How long will it take me to learn the keyboard?
September 25, 2009 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Is it reasonable to expect that I can develop reasonable proficiency at piano/keyboard with 30 minutes to an hour of practice each day for a few months?

Longer version: I consider myself to be musically inclined; I played French Horn in high school, picked up drums when I was in eleventh grade, and play guitar with a Christian worship band now. I really, really want to learn the keyboard, but what concerns me is that it seems like people spend years and years learning to play piano and even after that time, they seem skilled but not as much as I would expect if someone had been playing drums or guitar for as long.

So do the keys have a really long learning curve? My schedule is fairly busy and I know realistically I'll only be able to spend an hour at most per day practicing it. Is it reasonable to expect to be able to play through some songs after a few months of this, or am I looking at jumping into years of study?

Bonus points for recommended learning materials, but I realize other AskMe questions exist for that purpose.
posted by DMan to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
what do you consider 'reasonable proficiency'? To be a concert pianist, then yeah you'll have to play for quite a few years. To pound out some chords and apreggios (sp?) during your band practice? Not too difficult
posted by Think_Long at 3:44 PM on September 25, 2009

I think it depends enormously on what you think is reasonable as far as proficiency goes.

But taking a wild-assed guess at what you mean, I suspect the chances of your attaining such a level of proficiency in that time frame is nearly nil.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:45 PM on September 25, 2009

Response by poster: To clarify, I didn't mean "concert pianist" level. More like, the kind of keyboard playing you would hear in a rock band.
posted by DMan at 3:47 PM on September 25, 2009

Piano is a hard instrument to pick up if it's not your first instrument, and even harder if you're not taking any lessons. I've played flute for 15 years now, and I took piano lessons for five years somewhere in the middle. I successfully picked up guitar a few years ago, too. I gave up on piano, because I couldn't manage the hand-eye-foot coordination. The kind of hand-eye coordination you need for piano and keyboard is different than with other instruments because each hand and each finger is doing radically different things, and your feet are involved (on piano, at least).

If you were going to give it a go, buy a drill book and a fakebook, and if you can (and are really interested), ask for recommendations for instructors or check any bulletin boards they have.
posted by honeybee413 at 4:04 PM on September 25, 2009

You might be OK for playing in a rock band after a few months if you are already decently proficient (e.g., you can read music). It doesn't really take a ton of manual dexterity to play "Just What I Needed", say. Non-beginner-level two-handed classical music will probably take years.
posted by dfan at 5:01 PM on September 25, 2009

"Rock band proficiency level" is at least as easy to attain on keyboard as it is on guitar. The keyboard is one of the most accessible instruments around.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:10 PM on September 25, 2009

I agree with honeybee413. I played the flute for many years and had a hard time learning the piano. It is a very, very different experience. (Concentrating on more than one note at a time is hard, as is moving your hand in such a way as to be playing the right note now and being in position for the next few notes as well.)

Anyway, the piano is not easy.
posted by jrockway at 5:12 PM on September 25, 2009

Professional pianist here (been playing 42 years).

In a word, yes. Though if you want to get really good, you'll at some point need to spend more time. But at that point, you'll crave it. can drill finger exercises away from the piano (even while walking around or waiting in lines), and this will assist in muscle memory and development of coordination. It will make your 30 mins/day sessions at the piano more productive, as you'll be working on integration rather than simply training muscles. E.g. learn a couple of the Hanon exercises on piano, then drill them with your fingers as you go about your business. At first it will be challenging to make the motions feel "real", but that mental challenge will itself help your development. It's all about getting fingers and ears well synched.

Note that rote exercises like Hanon are currently not in vogue for learning piano...they're so unmusical. But for drilling your fingers in a purely mechanical way away from the keyboard? Great!

When you're in front of the piano, make it totally all about the music, even wen trying to isolate a skill or action. Don't "switch" off your musicality....ever.

Good luck.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 6:31 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

BTW, to get a sense of what I mean, try "practicing" touch typing away from your computer keyboard. It's not a huge leap, and you don't have to call attention to yourself....just do little bursts of finger muscle activity, visualizing what you'd be doing on an actual keyboard.

Keep that in mind when attempting to do the same for the less familiar action of playing piano.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 6:33 PM on September 25, 2009

Piano is a hard instrument to pick up if it's not your first instrument

This surprised me. I thought of piano as being extremely easy to pick up if you're already proficient in something else. I mean, you push a button that corresponds to a note (a simplification, I know)... it doesn't get a lot simpler than that.

I played guitar for ten years or so, and started messing with keyboards maybe three years ago. Actually, I started while jamming with some friends and I found out afterward they assumed that I knew how to play. After that, all I had to do was sit down and figure out the chords and I could play songs. Not that I can play Mozart or Jelly Roll Morton, but I'm good enough for rock.

While I play music, I wold not consider myself to be a musical person. My theory is certainly very weak.
posted by cmoj at 10:26 AM on September 26, 2009

Same here, cmoj, and I am a musical person.

what's different about piano, and some find it difficult, is the issue of integrating, in real time, so many elements. Not one hand, but both. Ten independent fingers to cope with. Not just melody, but also harmony, and perhaps bass line and rhythm as well. There are a lot of facets to coordinate.

That's why I suggested working on the purely motor aspects separately, away from the keyboard, and as a casual-enough thing that it really gets drilled and becomes second nature. That'd mean one major issue to worry less about in the overall picture of putting it all together.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 11:52 AM on September 26, 2009

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