both hands. 

Many people find this the most difficult part of first learning the piano. It's not something humans do naturally, so it's going to take repetition to get it right. But there's a secret to making it easier: learn each hand separately, then combine them. 

The most important thing you need to know about playing with both hands is that it's a new, complex task for the brain. When you're learning something new, your brain needs to dedicate its full attention to the task. In this case that means one hand at a time.

If you rush into playing with both hands right away, your brain has to learn the right- and left-hand movements and think about coordinating both hands at the same time. It's just too much for your brain to handle at once.

We've broken this all down for you in our free article on playing with both hands, or you can use our app. 

To build your skills, try these exercises taken from our Playing with Both Hands course.

Playing with Both Hands

  • C Position Synchronized – With your right hand positioned over middle C and your left hand positioned one octave lower, play the first five notes—C, D, E, F, G—up and down, first with one hand, then with the other, then with both hands simultaneously. Once you feel confident doing this slowly, practice doing it to a steady rhythm, working up to a faster speed.
  • C Position Mirrored – With your hands in the same starting positions as the previous exercise, play the same five notes as before, but this time as though your left hand is the mirror reflection of your right hand. So, while your right hand plays C, D, E, F, G, your left hand plays G, F, E, D, C, then each hand continues playing the notes back to their starting points (C for the right hand, G for the left).
  • Hand Independence – With this exercise you'll practice doing one thing with your left hand and a completely different thing with your right hand. In the video below, our teacher plays single whole notes with the left hand while moving up and down the keyboard with the right hand. As with the examples above, start at your own pace, then speed up at a steady rhythm.

Our full course includes step-by-step guidance and feedback in case you'd like to practice these exercises—plus others—in more detail.

If you're feeling advanced, this week you could even start learning a simple song, say Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune." It's available for free on the flowkey app, and you can pick which hand you want to practice with before combining them. 

Week Three—Getting Close

Here's where you'll start practicing your chosen song—and where things get exciting. 

By the end of the week you'll be playing recognizable pieces of the song you've chosen before putting them all together in the following week. 

The most important thing about the song you choose is that you must be excited about it. Your excitement is going to help give you the motivation to practice and push through the difficult bits. 

But listen, the song should be achievable for beginners. It shouldn't be too long or too complex. Start easy, and with a realistic goal. We'd also recommend starting with something you're familiar with because then you'll know how the melody should sound.

You can browse our list of ten easy piano songs for beginners, and here are some songs in our app that we recommend: 

With our app you can break all of the songs above into manageable parts, slow them down, and even adjust the difficulty, making them easier to play and practice. 

Once you've decided on a song, divide it into sections and start learning each section one hand at a time. A good rule of thumb is a section should be about two to four bars—or four to eight seconds. However, this is just a suggestion from which to start. It's best if you can divide the song into sections that feel self-contained, so that each section you learn feels like its own complete musical phrase. 

Once you've divided up your song into manageable pieces, practice it in the manner below.

Learning a Song

Each day practice at least one two-to-four-bar section of your chosen song following this pattern: 

  • First the right hand 
  • Then the left hand 
  • Then both hands together
  • Then both hands together at a slow but regular tempo
  • Then increase the tempo gradually

Once you feel confident with a section, move on to the next. When you feel confident with a string of sections, you can start combining them. After about a week you'll be able to play the different sections and maybe even play through the whole song. Don't be concerned if the tempo is slow or unsteady here, just begin to get the feel for the whole thing. 

Week Four—What You've Been Waiting For

Now it's time to practice the whole song. This week you'll learn the meaning of "practice makes perfect."

You'll want to start this week by playing through the whole song and noticing parts where you get stuck, where your fingers miss notes, or where you can't hold the rhythm. You'll want to work on practicing these parts specifically. 

Repeat these little sections over and over until you can play through them with a steady rhythm, then play through the whole song again. There's only really one way to improve here, and that's consistent practice. Just keep practicing, and learn to enjoy the practice as an end in itself.

Be careful to not play too fast. A song that is played slowly in a steady tempo will sound much better than if you're rushing through certain parts and getting stuck in between. 

For this kind of practice, flowkey has a tool that slows down songs to different tempos, helping you play along in time with the on-screen piano player at 50%, 75%, or full speed. You can also set the app to wait for you to play each note, so that the song doesn't move forward without you. 

And remember, nobody is perfect! It's okay to play with mistakes—even the best piano players in the world make them. Just keep on practicing and having fun playing music, and eventually they'll iron themselves out. 

At the end of this week you'll be ready to perform the song by heart.

The Grand Finale  

After a month of hard work and practice, we think you deserve to share your accomplishments a bit. Play your song for your mom, or your significant other, maybe a small group of your friends. Play for the mail carrier! Play the song for your cat even. Everyone deserves to hear what you've been working on so hard. Sharing your gift is part of the fun—and you've earned it. 

But most of all, remember to play for yourself, too. You will have put in a lot of good work learning this song, and you should stop to take a moment and be proud of everything you've accomplished. Don't forget to enjoy your own playing. 

And if you need a bit of extra help, flowkey is always there, even if you're a complete beginner. We have all kinds of songs in different genres and levels, even songs we've simplified so you can start playing easier versions before you work your way up to playing the whole thing. You get real-time feedback, step-by-step lessons to learn the basics, options to practice with different hands and at different speeds. We think it's a great way for anyone to learn the piano, and we hope you check us out. Best of all, many parts are free to start. 

Good luck, and have fun. We can't wait to hear what you've learned! 

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