Piano: How long will it take for me to play at this level?
March 15, 2010 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Piano: How long will it take for me to play at this level? (More information inside.)

I took piano lessons when I was a kid, on and off, for about 10 years. I'm now 18 and have not practiced for about 2 years. I now have a new found appreciation for piano, so I'm aiming to start practicing again in the near future. Before I stopped playing, I could play pieces like Mozart's Turkish March and Beethoven's Fur Elise in full and at the regular speed. My sight reading has always given me trouble so I'm looking to improve that as well. Given that I'm aiming to practice about an hour a day, how long would it be before I could play pieces on the same skill level as Liszt's La Campanella? Thanks!
posted by oracle bone to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Any other advice & piece recommendations welcome as well.
posted by oracle bone at 4:30 PM on March 15, 2010

"La Campanella" was one of Liszt's showoff pieces — not at the same order of nightmarish complexity as the Transcendental Etudes, but hellishly difficult. People still use it as a calling card of sorts.

I'm not an expert pianist, but that degree of mastery over any instrument of sufficient complexity takes, as I see it, somewhere between 5,000-10,000 hours. So if you really did an hour every day, you'd be sniffing at "La Campanella" in about 15 years. Probably closer to 20.

(I'm assuming, from your question, that you're not talking about practicing only "La Campanella.")
posted by argybarg at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2010

10 years and you could only play the Turkish March and Fur Elise? No offense but you probably got gypped by the teacher(s) you were working with before. However, since you have been taking lessons, I think it might take you two to three years before you can play something as technical as La Campanella. That is also assuming that you do dedicate at least an hour to practicing well each day and you have a decent teacher who's willing to work with you on just about anything. You should keep in mind that La Campanella is just technically demanding, which is something that can be overcome by patient slow practice with a metronome. So if you truly wanted to start on La Campanella right away, you would probably be able to do it but it would still take you a very long time (probably more than 2-3 that I said earlier) and increases the chances that you'll get absolutely sick of the piece and never play it.

Judging by the sheet music, if you have small hands that strain with octaves, I'd say forget about playing this piece comfortably at full speed.

Sight reading really just comes with practice. The more you sight read the easier it gets. I find when I learn pieces, it helps to listen to the piece before hand so at least you in your head you know how it's supposed to sound like. Taking things slowly is important in sight reading because when you sight read, you're doing much more than reading the notes. In order to do it well, you also need to take in account all the other small nuances in the music that's written.

If you're interested in working up to La Campanella, I'd suggest starting on some Beethoven Sonatas, such as the Tempest (No. 17) and other Romantic composers, such as Brahms. This way, you're able to build up your technique from easier pieces while learning the style in which Listz composes in.

Anyway, I've been playing piano for 13 or so years now nonstop (am 19) so if you have any other questions feel free to memail me!
posted by astapasta24 at 5:37 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

No estimation possible. People have vastly different ways of learning to play music, and also, it totally depends on your technical/psycho-motoric background training.

That, and: go to youtube and look at how tricky some of the really big guys found/find playing La Campanella in live concerts. I mean, almost only Francois-René Duchable seems to be really at ease with the piece - and he must have been investing several lifetimes only in practicing technique...it's a fumbly bit of score and no mistake.

The idea of having one skill level that makes it possible to play certain pieces is deceptive. A good teacher might be able to tell you how to work for maximal benefit, but I can't think that anyone would want to guarantee you that you'll be able to play this or that piece after x units of practice time.
posted by Namlit at 5:40 PM on March 15, 2010

With an example like that, you're essentially asking, "How long till I can play like a professional musician who's mastered the instrument?" To which the answer is... when you're a professional-level musician who's mastered the instrument. People spend their lives doing it.

Remember that, like so many things in life, the time required to play piano pieces sits on a curve. As you approach the upper levels of technical difficulty, the effort required increases exponentially. People playing at this level are usually devoting 4+ hours a day to practice. In other words, it's their life. As someone who spent years at piano and still loves sitting down whenever I can, rather relish not playing at this level. (I stopped my formal schooling just at the point where the technical demands started going through the roof.)

