The Pianist’s Accomplishment

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

”In the beginning of training, it may seem as if you are doing very little. You compare yourself to your teachers and to more accomplished people, and you may despair at ever reaching their levels.
But if you are diligent, then it is inevitable that you will make something of yourself. Once you reach such a plateau, you will be able to relax a bit and contemplate where you are on your journey.”

Deng Ming-Dao,  365 Tao Daily Mediations (204).

Piano students (and adult learners in particular) often underestimate the time it will take to become proficient players, to play the music they aspire to, and to sound as good as they hoped.

When newcomers ask me, “how long until I can play really well?” I typically answer, “How does ten years sound?” It’s an easy (if entirely random) guess, but the point is the aspiring pianist’s response:

Are they mentally prepared for the climb ahead?

Scaling the peaks

The idea that after ”ten years” a player will be attempting advanced repertoire isn’t entirely incorrect. It can be qualified by pointing out that if “really well” equates to ABRSM Grade 8, many who start as children progress by around one grade level a year. Unless they make exceptional progress, young beginners who stick the course can expect to be attempting the higher grades in their mid to late teens.

Similarly, an adult who takes up piano playing in their forties, though a few may make exceptionally faster progress, should not be surprised to find themselves still taking lessons in their fifties and sixties. There is simply no end to learning.

If patience is really a virtue, there’s an irony in the fact that for most of us it takes time to develop it. Piano playing is surely a profoundly rewarding way of doing just that, and must be approached with a recognition that maturity develops over many years.

But there’s a much more important truth, which I quickly bring up. Unless something is very amiss, we do not finally begin to enjoy playing music only once we reach the more advanced stages of playing.


The Elementary and Intermediate repertoires are full of expressive gems, and can be approached with an appropriate sense of wonder and gratitude. Many of the world’s most beloved piano pieces are relatively easy to play and appreciate.

We may wish our skills could be multiplied, but often moving a single step at a time counts for more. One PLUS One is actually more than One TIMES One, and it is foolish to miss out steps along the way. Weaknesses in our playing can lead to us losing our footing long before we reach the upper summits.

And ultimately, piano playing is a JOURNEY with no fixed destination, and if we don’t take time to enjoy the scenery we miss the opportunity of a lifetime!

EVERY STEP of the journey is a real ACCOMPLISHMENT, and one in which the player should take personal satisfaction and find musical engagement and reward. Who really needs shortcuts? Learning to appreciate each moment leads to a rewarding lifetime of happiness and health.

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