This question is one that could be asked of many instruments and the answer is almost always another question. To what standard? The piano, as instruments go, is virtually immediate in its response to a new student. All you have to do is press a key and you will produce a tone.
Pick up a violin and bow and try to make a sound that even comes close to a violin and you will be very lucky indeed. Likewise, try to make a tone on a bassoon at a first attempt and it will not be as straight forward as the piano. From here there is then often the assumption that learning the piano cannot be that much of a challenge and could probably be accomplished in a relatively brief period. Not so.
It is true, you can learn to play a one-handed simple tune quite quickly, but it is another achievement entirely to be able to tackle a Bach fugue or play an Oscar Peterson transcription. Even if you can handle the technical demands of these pieces are you able to bring out the subtle nuances of the music, interpret it and communicate through it?
There are a great may considerations about learning to play any instrument that goes way beyond the production of a convincing tone. And, the piano just the same as any other instrument, can play a single note in a countless number of ways even though the mechanics of that tone are more approachable initially.
It can be reasonably quick then to master some simple tunes on the piano. Gaining the coordination between the left and right hand can also be quite a speedy achievement with pieces that do not make too many technical demands. One key element in the speed of progress can be determined by the teacher you chose to work with.
With the bewildering variety of tutorial videos available free or for little cost on the internet, many people opt to teach themselves. It can work, although many of the video tutorials out there are of low quality and will only allow you to progress so far before you need the support of a professional teacher. The choice then of a teacher can drastically alter your speed of learning and so it is vital to find someone you connect with and who understands your learning style and your goals.
If you are fortunate to be able to find a teacher you can work with, then this is the first step to your developing your skill as a pianist. A teacher or a piano method, or even a video tutorial series online, will only help your progress to a degree. Ultimately, your speed of progress is up to you and the amount of time you have available to practice your piano. That said, it is not the quantity of time you spend practising that is crucial but what you do in the time in which you are practising that is key to success.
By this, I mean that if you are practising in ways that are not supporting and developing you as a pianist then you are wasting precious time. This hopefully is where a professional teacher can guide you and help you avoid the almost inevitable frustrations that surround learning an instrument. As a rule, I would suggest playing every day, but of equal importance is to keep that practice exciting, varied and fun.
There are other factors involved in learning the piano that ought not to be overlooked. Online tutorials may provide reasonable instruction and guidance if you search long enough to find a good series but a private teacher should always address posture and hand position.
It may at first seem quite trivial, but in the same way that bow position and grip is key to string playing, or embouchure a vital part of brass and woodwind technique, posture and hand position are a central element of piano practice. It is often a problem I have come across in my teaching practice that students have not received adequate advice and direction regarding this central aspect of learning the piano.
The result is often that they then struggle with certain technical challenges or end up with discomfort in their neck, shoulders and back. This can be especially true as practice and performances become extended. Correct posture and hand position are vital to ensure an excellent performance without sustaining a persistent injury.
Focusing on a balance of technique, pieces and ear training will bring about lasting results for all learners of the piano. Technique is something that in some sense needs to be individually developed in a similar way to being able to interpret pieces in a manner that you feel instinctively is right. That said there is no avoiding scales and arpeggios in all the forms they come. They form the building blocks for tonal music and are extremely important when developing a sense of key cadence and harmonic structure. They are also critical to learning to improvise and ear training.
Repertoire can be a thorny issue. If you have a clear idea of the type of music you wish to learn this can speed up the learning process, but my advice would remain receptive to studying all kinds of music. This is not a substitute for building a solid technical foundation but a suggestion to keep the learning varied. It is also the fact that the piano repertoire is vast and it can be exciting to try jazz, classical pop and world music. Technical demands and approaches are different for different genres of music but being adaptable in today’s competitive musical world is important.
Learning the basics of the instrument can be accomplished in a matter of weeks. Developing the skill to be a concert pianist can take many years. Natural ability can play a huge part in learning any instrument but of equal importance is dedicated and focused regular practice. Patience is key too as you will find challenges that can be hard to overcome and some days you will play a piece you know well and it just will not sound right. The next time you play the same piece it will probably be flawless. Perhaps the most important thing is to be able to recognise and celebrate your progress and just to enjoy the experience and the journey.