A book titled ‘Outliers’ written by Malcolm Gladwell explored the research conducted by K.
Anders Ericcson and came to the remarkable conclusion that if you wished to reach the pinnacle of success in any given field, you would need 10,000 hours to do so. Some challenges were voiced against Gladwell’s claims as Ericcson’s research centered around improvement rather than working on something from scratch.
Josh Kaufman, author of ‘The Personal MBA’ (master the art of business), does not align with Gladwell’s thinking and suggests a figure closer to twenty hours to acquire a reasonable proficiency at a new skill. Where I find Ericcson’s research interesting is that he suggests the importance of ‘how’ you practice a new skill not how much you practice it.
Having taught music for over three decades I would like to feel I have a little insight into the most effective way to approach learning an instrument. Whilst I cannot provide you with a magical route to rapid success with the piano, I think that taking Ericcson’s findings as a starting point is not a waste of time. I mention this at this early stage of the article as in many ways, it is the golden answer to the question posed in the article’s title.
How To Learn Piano Fast
To place this thought into a practical context, playing the piano (or any instrument for that matter), four to eight hours a day, seven days a week can and in all probability will bring results. But, who has this amount of time spare, and who in all honesty could remain focused for that length of study? The ‘how’ in Ericcson’s research reflects my approach to mastering the piano; meaning-focused, deliberate practice habits that build essential skills far more quickly than the eight-hours a day approach.
If I break thin down further this translates into playing in 30 – 45 minutes sessions up to six times a week. This is a guide only and for some, the time could be extended and for others, the time may need to be reduced. This is especially true when you are starting to learn the piano as there is a real danger that you can play too much and cause injury. (Age is also a factor as more mature hands do not always possess the flexibility that younger hands do, but this is not intended to deter anyone).
The time slot I suggest above should include a balance of focus. About 60% of the practice time needs to be technical work that builds strength in the hands and wrists and develops a good posture. The remaining 40% can include an opportunity for improvisation, learning of pieces from different genres, and possibly sight-reading.
If learning the piano quickly is important to you, then you will need to be determined but you will also need to adopt some vital practices too. One really useful tool in your armory is your phone. These days, most people have access to a smartphone with the facility to record either or both sound and audio. This facility is a useful one as it provides an invaluable chance to reflect on your practice. Often no matter how hard you concentrate on the work you are engaged in on the piano, you will miss essential details that can provide the key to faster progress.
The crucial aspect of this recording of each practice you make is that you do not approach it as an opportunity to be hyper-critical, instead, I suggest a ratio of 5:1 positive observations to one for improvement. It is more about mindset than smudging over obvious problems and looking at these as challenges to be overcome rather than points for damming criticism which is likely to result in demotivation.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford lessons on the piano, then this can advance your progress more quickly than working on your own. It is, however, important that you can find a teacher who understands your goals and will work with you in a supportive manner on your journey. This may take several trial lessons before you feel fully comfortable but it is worth the time spent.
If you are already an individual able to read standard music notation, then this is likely to be an advantage as you have access to an enormous range of material that can help you make swift progress. Again, a teacher can play a valuable role here in suggesting appropriate pieces that challenge and inspire.
If on the other hand, you do not read music, it is possible to learn just by ‘ear’, but this is a far bumpier road to follow unless you have a really strong aural ability that you were probably born with or have developed with other musical training or instrumental learning. When you listen to pianists from the jazz world like Art Tatum, you realize that formal training is not necessary, nor the ability to read notation, but then there was only one Arty Tatum.
Read More: Websites To Learn Jazz Piano Lessons Online
Some finer points to consider. The piano technique for all genres of music is commonly approached through the learning of scales and arpeggios. Why, because the majority of pieces of music are composed of these musical figures and if you know them fluently, you’ll be able to learn compositions more easily and more quickly.
Scales and arpeggios also build strength, balance, and touch for all pianists. My recommendation is that you become familiar with the sound of the pattern for all major, minor and chromatic scales and arpeggios practicing them over a short range of one to two octaves at first, extending them to the full compass of the piano over time. They need to be played with different articulations (ie: legato, staccato, accented), and in different rhythmic groupings: quavers, quaver triplets, semi-quavers; and irrational groupings of 5 and 7. Contrary motion (hands moving in separate directions) is also a valuable skill.
If you are reading music, then finding some piano ‘studies’ will be very useful to you. They build and develop key areas of technique. You can also look at the Graded piano pieces published by the Associated Board of the Royal College of Music for a progressive selection of pieces to scaffold your learning.
Another tip is to practice slowly listening for details, and be patient with yourself. If you are tired or surrounded by distractions, practice will be more difficult. Learn how you learn best and how long you can practice. Keep a note of what you have achieved no matter how small, it adds up to faster and happier learning.