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Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers", stated a hypothesis: becoming good at something takes about 10,000 hours of practice.

I've recently been wondering how long a typical piano student has practiced by the time they complete grade 8. Obviously there would be huge variation but an experienced piano teacher presumably would know roughly how much practice a student at grade X level is doing and how long they are typically at grade X before moving on.

For bonus points, I'd love to see an estimate of hours for each grade. e.g. perhaps grade 1 is 50 hours; grade 2 100 hours and so on.

If a grade 8 student is doing 3-4 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 50 weeks; that's 900-1200 hours just for grade 8. But are those numbers realistic?

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A previous question on this topic was closed as 'subjective' but this is a more specific, albeit related question that I hope is acceptable. –  James Tauber May 5 '11 at 19:39
    
Can you please clarify which board/organisation offers the grades you are referring to? Here in Britain for example, grades usually refer to ABRSM grades, and other European countries will have their own predominant boards too. (You're American, I gather.) –  Noldorin May 6 '11 at 15:26
    
(Australian but living in America at the moment.) Whether it's ABRSM, or AMEB or Trinity or whatever; I'm mostly interested in a ball park estimate. Or think of the question in reverse: at 100 hours, what sort of pieces are students typically playing? what about at 1000? or 5000? –  James Tauber May 7 '11 at 3:59
    
Well in some cases geade 3 of board A could be equivalent to grade 6 of board B... there's nothing guaranteeing consistency. But as long as answers specify the board, fair enough. –  Noldorin May 8 '11 at 13:29
    
This is a great question! –  iddober May 11 '11 at 13:08
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7 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It depends on the grading system used. I completed my grade 8 piano through the Royal Conservatory of Music, in Canada. I would consider my general musical aptitude to be about average for a "serious amateur" musician, so keep that in mind.

I practiced approximately two hours every day for a year (more towards the end than at the beginning), or around 750 hours total. That got me a high 60s on the examination, I believe. Definitely not super well, but enough to pass without being worried.

So I think your range of 900-1200 hours would be accurate to do well on the grade 8 exam. It also depends on your focus and your teacher. I had a good teacher, but I focused a lot on theory (separate study time, separate exam that I took around the same time) and didn't work particularly hard on keeping my tempo consistent throughout songs (that was a big problem on my exam). I also wasn't a great sight-reader.

The only formal exams I took were grade 6 and grade 8, and I'd say 2 and 3 hours a day respectively are probably enough for the average player, based on my experience. This is impossible to answer accurately for you, of course, but hopefully it gives you an idea.

As for the total from grade 1 to grade 8: If you assumed starting at 30 min/day and linearly increasing until 3 hours/day, you'd get just over 5000 hours total. So half of Gladwell's expected time. I think this is reasonable, being "half expert" at grade 8 :P

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Do you mean 2 hours a day for a year to get from grade 7 to 8? This sounds reasonable... just thought I'd clarify though. –  Noldorin May 6 '11 at 15:28
    
@Noldorin Ah, yes. I didn't skip grade 7, I just didn't take the exam. –  Matthew Read May 6 '11 at 15:33
    
Make senses. I've heard of others doing that. –  Noldorin May 6 '11 at 15:34
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5000 to grade 8 would make sense and then another 5000 to professional level (whether sitting association + licentiate or not) –  James Tauber May 7 '11 at 4:06
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I'm someone who is currently learning the piano.

For Grade 8 AMEB, I slacked off quite a bit, I barely practiced in the beginning of the year (learnt songs around March), just the 1 hr a week in lessons, then did at most an hour a day for 4/5 days a week towards crunch time. Examinations were in November. Assuming I had 35 weeks to practice, I would've spent around 150 hours on 3 songs (and scales etc.) to achieve a B+.

Personally, I don't think your numbers are realistic, the most passionate person I know for music practices 1-2 hours a day, every day. You also might have to take into consideration that most pianists up to grade 8 are students, who play the piano for leisure. Sitting down for anything more than 1/2 an hour could be difficult, especially if they have homework/social life/sport/etc on their mind. However, everyone I know that plays, passes.

Currently, I'm working towards an A.Mus. I started learning the songs in May last year and will take my examinations in October this year. I have a very irregular practice regime, but I can estimate around 5 hours... a fortnight. Which takes me up to 130 hours. I have 5 months to go, assuming that I start playing more frequently, say 4 hours a week, I can squeeze in a total of 210 hours to memorise 6 songs.

Wow, first time looking at raw numbers, I hope this is of help to you guys. I won't mind answering any questions if you want to throw any at me.

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I used to practice 3-4 hours a day every day for over two years, and I had friends who practiced a lot more than me. They were music students after all. –  Dr Mayhem Dec 11 '13 at 20:56
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I think it's impossible to equate a flat number of hours with a certain growth in proficiency. Every student learns at a different pace.

I give students the following minimums for daily practice at the piano (these are Suzuki books in which books 1-3 correspond roughly to RCM grades 1-6 and books 4-6 roughly to RCM 7-9, and Suzuki includes massive listening time which is extra): 5 minutes a day for beginners, 10 minutes a day by the end of book 1, 20 minutes a day in book 2, 30 minutes a day in book 3, etc. By the beginning of book 6 students are ready for advanced literature and then we set practice times and goals individually. Times assume practice 6-7 days a week.