So you might benefit from sliding down the curve a bit so that the pieces you hope to play reside within the ken of us mere mortals. With the help of a good teacher, you could easily be playing pieces like Chopin's Raindrop Prelude in a few years.

Better still, sign up for lessons, find the level you're at, crack open the book for the next level up, find a piece you love, and enjoy taking it one step at a time. It's the journey, not the destination - but you know how that song goes.
posted by bicyclefish at 5:46 PM on March 15, 2010

This is an impossible question to answer. Realize that one hour per day isn't really much in terms of practice time, especially if you're looking to exponentially increase your skill level. Fur Elise and Turkish March aren't high level pieces, unfortunately. While not trying to discourage you, it's likely you'll never be able to play like this.

Our piano stories aren't that different, though. I stopped taking lessons and practicing piano from age 14-16, and then got way into it again after getting into Tori Amos's music. For a while I was only playing songs from Tori Amos piano books, but then I got back into the classical-ish stuff like Debussy, Brahms. I wasn't taking lessons anymore, so I only played what I liked. When I got to college, I was able to accompany voice students in their lessons and voice juries, which was fun and kept me practicing and learning new music.

You'd do better to keep your goals more realistic and practical and just work on simply improving and regaining your comfort level with what you already know. Build slowly. If you haven't played for two years, the strength and agility you'd built up for those ten years is pretty much gone. You'll still remember how to play those old pieces, but it will probably take a while for you to build up that strength again.

I think it would do you well to get a couple of Favorite Piano Pieces-type books, and try sight-reading through some of the easier looking pieces to get a feel for what you want to start out with. This question sounds like you aren't planning on taking lessons, but if you are taking lessons or you are able to get in touch with your old teacher, he/she can recommend some pieces from the books that they think would be good for you to tackle.
posted by wondermouse at 7:27 PM on March 15, 2010

By the way, a couple of my favorite pieces to play are Brahms' intermezzo in A major op. 118 no. 2, and Debussy's Arabesque #1. They require some practicing to really get comfortable with, but they're not super hard either and are still enjoyable to play even when you've perfected them. Debussy's "Reverie" is probably his easiest piece and is also very pretty.
posted by wondermouse at 7:38 PM on March 15, 2010

A piece that a lot of people are impressed by is Debussy's Clair de Lune.
I started practising it after having played for four years, and i mastered it in approximately 3 months, so this may be a reachable goal for you.
posted by freddymetz at 7:49 PM on March 15, 2010

Regarding skills acquisition, you might find this paper interesting: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (PDF).

This information was also covered in the book Talent Is Overrated.

I have found the research on deliberate practice enlightening and liberating in developing my own skills.
posted by trinity8-director at 9:59 PM on March 15, 2010

If you have a grand piano to practice on (the quality of the action of the piano has an effect and grand pianos have different action than standup – but practicing on any keyboard and having access to a grand at least once a week should be a good compromise) and you practice 2 hours a day for 2 years you'll have a pretty good sense of whether or not you have the chops to learn a piece like this. Keep a journal of what you practice when you practice.

I'd spend about a year working on technique and practicing some Mozart sonatas (possibly a few Beethoven) but mainly I'd work on arpeggios, scales etc. After one year, I'd choose a few sections from this piece (passages approximately 16 bars long) and work on mastering them, and I mean mastering them.

I would also spend at least once a week studying various DVDs or YouTube clips of different pianists in order to note their technique. I'd avoid focusing on one pianist in order to avoid learning only their bad habits, but Brendel is a good choice.

Finally, if you're hoping to learn this piece to impress others I think that there is A LOT of other music without the same technical hurdles that will still be impressive. It would be a shame for you to waste all that practice only to obsess on the 19th century equivalent of a Van Halen guitar solo.
posted by fantasticninety at 7:14 AM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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