Among my consistent practicers whom I regard as talented, I have some who are in book 2 after over 5 years of study, and some in book 3 after less than 2 years of study. That's with roughly the same total number of practice hours per year. The ones who move faster aren't necessarily more talented, it's more that they like to challenge themselves with new material but have trouble taking the time required to make old material sound beautiful, while the slower-moving students are fearful of new material but sound like professionals on their current pieces before they move on. Your mileage will vary...

For someone who was preparing for college/conservatory performance major admissions I would suggest budgeting at least 2 hours practice per day on a normal day and 3-4 hours at least two days a week for extra detail work; and plan to practice at least 4 hours per day while at college/conservatory. My current teacher reports that she routinely had to practice 10-12 hours a day at Juilliard. I play professionally and practice anywhere from 1.5 to 5 hours depending on the day. 1.5 always feels like a very minimal rushed run-through.

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Great question, I have been asked this many times!

I began piano lessons in 1992 and completed my AMEB AMusA diploma in 2003 and my LMusA diploma in 2005.

SCALES, ARPEGGIOS, CLASSICAL / EXAM PIECES:

I probably did around 30 to 45 minutes of practice a day, 6 days a week (slacked off on lesson days :) for 6 years + 1 hour per day, 6 days a week for another 8 years..

Total of ~ 3200 to 3700 hours

EXTRAS:

I think what really made the difference was all the extracurricular practice. Various band rehearsals / improvising / my own fooling around included roughly 10 to 15 hours a week from age 12, which adds an extra 3500 to 5000 hours roughly (up to completion of LMusA). My sight-reading, listening skills and ability to learn new material improved considerably as a direct result.

Also spent many more hours playing other instruments - including viola, flute, drums, guitar.

So it seems Malcolm Gladwell is spot on.

Hope that helps!

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If you wanted a breakdown of each grade: I took one year to prepare for each grade from Preliminary to Grade 8, two years each for AMusA and LMusA. Preliminary to Grade 4: 150-200 hours each. Grade 5-Grade 8 around 300 hours each. Diplomas around 600 hours each. I achieved an A grade or above for all of them. Would also like to add that the pass rates for for the diplomas are 30% and 10% for AMusA and LMusA respectively, so that's where the extra hours of practice really make a difference between pass or fail I think. –  Sonya May 25 '13 at 16:51
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Some people can do grade 8 in the UK two years after starting from scratch. Some people take 8 years. I don't think that the people who do it in two years do the same numbers of hours practise as those who do it in 8 years.

It is also important to take into account that the grade exams only test a small part of learning to play any instrument so some people only learn the grade pieces and others learn a lot of repertoire as well.

The UK grade 8 exams are an elementary exam that indicates that someone has made a start at learning to play not that they are an experienced player. The standard of playing required to pass grade 8 is extremely low compared to being good at playing the piano. Professional players look on grade 8 in the UK as an exam that beginners take, so if it takes someone 10,000 hours to pass it that still won't make them a good player.

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Piano playing or any musical instrument is more of a practice. Without practicing one cannot succeed or become a professional. How much you practice that much you succeed. If you practice only 2 hours per day and think that is all you can do, you will become only a normal player. But if you think big and have a goal of becoming only professional, then you need to spend 8 hours of daily practice. Just by practicing 2 hours per day one cannot expect to become a professional player. If you look at lifestory of all successful piano players, they have practiced daily minimum of 8 hours practice and even more than that and they dedicated life for practice. Unfortunately in our day to day life, we are all busy with some other activities and we cannot sustain the practice. I have completed my grade 5 with 2 hours of daily practice. But recently from past two months I started increasing the number of hours upto 5 and this practice I have been doing regularly and now I can see drastic change in my fingering. Lot of finger strengh was developed. Speed of left hand is increased. So definitely, if you want to see change in your playing and to become professional just aim at 8 hours and try to do minimum of 5 hours practice every day. This is the success formula. The life is at your finger tips to become professional or a normal musician. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE......All the best...God bless

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OP, great questions. I believe you assumptions are correct. I myself started to think in similar, detailed ways as for the time I put into practice. One must realize that an exam is an indication of the skill level you have on the piano. But it's not 'a start' as someone said. An exam isn't the end all, but it helps me to make concrete plans and ideas about what I should practice, how, and for how long. Much better than keeping it all in my head with a 'oh yes, I have done some practice in the past'.

As for your question, it depends on where the practicing musician is starting from. If he is a very good grade 6 pianist then 1200 hours , I believe, should be sufficient to pass the exam confidently.

Note that I assume the pianist is already at another grade at all. Long topic, but to make it short, until a couple of years ago I had no idea about exams or grades. I simply learned as a self-taught, then I started taking classes and tutors told me I was a very solid grade 5. Note that I had never practiced consistently before then, because back then I was much less interested in performance than I was in other areas of music, such as writing music. Then I realized I wanted to be a good pianist. I believe this grading system to be excellent, it made me organize my goals in much more concrete ways, and since then I practice more and more consistently.

The mistake is believing that an exam is the end all. It isn't, but it's still a best guess and indication of skill of the pianist, since no one can pass at grade 8 if they have some major flaws in any area. A grade 8 pianist is definitely in the pro category, especially someone who has practiced 10000 hours. It doesn't mean he's a virtuoso, it simply means he's a serious about what he does.

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